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HEAR The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa AP photo
John Amis/AP
Lighting each of the seven candles in the "kinara" is one of Kwanzaa's most symbolic rituals.

Kwanzaa is an African American and pan-African seven-day cultural festival that is celebrated every December 26 to January 1. Like most festivals, Kwanzaa incorporates music as an essential element of its celebration. The purpose of Kwanzaa is to celebrate African American heritage, family and community. Each day this week, we are presenting segments on-air, exploring the The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa The goal of these segments is to introduce audiences to the celebration and encourage an understanding of inclusion and diverse perspectives.

The 6th day of Kwanzaa, Kuumba or creativity.

The Sixth Day of Kwanzaa

On December 31st, the sixth day of Kwanzaa, a joyous celebration called a Karamu is held, with food, drink, dance, music and gift giving with family and friends. It is a time of reassessment and recommitment to the seven principles of Kwanzaa. As is traditional each night, participants greet each other with Habari gani or What is the news with you?

On day six, celebrants reflect on the principle of Kuumba , which means creativity. The goal of Kuumba is to do everything possible to make a difference and leave the community in better condition than what was inherited. The principle implies a daily investment in the future, or a donation to eternity.

As the sixth candle is lit, we remember that each night’s candle lighting is significant. The black candle represents the people, the three red candles represent the struggle they have endured, and the three green candles represent the hope that comes from the struggle. At the end of each night’s celebration Harambe! is called out, meaning “Let’s pull together!”

The 5th day of Kwanzaa, Nia or purpose

The Fifth Day of Kwanzaa

Celebrated on December 30th, day five of Kwanzaa is Nia , which means purpose. It is defined as, a commitment to the collective vocation of building the community and developing its culture and history in order to restore African Americans to their traditional greatness, and add to the good and beauty in the world.

According to the Odu of Ifa, a sacred African text of ethical teachings that originates in a region in modern day Nigeria, the purpose of humans is to bring good into the world. In fact, Nia suggests that African people share the great human legacy of being parents to humanity, civilization and knowledge, providing an identity of cultural purpose and direction. The principle of Nia makes us conscious of that purpose in light of our historical and cultural identity.

On this day, the fifth candle of the Mishumaa saba is lit. Whether your tradition is to light all three red candles before moving to the green candles, or you alternate between red and green, the fifth candle will always be green. The three colors of the Mishumaa saba remind celebrants of the colors of the flags of the African liberation movement.

The 4th day of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa or cooperative economics

The Fourth Day

Today, December 29th, we come to the fourth of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, Ujamaa which means cooperative economics. Ujamaa calls upon the collective spirit of togetherness to build and maintain our own stores, shops and businesses, with the goal of profiting from these endeavors as a community.

The fourth candle in the Kinara is lit, followed by a discussion of the principle. Dr. Maulana Karenga, founder of Kwanzaa, sums up the principle of Ujamaa as “sharing wealth and work through a shared concern, care and responsibility for a new, more human and fulfilling future.”

Today, we focus on the Mkeka the straw mat on which the Kinara centerpiece is arranged. The Mkeka represents the foundation for self-actualization or fulfillment of our talents and potentialities. Items placed on the Mkeka include Mazao the crops which represent African harvest, bowls of fruits and vegetables, Muhindi or corn which represents children and the future, the Unity cup, and Zawadi the gifts that represent commitments made and kept.

TUESDAY The 3rd day of Kwanzaa, Ujima or collective work and responsibility

The Third Day

We devote the third day of Kwanzaa, December 28th, to the principle of Ujima , which means collective work and responsibility. On this day we light a candle, symbolizing a commitment to active and informed togetherness on matters of common interest. Ujima focuses on the collective responsibility for both our achievements and our setbacks. We commit to building and maintaining our community, taking on each other’s problems, and working to solve them together.

Each night as the Unity cup is raised and we are reminded let’s pull together, participants may consider finding a project that can be worked on together. Perhaps there is a home improvement project that can benefit from teamwork, or children may be encouraged to work together on their chores. We might also look to the community, to check on an elderly neighbor during a winter storm, or volunteer for a local nonprofit organization.

The principle of Ujima also goes much deeper, supporting the concept that African is not just an identity, but also a duty. It points to the fact that as long as any African anywhere is oppressed, exploited, or wounded in any way, in his or her humanity, all African people are. The challenge of history and culture then, is through collective work and responsibility, to restore that which was damaged or destroyed, and to raise up and reconstruct.

MONDAY Dec. 27 The 2nd day of Kwanzaa, Kujichagulia or self-determination

The Second Day

On this second day of Kwanzaa, we focus on the Mishumaa, the seven candles of the Kinara or candleholder, that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Each day the black center candle, that represents Umoja or Unity, is lit first. The Kinara also holds three red candles to the left of the black candle, and three green candles to the right. The red candles represent the struggle and the noble blood that unites all people of African ancestry. The three green candles represent the Earth and the abundance of possibilities for the future.

On December 27th, the second day of Kwanzaa, celebrants gather to celebrate the principle of kujichagulia , which means self-determination. A red candle is lit, representing the defining, naming, creating and speaking for ourselves.

Family traditions vary in the order the candles are lit, but no matter the tradition, the black candle, which represents the people, is always lit first on each night of the celebration. On successive nights, some families light the candles from left to right beginning with the leftmost of the three red candles, which represent the struggle the people endured. This order of lighting signifies that people come first, then struggle, and then hope, represented by the green candles. Others families alternate between red and green candles, beginning with the leftmost of the red candles, then the rightmost of the three green candles, symbolizing that there is hope even in the midst of struggle.

SUNDAY Dec. 26: The 1st day of Kwanzaa, Umoja or Unity.

The First Day

During the seven-day festival of Kwanzaa , families come together to celebrate pan-African culture, and honor the ancestry and community that unites them. Kwanzaa is a Swahili word which refers to the first fruits of the harvest. Traditionally the Kwanzaa centerpiece consists of fruits and vegetables that are native to Africa, an ear of corn for each child in the family, and a unity cup or Kikombe cha Umoja. The corn represents the hope associated with the younger generation.

As celebrants gather to light the first candle on the Kinara they ask Habari gani or What is the news? Those gathered respond with the principle of the day.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the principles or Nguzo Sabe of African Heritage. On December 26th, the first day of Kwanzaa, the principle is Umoja or Unity, represented by the black candle, symbolizing the people themselves. This candle is lit first on each day of Kwanzaa, focusing on the unity of family, community, nation and race. Each participant will take a sip from the unity cup, raising it and announcing Harambee , meaning let's pull together, then passing the cup to the next participant so that they too may drink. This ritual is performed each night of Kwanzaa.