Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
The Founder's Message 1999
Professor Maulana Karenga


"Kwanzaa, Peace and Justice in the World:
Cultivating and Harvesting the Good"

Dr. Maulana Karenga

Creator of Kwanzaa        


-------The beauty and meaning of Kwanzaa rest in the hearts, minds and practice of African people who wove it out of the rich, ancient and modern fabric of their own culture and lives, and celebrate it and their culture as a unique way of being human in the world. Thus, the origins of Kwanzaa, as a celebration of family, community and culture, are both ancient and modern. Kwanzaa, first of all, is rooted in and rises from the ancient harvest celebrations of Africa. These first-fruit celebrations were organized around fundamental activities which Kwanzaa embraces and continues. They are: the ingathering of the people in communal reaffirmation, reverent thanksgiving; reflective remembrance, humble recommitment and joyous celebration of the Good, the good of life and world, and the good of cultivating, reaping and sharing the rich harvest of fertile fields, collective work and communal solidarity.  

Kwanzaa also has modern origins rooted in the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960's. It is thus a celebration of the recovery of African culture from the ravages and ruins of the Holocaust of enslavement and subsequent continued oppression by the dominant society. Kwanzaa, then, is both an act of freedom and a celebration of freedom. It is an act of freedom in the practice of our own culture and the return to our own history. And it is an act of freedom against the cultural imperialism of the dominant society which sought to strip us of our African culture, deprive us of our dignity and identity as persons and a people and mold us in its own image and interests. This recovery of the ancient vision and values of Africa as foundation and framework for the enrichment and expansion of our lives is thus a central part of our people's struggle to be free politically as well as culturally. And it is in this spirit and practice of cultural self-determination that Kwanzaa is celebrated by millions of persons throughout the world African community on every continent in the world.  

On this the 35th anniversary of Kwanzaa, then, we will meet together again as our ancestors thousands of years before us to celebrate the good we have harvested, to reaffirm our rootedness in our culture and to recommit ourselves to our most cherished values and to the ongoing task and reward of bringing good into the world. We will also meet together again to celebrate our modern struggle for freedom, for self-determination and to return to our history and culture as African people. And as always Kwanzaa calls us to sit down in thoughtful silence and meditate on the meaning and responsibility of being African in the world  

This obligation and task becomes even more important in this time of crisis marked by the country's turn to war in the midst of a heightened sense of personal and collective vulnerability and fear for the future. For as always, war brings the massive destruction of human life, the disruption of societies, an increase in human suffering, reduced emphasis on care and concern for the needy and the vulnerable, and greater stress on the use of valuable resources for weapons and actions of war. Furthermore, wars usually call for collective hatred, the criminalizing of whole peoples and a coercive patriotism that equates loyalty to the country with unquestioning support of the war. And under such pressure to conform, we, as African people, could easily lose our self-determination and abandon our history and ongoing role as a moral and social vanguard in this country, who are required by both history and heaven not only to speak truth to power but also to speak truth to the people. For as the Husia teaches, we are morally compelled to "come forth to bear witness to truth and set the scales of justice in their proper place among those who have no voice." And this means remaining steadfast against the winds and waves to the contrary and raising up the good, the right and the possible.  

This is also a time marked by the ongoing struggles for freedom, justice, power and peace in the world. Indeed, regardless of the attention this recently declared war demands, we cannot and must not forget these ongoing rightful struggles for free and empowered communities, the just and good society and the good and sustainable world. For in the final analysis, the war and these struggles are interrelated. It is clear that still: the oppressed want freedom; the wronged and injured want justice; the people want power and; the world wants peace. And the celebration of Kwanzaa this year is and must be informed and influenced by these ongoing struggles and just aspirations of our people and other peoples of the world. For as a celebration founded and framed in the midst of the African American Freedom Movement, Kwanzaa carries within it support for and celebration of our and all peoples' right and struggles for freedom, justice, power and peace in the world.  

This year's Kwanzaa theme of "Peace and Justice in the World" is not only reflective of the current and continuous urgency of securing these two goods in the world. But also it is taken from the ancient African teaching of the Odu Ifa that humans are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental meaning and mission of human life. Moreover, it is informed by the teaching that the greatest good is always a shared good, a good created, cultivated, harvested and enjoyed by all. Among these shared goods are family and friendship, community and companionship, sisterhood and brotherhood, love and life itself, as well as freedom, justice, peace and power of the people over their lives.  

And certainly freedom, justice, power and peace are all shared goods which are perverted into their opposite when one person, group or people seeks them simply for themselves without regard or respect for the rights and needs of others for these same goods of the world. Also, we must reaffirm that these goods are intimately linked. Indeed, there can be no peace without justice, no justice without freedom and no freedom without the power of people everywhere to determine their destiny and daily lives, push their lives forward, harness their human and material resources, live lives of dignity and decency and work for and witness the rightfully expected unfolding of a good future for themselves and their children.   We are told that we are at war and that we must and will win it. But what is the focus and nature of the war we are in? Perhaps, it is as much against ourselves, and the values we hold dear and use to define ourselves in the world as it is against our officially designated enemy. One of the greatest freedom fighters of the past century, Amilcar Cabral, reminded us that regardless of the problems our enemy poses for us, the greatest struggle is always against ourselves, against that in us which is in contradiction to our highest values which, of necessity, include freedom, justice, peace, power of people over their lives, and respect for the life, rights and dignity of the human person.

Surely, as we are called to war by this country, we, as African people, must especially during this holiday of harvesting and reaffirming the good, resist calls to violate our most cherished values. In fact, as the Odu Ifa urges us, we must demonstrate an internal spiritual strength, an expressed moral courage and an ongoing active commitment to bringing good into the world and not letting any good be lost, in spite of coercive calls to the contrary.  

Thus, we must come to this important and instructive international celebration of our people, conscious of our obligation as an African people to reaffirm our rootedness in our culture and our ongoing active commitment to the best of our values - values which represent the best of what it means to be both African and human. And, of course, the framework and foundation for practicing these values are the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith).  

Umoja (Unity) calls on us to cultivate, hold on to and harvest the good of togetherness within our family, community, people and the world. This principle seeks a peaceful and principled togetherness rooted in mutual respect, justice and other shared goods of the world. It encourages us to maintain a sense of kinship with other humans and all living beings, to value the sacredness of life, to feel a sense of at-oneness with and in the world and to resist thought and practice which violate the fundamental African ethical principles of: respect for the rights and dignity of the human person, the well-being of family and community, the integrity and value of the environment, and the reciprocal solidarity and cooperation for mutual benefit of humanity.  

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) commits us to the fundamental principle of the right of each people to determine its own destiny and daily life, to forge its future in its own image and interests. And it teaches us that self-determination or freedom, like other goods such as justice, peace, power and security, are shared goods of the world and that no people have more right to these fundamental goods than any other people. For in fact, our freedom, peace and security depends on our respect for other peoples right to these shared goods whether in Palestine, Iraq, Sudan, Panama, Somalia, Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.  

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) teaches us that we must build the good world we want and deserve to live in. It urges us to practice an ethics of sharing in order to achieve this good and sustainable world. And this ethics of sharing would require a practice of shared status (every people and person treated as bearers of equal dignity and divinity), shared knowledge, shared space (community, society and world), shared wealth, shared power, shared interests (common good) and shared responsibility for building the world we all want and deserve to live in.  

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) commits us to the principle and practice of shared work and wealth, rooted in a profound sense of kinship with others and the environment. It teaches us to seek a just and equitable distribution of the resources of society and the world so that everyone can rightfully live a life of dignity and decency, to support workers in their just struggles, to care for the vulnerable among us and to aid the poor in their historic struggle to end poverty and live full and meaningful lives.  

Nia (Purpose) urges us to make our collective vocation the achieving and doing of good in our community and the world. It reminds us of the teachings of our ancestors in the Odu Ifa that we and all other humans are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and not let any good be lost and that ultimate good is the good shared by every person and people.  

Kuumba (Creativity) teaches us to do all we can in the way we can to leave our community and this world more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. It urges us to constantly heal and restore the world, serudj ta, raising up and restoring the ruined, repairing the damaged, rejoining the divided, replenishing the depleted, strengthening the weakened, setting right the wrong and making flourish the insecure and undeveloped.  

And finally Imani (Faith), requires us in this time of crisis and the call to war, to boldly reaffirm our faith in the good in the world, in our most cherished values, and in the right necessity and possibility of freedom, justice, power and peace for all people everywhere.  

With this understanding and active agenda, let us stand up with faith in our future and the future of the world, with faith that in our struggle for the good we are actually the future unfolding. And let us step forth in the world ever conscious that we are bearers of dignity and divinity, eniyan, chosen ones, chosen not over all others, but chosen with and among all others for the divinely assigned task of bringing good into the world and not letting any good be lost.

Hotep. Ase. Heri.       Heri za Kwanzaa    (Happy Kwanzaa)!

_________________________________________December, 2001

Dr. Maulana Karenga is creator of Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba; professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach; chair of The Organization Us and the National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO); author of the authoritative book on Kwanzaa titled Kwanzaa, A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture. For current information on Kwanzaa see: and for information on The Organization Us see: