All Things Kenyan


I frequently get questions about Kwanzaa and whether or not people in Africa celebrate it. Strictly speaking, Kwanzaa is not an African holiday. Generally, this time of year is when various rites of passage ceremonies take place – including circumcisions, and/or Christmas celebrations, and/or Family Day, and/or Ramadan (if it falls in December). Harvest celebrations fall during various times of the year depending on the country and when their harvest takes place. This is all dependent on the patterns of the dry and rainy seasons which vary from region to region.

Kwanzaa is a secular seven day holiday beginning on December 26th. This holiday was developed by Dr. Maulana Karenga and is observed by African-Americans. Kwanzaa was first celebrated in 1966.

Many elements of Kwanzaa come from African harvest celebrations. The word Kwanzaa is taken from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza meaning first fruits. Each day of the Kwanzaa celebration is dedicated to one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamma (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Imani (Faith). These words along with mkeka, muhindi, kinara, mishumaa saba, kikombe cha umoja, zawadi, and karamu and many others used in the Kwanzaa celebrations are Swahili words. Interestingly, the word Kwanzaa is not a Swahili word, kwanza is.

The majority of Africans who were enslaved in the United States came from the west coast, or French speaking coast, of Africa. The Swahili language is primarily spoken on the east coast of Africa (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) and the Swahili people make their home in Kenya and Tanzania, thus Swahili (language or people) really has nothing to do with the west coast of Africa.

Kwanzaa KineraWhen I first heard about Kwanzaa, one thing that struck me was the mishumaa saba (seven candles) and how similar that tradition was to the Jewish Hanukkah tradition of lighting the Hanukkah menorah or Hanukiyah which has seven or nine candles. I’ve often wondered if the mishumaa saba was borrowed from Jewish tradition. I have no proof of this. Although this isn’t necessarily a problem. The Jewish people were enslaved in Egypt, Ethiopia has a strong Jewish and Christian history, and Black Jews have been recently recognized by Israel as being Jewish.

African-Americans celebrate this holiday instead of Christmas to recognize their African roots or they feel Christmas is a white man’s holiday. Although, this is not what Dr. Karenga intended. Kwanzaa is to be celebrated along with your religious celebrations. However, if you are an African-American descended from slavery you are celebrating traditions from the east coast of Africa, instead of the west coast.

Kwanzaa appears to be a melting pot of African traditions and perhaps this is the intent for a celebration for African-Americans who live in a melting pot society.

For more about Kwanzaa see The Official Kwanzaa Web Site and Kwanzaa vs. Christmas for African-Americans.

One thought on “Kwanzaa

  1. Jeanne Post author

    Previous Comments From Old ATK Site:

    Anonymous said: Kwanazaa is one of the left’s favorite hoaxes. Started out as an FBI sting in Oakland in 1966. In an effort to infiltrate the violent marxist politics in the gehetto, The FBI concocted a group called “United Slaves” and installed a small time street thug (Karenga) as the head of the organization. The “United Slaves” claim to fame was that they considered the Black Panthers as too passive and gunned them down during a meeting at UC. Karenga went on to be tried and sentenced to 7 years for the torture and enslavement on two black women in his group. Part of the torture included burning the tongue of one victim with a soldering iron. After prison, Kaarenga was suddenly a “Dr” and was teaching

    Nkani said: I think you guys are missing the point about Kwanzaa.
    1. Kwanzaa is not only a seven day celebration, it is a way of life with the goal for uniting Africans all over the world.
    2. Kwanzaa has everything to do with all Africans, black people in particular. See Kwanzaa for what it’s ment to achieve and forget about what is may be borrowed from wherever, who cares.
    3. Kwanzaa has nothing to do with Christmas, Christianity or any other religion, it was designed independently to be on its own. Don’t compare it to anything, but Kwanzaa itself and its objectives.
    4. Kwanzaa is for all Africans who understand what it stands for and what it’s trying to achieve. (Ask Dr Karanga himself).
    5. And yes, people in Africa do celebrate Kwanzaa. I for one am a South African and I’m not only celebrating Kwanzaa, but live Kwanzaa.

    Cheryl said: I very much appreciate your thoughtful comments on Kwanzaa. I am African American and wonder what Africans think of Kwanzaa. This was very helpful! There is one very important correction that needs to be made however: African Americans do not celebrate Kwanzaa INSTEAD of Christmas. We celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas. Anyone who believes that Christmas is a “white man’s holiday” should be taught that Jesus was a Jew from a part of the world where he could not have been white. More importantly, when we celebrate Kwanzaa’s Imani, faith, we do so primarily from a Christian perspective. Our history in this country has been one of survival with and through our Christian faith. The very song that is dear to our hearts “Lift Every Voice” is a hymn. Everyone I know who celebrates Kwanzaa also celebrates Christmas.