Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
The Founder's Message 1997

Professor Maulana Karenga


                 Dr. Maulana Karenga

December, 1997

  The essential and enduring value of Kwanzaa rests unavoidably in its principles and the practice of bringing and enjoying good in the world which these principles inspire and sustain. Certainly, Kwanzaa's stress on: the harmonious ingathering of the people; special reverence for the Creator and the creation; reflective commemoration of the past; ongoing recommitment to our highest cultural ideals; and joyous celebration of the good all speak to Kwanzaa's concern with the cooperative creation of good and its collective sharing. Indeed, this year's Kwanzaa theme is "bringing good into the world." This theme is taken from the ancient African moral teaching that the fundamental meaning and mission of human life is to constantly bring good into the world and that this good is always a shared good, a good which enriches those who give it as well as those who receive it.As a harvest celebration, Kwanzaa's central metaphor and model for bringing shared good into the world is the harvest itself. Indeed, the harvest is not only an example of this shared good in its process and product, but also a model of the practice of the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles) in achieving it. The project calls for Umoja (unity) in purpose, planning and pursuit of the harvest; for Kujichagulia (self-determination) in unique contributions from each and all to the harvest and in doing so, the defining of themselves uniquely as persons and collectively as a community; for Ujima (collective work and responsibility) in accepting the obligation to complete the tasks in a cooperative spirit and effort; for Ujamaa (cooperative economics) in the sharing of the wealth of the harvest that disciplined and cooperative work produces; for Nia (purpose) in the will, the determined choice to plant, cultivate and bring the good of harvest to completion; for Kuumba (creativity) in the conscious decision to produce the good of harvest without damaging the good of earth and environment which make the harvest possible; and for Imani (faith) in the people's belief in their capacity to create and preserve good in community, family, field and world and in the essential and enduring value of good itself.   The particular wording of bringing good into the world is taken from the sacred text of the Yoruba people, the Odu of Ifa. The Odu, titled "Irosu' wori," says, "Let us do things with joy.... For surely humans have been chosen to bring good into the world." This concept of chosen is rare, beautiful and inspiring, not only because it is a selection by the Creator and thus carries with it a sacred significance, but especially because it is inclusive of all humans and thus reaffirms the unique and special dignity and value of each and all of us as human beings. In fact, the word for human beings in the Yoruba language is eniyan which literally means the chosen ones. This ancient African moral teaching is also valuable in its assigning each of us a clearly active and unmistakenly positive mission of bringing good into the world from which we derive our fundamental meaning as persons and by extension our fundamental mission and meaning as a people. And so we are all chosen, each and everyone of us, divinely selected to bring good into the world. But as Kawaida, the philosophy out of which Kwanzaa is created and developed, teaches, we are not only chosen by heaven but also by history. The modal periods of our history - the classical civilizations of the Nile Valley, the Holocaust of Enslavement and the Reaffirmation of our Africanness and social justice tradition in struggle in the 60's - all bear witness to this. Heaven, then, has chosen us as human beings to bring good into the world, but history has chosen us as a people to do likewise. Ours, then, is both a moral and spiritual vocation and an historical one. This is the meaning of the Fifth Principle, Nia (Purpose) which is traditionally translated as meaning "to make as our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness." And greatness in the African sense is always morally grounded. Thus, the ancient Egyptian Seba Ptahhotep says, "the wise are known by their wisdom but the great are known by their good deeds," i.e., speaking truth, doing justice, resisting wrong, creating beauty and practicing loving kindness. The restoration to greatness, then, is the creation of goodness in the world that honors our ancient moral and spiritual teachings and teachers and leaves a legacy worthy of them and us for the countless generations that will come afterwards.   The ancient Yoruba sage Orunmila, witness to the wonders of creation, tells us in the Odu cited that the good we are chosen to bring in the world is the conditions of the good life: full knowledge of things, happiness everywhere, life without anxiety and fear of enemies, attacks, death, disease, evil spirits, misery or poverty. In a word, knowledge of the good, the right and the possible, human happiness, world peace, human well-being and the material basis for a decent and dignified life. Moreover, Orunmila, revealer of the good, tells us that to achieve the historical quest for a good life, we ourselves must take responsibility for building the world we want and deserve to live in. And he tells us that to honor our mission of bringing good into the world, we need several qualities. Among these are: internal strength, good character, wisdom for good and for governance, a morality of sacrifice, the disposition to do good for everyone, especially the needy and a commitment and ongoing effort "to increase good in the world and not let any good be lost." May we be blessed with the strength, will and wisdom to do these things so that we honor the central mission and meaning of human life - to create, nurture and harvest the good. And may we in doing this, in the words of the ancestors, "be granted all things good and pure, which heaven gives, the earth yields and the waters bring forth from their well-springs."
  Dr. Maulana Karenga is the creator of the holiday of Kwanzaa; Professor and Chair of the Department of Black Studies, California State University at Long Beach; Chairman of The Organization Us and The National Association of Kawaida Organizations; and author of definitive text on Kwanzaa, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture, Commemorative Edition.

For Dr. Karenga's newly released book on Kwanzaa contact: University of Sankore Press, 2560 West 54th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90043 (323) 295-9799 or (800) 997-2656 For press information contact: African American Cultural Center (Us), 2560 West 54th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90043
(323) 299-6124; Fax: (323) 299-0261