The kinara, or candleholder, holds candles for each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa.
Illustration by rduris, courtesy OpenClipArt

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  • On December 26, 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa. Inspired by African harvest festivals, Karenga created Kwanzaa to help establish a sense of unity among diverse African American communities.
     
    Kwanzaa (taken from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” or “first fruits”) is built on seven principles and seven symbols. 
     
    Each principle is represented by a candle in the kinara (candleholder) and discussed on each of the seven nights of Kwanzaa. The Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, are: unity (umoja); self-determination (kujichagulia); collective work and responsibility (ujima); cooperative economics (ujamaa); purpose (nia); creativity (kuumba); and faith (imani).
     
    The seven symbols are: crops (mazao, the symbol of African harvest celebrations); the placemat (makeka, the symbol of tradition and history); the candleholder (kinara, the symbol of African Americans’ roots in Africa); an ear of corn (muhindi, the symbol of children and the future); the seven candles (mishumaa saba, the symbols of Nguzo Saba, or seven principles); the unity cup (kikombe cha umoja, the symbol of community unity); and gifts (zawadi, symbols of the labor and love of parents).
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    community Noun

    social group whose members share common heritage, interests, or culture.

    crop Noun

    agricultural produce.

    Encyclopedic Entry: crop
    diverse Adjective

    varied or having many different types.

    economics Noun

    study of monetary systems, or the creation, buying, and selling of goods and services.

    festival Noun

    day or other period of time set to celebrate or commemorate an event, usually with a series of parties, ceremonies, or observances.

    harvest Noun

    the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

    heritage Noun

    cultural or family background.

    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    labor Noun

    work or employment.

    language Noun

    set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

    principle Noun

    rule or standard.

    professor Noun

    highest-ranking teacher at a college or university.

    Swahili noun, adjective

    a language of eastern Africa.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.