The Universal Principles of Kwanzaa : The holiday’s focus is African American, but all can learn from its down-to-earth values

Saturday, the first day of the new year, is also the final day of Kwanzaa. This seven-day African American holiday observance encourages a rededication to seven positive principles, which are worthy goals for all communities.

Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits of the harvest” in Swahili, was created in 1966 by Maulana (Ron) Karenga, currently a professor at Cal State Los Angeles.

The holiday is growing in popularity, especially because many young black parents are embracing their African heritage and seeking an antidote to the commercialization of Christmas. The values of Kwanzaa, however, are universal.

The true meaning of Kwanzaa is captured in daily discussions of the seven guidelines. These principles, which promote community, family and responsibility, should become annual prescriptions for all.


The principles, expressed in the Swahili language, are:

1. Umoja, a word meaning unity.

2. Kujichagulia--self-determination.

3. Ujima--collective work and responsibility.


4. Ujaama--cooperative economics.

5. Nia--purpose.

6. Kuumba--creativity.

7. Imani--faith.

Together, these values are reminiscent of the historical strengths found in African communities. Applied today, they should encourage the rebuilding of communities and families everywhere.

The Kwanzaa observance also calls for the lighting of red, black and green candles, which symbolize blood, ancestors and earth.

A straw mat represents the foundation of the family. Ears of corn represent individual members of the family. Simple gifts, often homemade or with black themes, such as books written by black authors or music recorded by black artists, represent the rewards of hard work.

On New Year’s Day, a festive Kwanzaa meal typically reflects African recipes, such as groundnut stew. Menus often include black American favorites such as black-eye peas and collard greens and Caribbean foods such as curried goat. Some feasts focus on fruits and vegetables, in keeping with the literal translation of the holiday’s name. Others incorporate recipes somehow connected to the African diaspora.


Meals often are accompanied by a story that illustrates the seven principles.

The final day of Kwanzaa will end a week of reflection and encourage a year of renewal.