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

Professor Maulana Karenga

The Annual Founder’s Kwanzaa Message – 2004

“ Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles: Creating and Practicing Good in the World"

Dr. Maulana Karenga
Creator of Kwanzaa


This Kwanzaa millions of Africans all over the world come again together to celebrate family, community and culture and to recommit themselves to creating and practicing good in the world, using the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, as the fundamental framework and foundation to achieve this. Thus, as our ancestors and elders before us, we come again together to reinforce the bonds between us as persons and peoples, and to give thanks for the harvest of good we have gathered from the fertile fields of our lands, the fruitful fields of our lives, and the bruising and blood-stained battlefields of our struggles. We come together again also to commemorate the past, to raise and praise the sacred names and sustaining practices of the ancestors and to recommit ourselves to the dignity-affirming and life-enhancing views and values they have left to ground and guide us. Consciously following in the cultural footsteps of our ancestors and elders, we come together also to celebrate the good in and of the world, the good of family, community and culture, the good of loving-kindness and care, the good of respect for ourselves and others, the good of life and love, of sharing and together, working to build and sustain the world we all want and deserve to live in.

Created in the context of the Black Freedom Movement of the 60’s, Kwanzaa reflects the Movement’s dual stress on reaffirmation of our Africanness and our social justice tradition. Kwanzaa is, thus, a self-conscious commitment to return to our own history and to recover the enduring richness of our own culture, its values, insights and instructive practices and to use it as a constant resource to inform, enrich and expand our lives. Likewise, Kwanzaa reaffirms the centrality of our ancient and ongoing social justice tradition. Kwanzaa embraces its stress on struggle and its ethical insistence that we seek and speak truth, do justice, care for the poor and vulnerable, empower the masses of people, pursue peace, continuously expand the realm of human freedom and human flourishing and constantly repair and renew the world.

Thus, at Kwanzaa, we are obligated to ask what is the moral meaning of our lives as Africans in the world? What does it mean to be an African living in this time of comforting illusions and brutal realities, in this world where claims of global progress masks the massive disruption and destruction of human lives and the natural environment and where aggression, empire and occupation are justified by racialized religion, manipulated fear, and military might. In such a context, what are our moral obligations to ourselves and each other, to the poor and unpowerful, to the ill and aged, to the stranger, the environment and future generations and to the oppressed, suffering and struggling peoples of the world? Regardless of the specific conclusions we come to with regard to these enduring questions, the overarching answer to these and all related ones is found in the ancestral teachings in the Odu Ifa that “humans are divinely chosen to bring good in the world” and that this is the fundamental mission and meaning of human life.

The Nguzo Saba

And it is in this process of seeking to create and practice good in the world that we turn to the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles. For they are the fundamental framework and foundation for our self-understanding and self-assertion as Africans in the world. Indeed, the Nguzo Saba provide us with a cultural value system that calls on us to have the courage to care and think deeply about what’s going on in the world and to enter the field of action with a willingness to work and struggle hard to build the world we all want and deserve to live in.

Thus, within the conception and definition of the Nguzo Saba, there is a constant call for striving and struggling for the good, developing and maintaining the good and becoming and being the good. This is a call to act in such a way that we embody and express in all we do the best of our values and practices as a people. For only by honoring the obligations placed upon us by our history and highest values can we bring good into the world in its most expansive sense. In this regard, the Seven Principles focus on African family, community and culture, but they also have a meaning and message for society and the world. Indeed, they speak to the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense and offer a path to shared good for us as a people and for the whole of humanity.

Umoja (Unity) The Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, begin with the principle of Umoja (unity). Our text, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, states that the principle Umoja calls on us “to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race,” i.e., the world African community. Umoja encourages a profound sense of relatedness, togetherness and oneness in the small and larger circles of our lives. It fosters a spirit of togetherness and moral sensitivity which encourages us to avoid injuring each other and the world and to eagerly work and struggle for the common good. Indeed, the principle of unity reminds us of the ancient ethical teaching of the Odu Ifa that the greatest good comes from our gathering together in harmony whether in family, friendship, community, society or the world. And this too the principle of unity teaches us: we live in a web and world of interdependence and that freedom, dignity, well-being and other goods should and must be shared goods for everyone, if there is to be any peace, justice and security for anyone in the world.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) The second principle, Kujichagulia (self-determination), the text says, is a call “to define ourselves, names ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.” It teaches us to define ourselves by the good we do and the dignity-bearing way we walk in the world, to name ourselves in reverent respect for our history and highest values, to create for ourselves in the life-affirming, world-preserving ways of the ancestors, and to speak for ourselves in ways that bring forth the best of our culture, and reaffirms our ancient and ongoing commitment to bring and share good in the world. Kujichagulia also teaches us that we must constantly dialog with our culture, asking it questions and seeking from it answers in our continuous quest to live full, free and meaningful lives and make a worthy contribution to the ongoing struggles to bring, sustain and increase good in the world.

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) The third principle, Ujima (collective work and responsibility) calls on us, the text says, “to build and maintain our community together and to make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.” This principle teaches us that we are responsible to and for each other, that we must build the world we want and deserve to live in and that it is a work which requires a profound and persistent ethical sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of others. Thus, the problems of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, crime, early death and racialized justice, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and the support of its survivors and the care for the families of its victims must not be approached simply as isolated, personalized tragedies and unfortunate problems for others. Rather, they must be understood and engaged as problems which we are all affected by and responsible for solving.

Likewise, the sufferings and struggles of the peoples of the world whether in Sudan, Haiti, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Australia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and other parts of the world are our concerns also. For we live in a world and web of interdependence and the issues of freedom, justice, self-determination and peace are critical issues for all of us, everywhere in the world. For as Malcolm taught us, these liberation struggles are linked with our own and are the motive force of human history. Moreover, these struggles raise critical issues for us and the world which we must deal with—i.e., the right to freedom and self-determination, and the wrongness of suppression and oppression, the right and responsibility of resistance, and the wrongness of invasion, occupation and unjust war, the right to the resources of one’s own land and the wrongness of international robbery of these resources by corporations or conquering country.

Thus, it is important for us to accept that our concerns for the oppressed must be expressed in a sustained practice to free them, that our anger at injustice must be reflected in our active resistance to it and that our preference for the poor must be linked to a practice which alleviates their poverty and points towards an end of it. This ultimately means that we must take up and continue the historical and ongoing struggle for good in the world, the struggle for freedom, justice, power of the masses of people over their destiny and daily lives and peace in the world. Thus, we must enter the corporate temples and political courtyards of the rich and powerful and radically renounce and confront them, we must resist their bloodthirsty gods of wealth and war, turn over the tables around which they design the deaths, dispossession and imprisonment of whole nations and place a new life-affirming, life-enhancing common ground agenda before this country and the world.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) The fourth principle, Ujamaa (cooperative economics), the text tells us, urges us “to build and maintain our stores, shops and other business and to profit from them together.” This is a compelling call to practice the principle of shared work and shared wealth in the world. It begins with a call to build and maintain economic institutions and by extension engage in economic practices that address our needs and aspirations and represent the best of our values. And certainly the central values here are cooperation for common good and the collective sharing of that good.

The model which Kwanzaa raises and the Nguzo Saba teaches is the harvest. To harvest good, we plan and then plant the promising fields of our lives and future together. We cultivate them together with loving care; we harvest them together with hope and anticipation of abundance. We joyfully share the good we have created together. And we conscientiously set aside seeds of good for the future.

Moreover, the principle of ujamaa speaks to a sense of kinship we must feel for each other and the world. The root word of ujamaa is jamaa which means family. Thus, it urges us to engage in economic practices which recognizes and respects our kinship with other humans and the world. It thus opposes activities which exploits and oppresses others and damages the world. Furthermore, as a cooperative pursuit of common good, ujamaa is profoundly concerned with an egalitarian distribution of wealth and good in the world and with care for the poor and vulnerable. Indeed, the Husia teaches us that “we are given wealth so that we can do good with it.” And the Odu Ifa teaches us “that anyone who cultivates the disposition for doing good especially for the needy, this person, in particular, will never lack happiness.” Thus, the ethical understanding of our traditional texts and the awesome insights of our ancestors urge us beyond the crass consumerism of the marketplace, the isolated individualism and the market-driven madness of acquisitiveness, posing as a substitute for actual and longed-for freedom.

Instead we are informed by the ethical teachings of the ancestors that we are to find meaning in our lives by searching after Maat, seeking to do good in the world, speaking truth, doing, justice, opposing injustice, caring for the vulnerable and being responsive to and responsible for others in the world. Thus, Harwa, chief of staff of the Divine Wife of Amen, Amenirdis, says in the Husia that we are to be “a refuge for the poor, a raft for the drowning, a ladder for those in the pit (of despair), a shade for the orphan and a helper for the widow;” that we should be “one who speaks for the wretched, assists the unfortunate and aids the oppressed by excellent deeds,” and that we should “give food to the hungry and clothes to the naked (and be) one who removes pain and suppresses wrongdoing and who sustains the aged and eliminates the need of the have-nots.” And he concludes saying, “My reward for this is being remembered for my virtue,” that is to say, for the good I’ve done in and for the world.

Nia (Purpose) The fifth principle is Nia (purpose). The text tells us this principle calls on us “to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.” Here it is important to recognize that in the best of the African ethical tradition, greatness does not lie in material wealth, military might, scientific or technological knowledge, but by the good we do with what we have. Thus, the Husia says “the wise are known by their wisdom but the great are known by their good deeds.” This teaching instructs us to move beyond the idol worship of wealth, technology and science to questions and answers of how to put them in the service of the masses of people who need them most as Mary McLeod Bethune urges us to do. In a word, we are compelled to ask in all we do, how does it benefit the world and the people in it who need it most?

This teaching of the Husia parallels and reinforces the teaching in the Odu Ifa that says “Let’s do things with joy…for surely humans have been divinely chosen to bring good in the world.” And this is the fundamental mission and meaning of human life. So let us do good in and for the world. Let us be exalted by the good we do, the good heaven and history have chosen us to do. And even as we are chosen, let us choose to be chosen, not over and against any other people, but chosen with all other people to create, increase and sustain good in the world. And in this choosing, let us always choose life over death, justice over injustice, freedom over oppression, self-inflicted or imposed, peace over war, love over hatred, and truth over lies in any form. In this then lies the moral meaning of our lives to choose to do and do good in the world and to do it not only for ourselves, but for the world. For the Odu tells us that “when it is our turn to take responsibility for the world, we should do good for the world.” Indeed, the Odu says, “doing good worldwide is the best expression of character.” For surely, everyone deserves and has a right to the good and goods of and in the world.

Kuumba (Creativity) The sixth principle is Kuumba (creativity) which the text tells us calls on us “to do always as much as we can in the way we can in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.” This principle speaks in a larger sense not only to our always striving to make our own community constantly better and more beautiful and beneficial, but also the world.

This Kwanzaa, as always, we put forth the possibility of healing and repairing the world, making it more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. This we do in the spirit of the ancient African concept of serudj ta which means in ancient Egyptian—to repair, restore and renew the world making it more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. But inherent in this concept is the call to heal ourselves and each other as well as the world. This is the real meaning of reparations. It is not about receiving monies, but about the larger struggle to achieve justice and liberation and the radical repairing we will do to ourselves, society and the world in the process of struggle.

Now the concept of serudj ta is rooted in the ethical teachings of our ancestors that we constantly injure ourselves, each other and the world as a whole, not only by what we do wrong, but also by what we fail to do right. Moreover, the damage we do to each other and the world, like the good we do, we do to and for ourselves. For as the Odu Ifa teaches us, we live in a world and web of interdependence. Thus, the Odu says “Anyone who does good does it for herself and anyone who dose evil does it to himself.” We do damage to the world, ourselves and each other in varied ways.

We do damage when we fail to follow the best of our ethical and spiritual teachings and instead use religion to disrespect and impose on others, to justify unjust wars, to seize and occupy others’ land and to claim a special religious and racial status above and beyond all other people in the world. We do damage when we turn a blind eye to injustice, a deaf ear to truth and an uncaring heart away from the suffering and pain around us and throughout the world. We do damage when we make material gain the measure of all things, when we pollute, plunder, deplete and destroy the environment and undermine the basis for life on earth, and when we act in ways that dim and diminish the future for coming generations.

Our ancestors, the ancient Egyptians, taught that, “We must think of eternity and plan for the future for those who will come after us.” We must leave them a legacy of good, indeed, an ancient teacher in the Husia says, “I did good for my community. I spoke truth. I did justice. For I knew the value of doing good. It will be a storehouse for those who come after us.” And Queen Hatshepsut said, “I added to what was formerly done. For I wanted it to be said by those who come afterwards. How beautiful is this which happened because of her.”  

Imani (Faith) Imani (faith) is the seventh principle of the Nguzo Saba. And the text tells us that Imani, the principle of faith, calls on us “to believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory our struggle.” We must then, have faith in our people, in their capacity for and commitment to good in the world; in our parents-fore parents and current ones, and the good they’ve done, do and want for us; in our teachers who teach us the good and inspire us to embrace it; and in our leaders who guide us toward the good and aid us in becoming self-conscious agents of our own life and liberation.

And ultimately, we must believe in the righteousness and the rightful and right direction of our struggle. We must believe that our struggle for freedom for the oppressed, justice for the wronged and injured, power for the masses of people over their destiny and daily lives and for peace in the world is a rightful and compelling one. And we must believe in the rightfulness and eventual victory of our struggle, believe that we can together end oppression, lessen and eventually eliminate injustice, put an end to the disempowerment of the masses of people, and erase the scourge of war from the world.

And finally, we must have faith that a different future is possible; that we can, as Frantz Fanon urged us, start a new history of humankind with other progressive people in the world, bring into being a new world and a new man and woman who will cherish, respect and reaffirm each other, sustain the good world and pass on this good and legacy to future generations.

Let us go forward then, in and with unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith striving to embody and live the life-affirming, and life-enhancing values of our ancestors that represent the best of what it means to be African and human in the world. Let us always strive to be a powerful presence for good in the world and constantly work for the good life every person and people as bearers of dignity and divinity demand and deserve. And let us this Kwanzaa and always, wish for each and all of us, a long and good life, blessings without number and all good things without end, in a word, all the good that heaven grants, the earth produces and the waters bring forth from their depths.

December 2004


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: and for information on The Organization Us see: