Kwanzaa: A Celebration of African American Family, Community and Culture
The Founder's Message 1998

Professor Maulana Karenga
"Harvesting and Sharing the Good: The Principles and Practice of Kwanzaa"

Dr. Maulana Karenga       

December, 1998   Kwanzaa, a festival of the first harvest, is a celebration of family, community and culture and the social and moral principles which give ground and growth to these, especially, the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles. The holiday also celebrates the creating, harvesting and sharing of good in the world and for the world. Each day of Kwanzaa, when we light a candle in honor of one of the Seven Principles and organize our discussions and activities around it, we reaffirm the good in the world and stress our need to cultivate harvest and hold on to the good in the world and not let any good be lost. The Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, are the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns. They teach us the good that is created and shared by the principles and practice of Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). It is these and other social, ethical and spiritual principles, which aid us in bringing forth the best of what it means to be African and human. And it is these which we call, in the words of the ancestors, "that which endures in the midst of that which is overthrown." And so when we light the candles in honor of these enduring principles, we are engaging in the ancient practice of lifting up the light that lasts. It is in this spirit of lifting of the light that lasts that people will again this Kwanzaa light candles all over the world throughout the world African community to honor and uphold these enduring principles. And they will do it in countless venues--in homes and community gatherings, in schools and universities, in hospitals and homeless shelters, in churches and temples, in halfway houses and prisons, in convalescent homes and work-places. And wherever the lasting light is lifted up, it will remind us of the creating, harvesting and sharing good in the world that stands at the heart of the Kwanzaa celebration. Harvesting and sharing good in the world always begins with family, community and culture. But we must always see and assert ourselves in the world at large, anchoring ourselves in the context of our culture, not only in building family and community, but also in our activities in the larger society and the world. For we are an African people, grounded, defined and enriched by our culture. In fact, African culture is a special way of being human in the world. It is a special truth to speak, a special way of knowing and doing things. And at Kwanzaa time, more than any other time, we focus on what it means to be African in the world. This focus culminates on January 1, the Day of Taamuli-Meditation and Assessment. Here we sit down in sober and sustained reflection to measure ourselves in the mirror of the best of our history and culture, to meditate deeply on what it means to be an African in the world and commit and recommit ourselves to our highest cultural values in our ongoing quest to be and become the best of what it means to be African. This self-questioning and recommitment are organized around three central questions: who am I; am I really who I am; and am I all I ought to be? The first question is asked to encourage us to reaffirm and celebrate our identity as Africans. This is reaffirmed in our identity as elders of humanity and human civilization, the children of the Maangamizo, the Holocaust of Enslavement, and the authors and heirs of the Reaffirmation of the 60's, a challenging time in which we reaffirmed both our Africanness and our social justice tradition in intense and far-reaching struggle. The second question is asked so that we may reaffirm the realness of our commitment to this rich and ancient identity as African in the world with the dignity and responsibility it requires. And the third question is to encourage us to reaffirm our commitment to constantly be the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense of the words. It is in this context that the practice of the Seven Principles all year around and every day takes on a profound meaning for us as African people. For they become a foundation and framework by which we imagine and strive to create and sustain free, full and meaningful lives. The first principle Umoja (Unity) reminds us of the wisdom of the ancestors found in the Odu Ifa of the Yoruba, which says that "all good comes from the gathering together in harmony." This teaches us the key lesson that all real and lasting good we do must be done in peaceful and principled togetherness as family and community, as friends and partners in building the world we want and deserve to live in. The teaching says we must not walk alone but gather like trees in forming a forest, maintaining our distinctiveness as persons but standing strong in mutually beneficial relationships of harmonious togetherness. The second principle Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) reaffirms our need to always know ourselves in our uniqueness and specialness as persons and a people. It teaches us to always honor the divine in us by defining ourselves, creating for ourselves, speaking our own special cultural truth in the world and making our own unique contribution to the forward flow of human history. In the Husia, the ancestors tell each and all of us have a special message and must bring it forth with strength, dignity and determination. The passage says, "It is wrong to walk upside down and in darkness. Therefore I will come forth today, and bring forth the truth today and bring forth te truth that is within me. For surely it is within me." Clearly, this is a call and challenge for us as persons and a people. Thirdly, the Principle of Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) reminds us of the work we must do together to build and sustain the free and empowered community, the just and good society and the better world. It urges us to embrace the principle of reciprocity by which we work together for and in mutual benefit. It calls forth the words of Lady Ta-Aset who urges us in the Husia to do good for each other knowing that it is at the same time we are doing this good for ourselves. She says, "doing good I not difficult. In fact just speaking good is a monument for those who do it. Indeed those who do good for others are actually doing it for themselves." For they are building the world they want to live in. Likewise, the ancestors speaking again to us from the Odu Ifa tell us that when we do good it should be done as widely as possible. For it is shared good that is the real and lasting good. Thus, the text teaches that "those who restrict the doing of good to their family or house will not experience good outside of it." Therefore, they say "doing good world wide is the best expression of character." The fourth principle Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) speaks to our need again to share good, to share the good of wealth and the good of work to create it. It is indeed a principle of shared work and shared wealth to cultivate harvest and share the bountifulness of the world. It reminds us of our obligation to uphold the principles of economic justice, especially for the poor and vulnerable. The principle of Ujamaa is based on our ancestors and our ethical understanding that the right to life in dignity includes a right to a decent life. This, at a minimum, means a life in which people have the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, health care, physical and economic security, and a meaningful education. And this in turn requires a sharing of wealth and work which makes these things possible. The fifth principle Nia (Purpose) recalls the teaching of the Odu Ifa that the fundamental meaning and mission of human life is to bring good in the world and not let any good be lost. So we are obligated here to constantly ask in our lives, our careers, our relationships, our education and our work what good can we bring in the world in all we do and aim to do? And key to all of this is the need to be committed to a life of service. Indeed, it is in this commitment to a life of service for and to the good that we touch upon greatness. As the ancestors teach in the Husia, "the wise are known by their wisdom, but the great are known for their good deeds." This is reaffirmed in Martin Luther King's teaching that "everyone can be great because everyone can serve." And it is further strengthened as a principle in Mary McLeod Bethune?s teaching that we must live our lives in such a way that at the end of it we can stand tall on the platform of service. The sixth principle Kuumba (Creativity) reaffirms our need to always honor the divine and creative in us by doing all we can in the way we can to leave our community and world more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. Here we embrace the ancient Egyptian concept of serudj ta which means to repair and restore the world, making it more beautiful and beneficial than it was before. The ancestors taught that we constantly damage the world not only by what we do wrong, but also by what we fail to do right. And thus the world is in constant need of restoration and repair. They said that this is so in the larger world, but also in society, family, and relationship. And therefore we in the practice of serudj ta must: constantly raise up that which is in ruins, repair the damaged, rejoin the separated, replenish the depleted, set right the wrong, strengthen the weak and weakened, and make flourish the fragile and undeveloped. Finally, the principle of Imani (Faith) teaches us to believe in the good in the world and in our capacity to cultivate, harvest and share it. It teaches us to believe in ourselves, our Creator, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our grandfathers and grandmothers, our elders, our youth, our future--in a word, in all that makes us beautiful and strong. And it tells us to believe with all our hearts in the righteousness and victory of our struggle, and to believe that through hard work, long struggle and a whole lot of love and understanding, we can actually build the world we want and deserve to live in. And finally, the principle of Imani, faith, reassures us that to live good lives in truth, justice, responsibility and loving care for each other and the world is to be witness to the good and beauty in the world and to aid in their expansion and rootedness in the world. This is the essential meaning of Kwanzaa and in honoring and celebrating it, we honor and celebrate the best in ourselves. Heri za Kwanzaa. Happy Kwanzaa.


Dr. Maulana Karenga
The Creator of Kwanzaa
Chair, The Organization Us
Chair, The National Association of
    Kawaida Organizations (NAKO)