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I am The Shytrovert a proud, moderately shy INFP and this is my blog. I write about society, relationships, current events and how shy and introverted folks can cope in an extroverted world.


WTF is Kwanzaa anyway? I’m glad you asked…

As Featured On EzineArticles 
Today is the 4th day of Kwanzaa, a holiday created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga a professor of Africana Studies at California State University--Long Beach. In the wake of the civil rights movement, black people were getting in touch with their heritage and feeling a renewed sense of pride.  Black history departments were burgeoning in American universities like UCLA and African states like Kenya and Botswana had gained their independence.  The time was ripe for a celebration of Pan- Africanism.
According to Dr. Karena:
“Kwanzaa is rooted in and developing out of the ancient origins of African first-fruit harvest celebrations and the modern origins of the Black Freedom Movement, Kwanzaa teaches and cultivates cultural grounding and ethical principles and practices dedicated to the cooperative creation and sharing of good in the world.”
Kwanzaa is a Swahili word that means first fruits of the harvest.  Karenga chose Swahili as the language of Kwanzaa because of its status as a sort of lingua franca in Africa. The holiday was intended as a celebration of history and a way for Africans in the Diaspora to celebrate their commonalities and come together in the spirit of brotherhood. 
Kwanzaa begins the day after Christmas and lasts until New Year’s Day.  The seven days of Kwanzaa are called Nguzo Sbaba (seven principles).  The ceremony of Kwanzaa involves a kinara (candleholder), Mkeka (mat), Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) and Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles - three green, three red and one black) which symbolize the seven principles.  The colors of the candles are also symbolic:  black for the people, red for their struggles, and green for hope arising from their struggles.
The implements of Kwanzaa have a central place in the home.  The kinara goes on top of the Mkeka (mat) as does the Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) Mazao (crops), and two ears of corn to symbolize the children in the community.  Books on African culture and objects of African art are also placed next to the mat to reinforce the commitment to culture and education.  

Nguzo Saba
1.      Umoja (unity) symbolized by the black center candle on the kinara
2.      Kujichagulia (self-determination) symbolized by one of three red candles on the left
3.      Ujima (collective work and responsibility) symbolized by one of three red candles on the left
4.      Ujamaa (cooperative economics) symbolized by one of three red candles on the left
5.      Nia (purpose) symbolized by one of three black candles on the right
6.      Kuumba (creativity) symbolized by one of three black candles on the right
7.      Imani (faith) symbolized by one of three black candles on the right

The Kwanzaa Ceremony
On each day of Kwanzaa celebrates greet one another with: "Habari gani?" (What is the Word?) and answered with the corresponding Kwanzaa principle for that day, e.g., "Umoja", on the first day, "Kujichagulia", on the second, etc.
A candle is lit and a libation is poured to the ancestors in reverence and remembrance of those who taught us the good (Tamshi) in life.  Then a passage is read from a book that illustrates the principle of the day.  The celebration culminates in a feast (Karamu) and an exchange of gifts.  Generally, gifts are reserved for children and linked to education or cultural heritage.  

For more information about Kwanzaa and its history, visit Dr. Karenga’s website.  There’s also a cool film about Kwanzaa called The Black Candle.  Here's the trailer:


  1. Anonymous7:33 AM

    Then let them keep "Kwanza" in friggin' Africa already!

    1. Please at least read my posts before you comment. Kwanzaa was created in the US and gets its inspiration from Africa. Geesh.

  2. Anonymous10:39 AM

    In 1971, Karenga was sentenced to one to ten years in prison on counts of felonious assault and false imprisonment.[15] One of the victims gave testimony of how Karenga and other men tortured her and another woman. The woman described having been stripped and beaten with an electrical cord. Karenga's estranged wife, Brenda Lorraine Karenga, testified that she sat on the other woman’s stomach while another man forced water into her mouth through a hose.

    A May 14, 1971, article in the Los Angeles Times described the testimony of one of the women:

    "Deborah Jones, who once was given the Swahili title of an African queen, said she and Gail Davis were whipped with an electrical cord and beaten with a karate baton after being ordered to remove their clothes. She testified that a hot soldering iron was placed in Miss Davis' mouth and placed against Miss Davis' face and that one of her own big toes was tightened in a vise. Karenga, head of US, also put detergent and running hoses in their mouths, she said. They also were hit on the heads with toasters."[16]

    Jones and Brenda Karenga testified that Karenga believed the women were conspiring to poison him, which Davis has attributed to a combination of ongoing police pressure and his own drug abuse.[5][17]

    Karenga denied any involvement in the torture, and argued that the prosecution was political in nature.[5][18] He was imprisoned at the California Men's Colony, where he studied and wrote on feminism, Pan-Africanism and other subjects. The US organization fell into disarray during his absence and was disbanded in 1974. After he petitioned several black state officials to support his parole on fair sentencing grounds, it was granted in 1975.[19]

    Karenga has declined to discuss the convictions with reporters and does not mention them in biographical materials.[17] During a 2007 appearance at Wabash College he again denied the charges and described himself as a former political prisoner.[20] The convictions nonetheless continue to generate controversy during Kwanzaa celebrations.