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Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
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The Founder's Message 2002

Professor Maulana Karenga

2003

“ Kwanzaa and the Practicing of the Seven Principles:

The Cooperative Creation of Good”

Dr. Maulana Karenga
Creator of Kwanzaa

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The season and celebration of Kwanzaa is rooted in the ancient and ongoing African ethical commitment to bring, increase and sustain good into the world. Based on the first harvest celebrations of ancient Africa , the holiday holds fast to the idea that the promise of our present and the flowering of our future depend on our commitment to the cooperative creation and sharing of good in the world. Indeed in its principles and practice, Kwanzaa is a reaffirmation of the ancient ancestral teaching of the Odu Ifa that we as human beings, eniyan , are divinely chosen to bring good into the world, and that we must constantly struggle to increase it and not let any good be lost. The teachings also say that the greatest good is shared good, that we should conceive it and cultivate it together, and that we should harvest it together and share it throughout the world. For the good of the world and the good in the world belongs to everyone. And the teachings say this too: our ongoing effort to bring, increase and sustain good in the world is the fundamental mission and meaning of human life. In a word, it is our primary purpose, as persons and a people, regardless of the varied work and ways by which we choose to pursue and fulfill it.

It is within this self-understanding as ones chosen to bring good in the world that we grasp the expansive meaning of the ancient harvests and harvest celebrations on which the ancient origins of Kwanzaa are based. For they were and are models of the cooperative creation and celebration of good in the world. Likewise, Kwanzaa's modern rootedness in the Reaffirmation of the 60's, the sustained struggle to free ourselves and reaffirm our Africanness and our social justice tradition, clearly speaks to this ancient and ongoing commitment to bring, increase and sustain good in the world. For it was a struggle for freedom in its fullest meaning, for justice, for power of a people over its destiny and daily lives, and for a just peace in the world. It was a struggle to return to our own history and culture, speak our own special cultural truth and make our own unique contribution to expanding the realm of human freedom and human flourishing. And the views and values of Kwanzaa are shaped in the crucible of this struggle.

In reflective remembrance of these roots of Kwanzaa, then, let us, as our ancestors before us, hold fast to the vision, values and practices which reflect their commitment to bringing good into the world. Let us gather together again this year to reaffirm the bonds between us, as persons, families and a people, celebrate the joy and rightness of being together, and meditate on the meaning and awesome responsibility of being African in the world in this our time. And in the midst of this meditation, let us not forget that no identity or responsibility of ours is more important than that of those who are chosen by heaven and history to bring good into the world . Let us also show special reverence to the Creator and creation, giving thanks for the good given and received, embracing the whole world as sacred space and reaffirming our oneness with and in the world and our responsibility to it. And let us also remember, teach and reflect on the rich and limitless lessons of our life and history as a people and of our ancestors, those models of human excellence and achievement who lifted up the light that lasts for us—the light of the spiritual and the special, the ethical and eternal.

Let us also reach deep inside ourselves and within the depths of our culture and extract and recommit ourselves to those values that represent the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. We speak here of the Nguzo Saba and other values, that teach us to speak truth, do justice, be kind and compassionate, hold fast to the good and struggle against all things negative to life and good in the world. And let us like our ancestors before us, celebrate the Good: the good of family, community and culture; the good of life and every living thing; the good of earth and water, field and forest, river and rain—in the words of the ancestors, the good of “all that heaven gives, the earth produces and the waters bring forth from their depths.”

Surely, if we accept and honor the ancient and ongoing African ethical mandate to bring good into the world and commit ourselves to cooperative creation and sharing of good in the world, we must embrace principles and engage in practices which enable us to achieve this. And certainly at the heart of these practices and the season and celebration of Kwanzaa are the Nguzo Saba , the Seven Principles, the principles which are the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns. These principles around which the seven-days of Kwanzaa are organized are: Umoja (Unity), a principled, peaceful and purposeful togetherness; Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), the right and responsibility to rule, represent and assert ourselves in the world in our own unique way; Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), building together the community and world we want and deserve to live in; Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), shared work and wealth; Nia ( Purpose), the collective vocation of constantly bringing good into the world; Kuumba (Creativity), making our community and the world more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it; and Imani (Faith), faith in the good, the right and the possible.

The principle of Umoja (Unity) teaches us to act always in ways that reinforce the bonds between us, in ways that bring us closer in mutually beneficial relations based on our being of each other, with each other and for each other. It urges us to hold our relationships together under the stress and strain of daily life, as family and friends, co-workers, allies in struggle, and members of the local, national and global African community. And the principle of unity teaches us also to feel a sense of oneness with and responsibility to each other, humanity and the world. It calls on us to think deeply and meaningfully about the interrelatedness of life on which our existence and development as a people, species and world depend and to act accordingly. Indeed, one of the greatest challenges of our time is to build communities, societies and a world whose principles and daily practices respect, sustain and enrich life, rather than disrespect, diminish and destroy it.

The principle of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) calls on us to insist on the recognition of every person as a bearer of dignity and divinity and entitled to equal respect as our ancestors taught in the sacred Husia as early as 2140 B.C.E. It reaffirms the moral imperative of respecting each people and culture as a unique and equally valuable way of being human in the world. And it urges us all to embrace every day as an opportunity to bring good into the world in our own unique way as persons and a people, and to bring forth constantly the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.

The principle of Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) calls on us to reaffirm our relationship and responsibility to each other, our ancestors and to future generations. It reminds us that we must share the responsibility for building the communities, societies and world we want and deserve to live in—a caring, cooperative, just and ultimately good world. And it calls on us to constantly wage struggles around critical issues in our lives which insure present and future good in the world. Thus, it is a call for collective work and responsibility, that is to say, a self-conscious and sustained struggle, to make the moral ideal of ancient Africa a social reality for modern Africa on the continent and throughout the world African communit y. And this moral ideal poses a realm of human freedom and human flourishing where there is profound and enduring respect for: the dignity and rights of the human person; the well-being and flourishing of family and community; the integrity and value of the environment; and the reciprocal solidarity and cooperation for mutual benefit of humanity.

The principle of Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) teaches us the practice of shared work and wealth in the world. It urges us to work for economic practices rooted in justice and which express due respect for the dignity of work and the rights of the worker. It supports our struggle to end an artificial and unnecessary global conflict between the economy and ecology, between progress in the world and the plunder, pollution and depletion of it. And it urges us to maintain a sense of kinship in and with the world and to embrace it as sacred space and thus treat it with the respect it is due as the foundation and framework of our life.

The principle of Nia (Purpose) reaffirms the ancient mandate that we must continuously bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental mission and meaning in human life. It teaches us to build and sustain the essential elements of a good life: freedom; justice; power of the people; and peace in the world. This means freedom from want, toil and domination; justice of every kind and form—social, economic, political and environmental; power of and for the masses of our and other people so that they may harness their human and material resources and use them to live free, full and meaningful lives; and a peace in the world that is clearly just and lasting and born of a principled and patient work which the ancestors said would eventually turn our enemies into allies and our foes into friends.

The principle of Kuumba (Creativity) teaches us to commit ourselves to work for a world that is better, more beautiful and more beneficial than we inherited it. It urges us to engage in personal and social practices directed toward constantly restoring, repairing and transforming the world: raising up what is in ruins, repairing what is damaged, replenishing what is depleted, rejoining what is divided, setting right what is wrong, strengthening what is weakened, and making flourish that which is fragile and undeveloped. It is a principle which reinforce the instructions of our ancestors to respect life, love justice, cherish freedom, treasure the truth, faithfully pursue peace, be constantly kind and compassionate, and always do what is good. And it challenges us to take up the task of daring to struggle, sacrifice and bring into being a new world and to become new persons and a new people in the process.

Finally, the principle of Imani (Faith) teaches us to believe in the good we seek to create; to believe in its practice and promise. It reaffirms the faith of our ancestors that we can, indeed, fill the emptiness in human life with relations and practices that cultivate and fulfill hope, bring happiness and give meaning and measure to our lives. It teaches us the faith of our foremothers and forefathers that reassures us we can find and put in place just solutions to the many conflicts which consume and divide our world; that we can repair shattered lives, make peace in the midst of war; find long-sought cures for devastating diseases, end the scourge of famine, and build solidarity based on mutual respect and cooperation for mutual benefit and good in the world. And this principle is an ongoing reaffirmation of that Fanonian faith that we, African people, along with other peoples of the world, can indeed start a new history of humankind and bring into being a new world and a new man, woman and child who will cherish each other, sustain the good world and pass on this good to future generations.

With this in mind, let us recommit ourselves this Kwanzaa and each day to dare to struggle constantly to bring good into the world, to increase it and sustain it. And let us especially commit ourselves and our children to the ongoing struggles for freedom for the oppressed, justice for the wronged and injured, power for the people over their destiny and daily lives and peace in the world. This we must do in honor of our ancestors, in respect for ourselves and in the interests of future generations. And in this historic and ongoing struggle for freedom, justice, power for the people and peace in the world, may the freedom fighters be supported and victorious; may the seekers of justice be successful and sustained; may the masses of people of the world be empowered and flourish; and may the world be blessed with a just and lasting peace for all of us everywhere. Hotep. Ase. Heri. Heri za Kwanzaa (Happy Kwanzaa)!

December 2003

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Dr. Maulana Karenga
is creator of Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba ; professor in 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: www.OfficialKwanzaaWebsite.org and for information on The Organization Us see: www.Us-Organization.org.
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