The sixties was a turbulent time, especially for African Americans. A way of preserving the African American culture was needed. Dr. Maulana Karenga created a cultural holiday to be celebrated from December 26th through January 1st each year. In 1966 Kwanza was born out of a need for all African Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs, to come together and celebrate family, tradition and community.
Kwanza’s roots are derived from a Swahili term known as ‘matunda ya kwanza’ or first fruits. It has been the focus of a seven day event which not only encompasses the African tradition but is based on the Pan-African language which is primarily spoken in Africa today.
Similar to New Years, Kwanza represents the passing of one year and the welcoming of another to come. It is a time of reflection when African heritage is remembered. During ancient times, African harvest or first fruit celebrations comprised five functions which included: the reaffirmation or “ingathering” of people to bond together, giving thanks to the creator, recognizing and honouring ancestors, honouring cultural values and celebrating life as a family, a community and existence as a people.
In addition, within the Kwanza history are Seven Principles also known as Nguzo Seba which are part of the seven-day celebration. When African Americans reinforce the values rooted in their ancient culture.
To commemorate this special holiday, a Kwanza setting is placed in a central part of one’s home in which seven symbols are utilized to represent the values of the African culture and serve as a reminder of one’s commitment to family and community.
Kwanza is a time of reflection that is celebrated by African Americans worldwide. It is a time in which ancient traditions are revisited and the rich history of the African culture is renewed through the reassertion of family values and community. It is a holiday in which every African American is afforded the opportunity to acclaim their heritage and to reaffirm their commitment to the ancient bonds which serves to strengthen their own identity in particular and as part of the world community in general.