Kwanzaa Reconnects African Americans To African Culture For Self Empowerment

by Michael Imhotep,

Friday, December 25th, 2015, 6:52PM EST

It’s that time of year again. It’s Kwanzaa time.  This time of year you may see articles that talk about Kwanzaa and encourage African Americans to celebrate it.  You may see articles from some uniformed people who speak out against Kwanzaa because of a lack of understanding or research.   I have done presentations about Kwanzaa for the past 3 years and have discussed it on various radio shows including my show as well.  What I want to do is dispel some myths and total outright lies about Kwanzaa which is something very positive for African Americans to not only celebrate for 7 days but to practice the 7 principles of the Nguzo Saba for 365 days a year.

Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African cultural holiday (not religious holiday) which celebrates family, community and culture.  It’s celebrated from Dec. 26th – Jan. 1st.  The name Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”.  Its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name.  Kiswahili, also called Swahili, is a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language.  Kwanzaa is celebrated by as many approximately 20 million people around the world.

Kiswahili is a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African Language on the continent of Africa and is spoken by at least 50 million people.  There are an estimated 900 to 1,500 different languages spoken in Africa, but many distinct political units share a common or similar language (as among the Yoruba, Hausa, and Swahili-speaking peoples).

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African Origins of Kwanzaa

“First Fruits” celebrations have taken place in African History going back to Kemet (Ancient Egypt) and TaNahesi or TaSeti (Nubia). “First Fruits” celebrations occur in Ancient and Modern African Civilizations such as among the Ashanti of Ghana and the Yoruba of Nigeria.  We can also find “First Fruits” celebrations in large African Empires like the Zulu or Amazulu of South Africa and smaller societies in Southeastern Africa like the Matabele, Thonga and Lovedu.

In Kemet (Ancient Egypt) the festival was called “Pert In Min” or The Coming Forth of Min; among the Zulu it was called Umkhosi; among the Swazi it was called Incwala; among the Matabele, Inxwala; among the Ashanti it had various names, i.e. Afayhye or Odwira; among the Yoruba, various names depending on the region, i.e. Eje, Oro Olofin or Odun Ijesu.  The Ashanti and Yoruba festivals are usually referred to as the New Yam Festival which is the time of harvesting the first yams.   Even though these festivals have various names and are from different African societies or nations, they all focused around the harvesting of the first fruits and have similar values and practices.  “The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community & Culture” by Dr. Maulana Karenga, pgs. 16-17

One of the myths about Kwanzaa that is spread by many African Americans who have not done their research is that Kwanzaa is a “made up holiday”.  They apparently have not studied the history of Christmas (no where in the Biblical text does it mention the celebration of Christmas or that Jesus The Christ was born on Dec. 25th), Easter, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, The 4th of July (4th of You Lie), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.  All of the European Holidays African Americans have been taught to celebrate are made up holidays and some of them have their origins in “pagan celebrations” like the festival of Saturnalia and the festival of Mithra which help form part of the foundation of Christmas.

The cultural celebrations that Kwanzaa is based upon are older than the European Holidays that African Americans have been taught to celebrate.


What is Pan-Africanism?

To better understand Kwanzaa we also have to understand the ideology of “Pan-Africanism”.  Pan-Africanism is an ideology that African people around the world and throughout the Diaspora should be united. It deals with social, cultural, political, economic, material and spiritual aspects.  Pan-Africanism teaches that the fate of African people worldwide is intertwined and we share not only a common history but a common destiny.  Our future as African people is interconnected and intertwined.  It doesn’t matter who your colonizer was or is or what language your colonizer spoke or currently speaks.  Pan-Africanism understands that African people are one people regardless of their religion, language, political affiliation, culture or geographical location.  Pg. 11-13, “Pan-Africanism for Beginners” by Sid Lemelle

Some proponents of Pan-Africanism throughout history have been Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Edward Blyden, Prince Hall, Paul Cuffe, David Walker, Henry Highland Garnet, Timothy Thomas Fortune, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Alexander Crummel, Bishop Alexander Walters and Dr. W.E.B. Dubois to name a few.

Malcolm X B&W Cropped microphone
Malcolm X

When and Why Was Kwanzaa Created?

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga and members of The Organization Us in the midst of the Black Freedom Movement.  Dr. Karenga was a “co-founder” of Kwanzaa and not the sole creator.  Members of the Organization Us were co-founders of Kwanzaa also.This is important to note because some people who have not done their research will try to discredit Kwanzaa by attacking the background of Dr. Maulana Karenga but will never tell you that there were other co-founders.  This is a WMD (Weapon of Mass Distraction).  Kwanzaa reflects a concern for cultural groundedness in thought and practice.

Dr. Maulana Karenga is a Professor and Chair  of the Department of Africana Studies at California State University-Long Beach.  He holds two Ph.D.’s.  His first is in political science with a focus on the theory and practice of nationalism (United States International University) and his second in social ethics with a focus on the classical African ethics of ancient Egypt (University of Southern California).  In 1971 Dr. Karenga was sentenced to on to ten years in prison for felonious assault and false imprisonment charges related to to the torture of female members of the Organization Us. He served four years.

Kwanzaa was created to serve multiple purposes and to address specific problems that African people were dealing with in America in 1966.

5 Fundamental Activities of Traditional African “First Fruits Festivals”

Many people are familiar with the 7 Principles of Kwanzaa called the Nguzo Saba but most African Americans are not aware of the 5 fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruits celebrations”.

  1. Ingathering – A time of coming together or ingathering among the people to reaffirm the bonds between them.
  2. Commemoration – A time of commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, OUR ANCESTORS.
  3. Celebration – A time of celebration of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of family, community and culture, the good of the awareness and the ordinary, in a word the good of the divine, natural and social.
  4. Recommitment – A time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideas in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice.
  5. Reverence – A special time for the Creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation. (What ever name you may call the Creator/Creatress, i.e. Amen, Amen Ra, Oludumare, God, Jesus (Yeshua), Allah, etc.)  Contrary to popular belief by uniformed critics like Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, Kwanzaa does honor the Creator/Creatress but it does not prescribe to a certain religion.  For all practical purposes African people traditionally had spiritual systems as opposed to religions.  One basic way to understand this is that spirituality teaches you how to think where as religion tells you what to think.  We also have to keep in mind that African people introduced God consciousness and Spirituality to the world.  The first concept of a Supreme Being, deity or God came from African people.


Happy kwanzaa  Cartoon

7 Principles of Kwanzaa or the Nguzo Saba

One of the reasons why Kwanzaa was created was to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba (The 7 Principles).  The Nguzo Saba or 7 Principles focuses on the importance of African communitarian values in general, which stress family, community and culture and speak to the best of what it means to be African and the first people of this planet and the Indigenous people of the U.S.  Kwanzaa was created as a very important way to introduce these values and build an appreciation for them.  The 7 African Communitarian Principles of Kwanzaa:

Umoja (Unity) – To strive for and maintain Unity in the family, community, nation and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – To strive for and maintain Unity in the family, community, nation and race.  As Dr. Wade Noble has told us many times, Power is the ability to define and shape reality and have other people accept your definition of reality as if it were their own!

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.  Many of us first found out about “Ujima” on the TV Show “Sanford & Son”, Season 2, Episode 17 called “Lamont Goes African”.  Most of us remember this episode where Lamont adopted an African name and started using Kiswahili words, etc.  Many of us may not remember him using the word “Ujima” and explaining to us what it meant.


Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose) – To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba (Creativity) – 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.

Imani (Faith) – To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents , our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Is Kwanzaa a Black Christmas?

Contrary to popular belief, Kwanzaa is NOT a Black Christmas.  Kwanzaa is not designed to be a replacement for Christmas. You can celebrate Christmas and Kwanzaa if you like or you may only celebrate Kwanzaa.  In actuality the African American Church played a vital role in Kwanzaa’s growth and popularity.  African American Churches around the country, especially those rooted in Black Liberation Theology – churches like Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United in Chicago, Pastor Willie Wilson’s Union Temple in Washington, D.C. or Pastor Frederick Haynes’ Friendship West in Dallas – introduced Kwanzaa to their congregations and incorporated its principles into their sermons.

Other Elements of Kwanzaa

The greeting – Habari gani? (What’s the news?) The greetings during Kwanzaa are to reinforce awareness of and commitment to the Seven Principles. It is: “Habari gani?” and the answer is each of the principles for each of the days of Kwanzaa, i.e., “Umoja”, on the first day, “Kujichagulia”, on the second day and so on.

You may also hear Heri Za Kwanzaa which means Happy Kwanzaa.

The Kinara (The Candle Holder) – The Kwanzaa candles and harvest. This is symbolic of our roots, our parents, people and Continental Africans.

Zawadi (Gifts) –
Usually given on the last day of Kwanzaa to children rewarding them for exhibiting the 7 Principles all year.

Bandera (The Flag) –
The Kwanzaa flag is made up of the colors of The Organization Us which is Black, Red and Green. Black is for the people, Red is for their struggle and blood shed, Green is for the future and hope that comes from their struggle and the land.

Hopefully this helps dispel some myths about Kwanzaa and has enlightened you.

“What you do for yourself, what you do to yourself and what you allow other people to do to you is based upon what you think about yourself.  What you think about yourself is based upon what you have been taught about yourself. What you have been taught about yourself is based upon everything you have read, seen and heard about yourself.” – Michael Imhotep

Heri Za Kwanzaa! (Happy Kwanzaa)

For more information on Kwanzaa and Elements of Kwanzaa please visit

Part of this article is an excerpt of a video presentation from lecturer, researcher and talk show host, Michael Imhotep called “What Is Kwanzaa: Reconnecting African Americans to African Culture For Self Empowerment”.  If you decide that you want a copy of the presentation on DVD it is available at and contains 3 presentations.

DETROIT: FREE EVENT – Kwanzaa Celebration of Umoja (Unity), Sat. Dec. 26th, 2015, 6pm-9pm at Alkebulan Village, 7701 Harper Ave., Detroit, MI. Edutainment, African Marketplace, Michael Imhotep will be speaking also.  Visit for more information.

DETROIT: FREE EVENT – Kwanzaa Celebration of Kujichagulia (self-determination), Sun. Dec. 27th, 2015, 6pm-9pm at The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, 315 E. Warren Ave., Detroit, MI. Edutainment, African Marketplace, keynote speaker, Michael Imhotep host of The Michael Imhotep Show.

Michael Imhotep is a talk show host, researcher, lecturer, writer and founder of The African History Network.  He is the host of The Michael Imhotep Show on The Empowerment Radio Network and can be heard Monday-Friday, 10pm-12midnight EST on or the TuneIn Radio App and search for “Empowerment Radio Network”.  Visit his website for more information about his lectures, DVDs, our history and podcasts of the show.

You can follow him on Twitter @MichaelImhotep and his Facebook FanPage, “The African History Network”.  He is available for interviews and lectures.  He is a strong advocate of African Americans reclaiming their history, culture and controlling the economics, education and politics in our community. He is featured in the upcoming documentary, “Black Friday” which deals with African Americans controlling our $1.2 Trillion economy and creating generational wealth.  Visit for more information.

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