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KWANZAA is an African American cultural holiday celebrated from December 26
through January 1. The holiday was created by Maulana Karenga, Ph.D., in the
midst of the 1960's Civil Rights struggle. In the East African language of
Kiswahili, Kwanzaa means "the first fruits of the harvest." It is based on
Kawaida, the philosophy of cultural and social change which argues that the
key challenge in the life of African American's is knowing, understanding, and
appreciating African cultural values. Kawaida philosophy is further defined
by its commitment to an ongoing dialog with African cultures which involves
using it as a resource rather than a reference.
As an African first-fruits celebration, Kwanzaa is organized around five
fundamental activities: (1) ingathering of the people - reinforcing the bonds
between people in spite of their diversity; (2) reverence for the Creator and
creation - a time of Thanksgiving for all that is in the earth; (3)
commemoration of the past - a time of honoring moral obligations, and to
appreciate the role as heirs and custodians of a great legacy; (4) recommitment
to the highest ideals - focusing on thought and practice of the highest
cultural vision and values; (5) celebration of the good - family, community,
culture, friendship, the bountifulness of the earth, the wonders of the
Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce seven basic values known as
Nguzo Saba which in Swahili means the seven principles. The seven principles
are listed here, first in Swahili and then in English:
- Umoja (Unity) - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community,
nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-determination) - To define ourselves, name ourselves,
create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) - To build and maintain our
community together and make our sister's and brothers' problems our problems
and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) - To build and maintain our own stores,
shops and other businesses and to profit from them.
- Nia (Purpose) - To make our collective vocation the building and developing
of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional
- Kuumba (Creativity) - To always do as much as we can, in the way that we
can, in order to leave out community more beautiful and beneficial than we
- Imani (Faith) - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents,
our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our
[Summarized from Kwanzaa: a celebration of family, community and culture by
Maulana Karenga,(the Creator of Kwanzaa) University of Sankore Press, Los
Angeles, CA . 1998]
Prepared by Louise Parsons, Black Resource Librarian
November 1999, Revised December 2000
Selected Kwanzaa Books for Adults:
Anderson, David A. Kwanzaa: an Everyday Resource and Instructional Guide. Gumbs & Thomas, New York. 1992.
A rich source of information and ideas for programs and activities for the holiday. Includes programs for children and young adults, lesson plans, preparation for Kwanzaa, and how to practice the seven principles year round. Also includes original are, photography and symbols with their meaning. Selected bibliography and index. Ideal for teachers and parents.
Copage, Eric V. Kwanzaa: An African-American Celebration of Culture and Cooking. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York. 1991.
A complete guide to the history and foods of Kwanzaa. A beautiful and practical book. Contains 125 dishes from people of African descent living all over the world. Includes brief biographies of distinguished African Americans, proverbs, and folk tales that illustrate the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Food is crucial to the holiday and this culinary contribution embodies the spirit of the holiday and adds to the testimony of the accomplishments of African Americans throughout history. Highly recommended.
Karenga, Maulana, Kwanzaa: A celebration of Family, Community and Culture. University of Sankore Press, Los Angeles. 1998.
Written by the creator of the holiday, this book presents the origins of the celebrations, a chapter on each of the Seven Principles, explanations of the meaning of related symbols, suggested activities, and a section in which Karenga answers frequently asked questions. Provides a concise overview of the holiday, and in-depth information on the "first-fruits" or harvest festivals that is the basis for Kwanzaa. Attractive layout, both in color and black-and-white photographs adds to the lasting value of this book. A must in order to understand the fullness of the holiday. (The author, Dr. Maulana Karenga, is the creator of the Kwanzaa holiday.)
Riley, Dorothy Winbush. The Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest. HarperCollins, New York., 1995.
An extended resource guide to the African-American holiday. Includes information on the seven principles and describes the traditional ceremonies, foods, clothing, and history of this joyful and spiritual holiday. The author elaborates on each of the seven principles by adding poetry, historical and biographical sketches of well-known African American personalities. She also includes quotations, folktales, proverbs, and thoughts related to the principle. The book is organized for informative and interesting reading. Highly recommended.
Selected Kwanzaa Books for Children:
Banks, Valerie J. R. The Kwanzaa Coloring Book. Sala Enterprises, Los Angeles. 1993. Baby-Preschool.
A great coloring book for the very young. Keeps them busy and teaches the basics of Kwanzaa. Includes flags, symbols, how to set up symbols, and the meaning of the seven principles of Kwanzaa.
Chocolate, Deborah M. Newton, My First Kwanzaa Book. Scholastic, Inc. 1992. Ages 4-8.
Introduces readers to the history and practices of Kwanzaa through beautiful and colorful illustrations. It shows the activities for each day of the week long festivities, and families gathered together dressed in traditional African clothing to celebrate their heritage.
Chocolate, Deborah M. Newton, Kwanzaa. Children's Press, Chicago. 1990. Ages 4-8.
Discusses the holiday and its practices, explains the meaning of the word Kwanzaa, and the seven principles. Contains beautiful illustrations.
Holt-Goldsmith, Celebrating Kwanzaa. Holiday House, New York, 1993. Ages 9-12.
The text and photographs show how an African American family in Chicago celebrates Kwanzaa. The text includes the history of the holiday, its symbols, and examples of the seven principles. The beautiful color photographs accentuate the pride of the family. Includes a glossary and an index.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis. Seven Candles for Kwanzaa. Dial Books, New York. 1993. Ages 7 and older.
Explains the origins, language, and daily themes of this festive seven-day holiday. Uses scratch board drawings of a family as they go through the daily Kwanzaa activities and celebrations. The text is simple and straightforward. A combination of text and pictures that can be used by older children as well as picture book readers.
Porter, A. P., Kwanzaa. Carolrhoda Books, Inc., Minneapolis. 1991. Ages 4-8.
Describes the origins and practices of the holiday. An easy reader describing the historical background, principles and traditions of Kwanzaa. The color illustrations are warm and interesting. A description of the seven principles are included and a listing of what you need to celebrate Kwanzaa.
For more information on Kwanzaa, check out the following web sites: