Black Heritage is Focus of Kwanzaa

El Vaquero Editor in Chief

Most holidays use religion as a backdrop for their traditions and history, but Kwanzaa, which is celebrated between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, uses culture as a base for the holiday.

“Kwanzaa was created to reaffirm and restore our (African-Americans’) roots in African culture. It is, therefore, an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture,” according to, which is founded by Kwanzaa’s founder Maulana Karenga.

Karenga, who in addition to starting the Kwanzaa holiday is a professor and chair of the Department of Black Studies at Cal State Long Beach, created the holiday in 1966 following the Watts Riot.

The riot, which was in 1965, began after an altercation between white officers and a pair of black brothers who were pulled over for drunk driving. As an argument arose among the group (the officers and the detainees), so did a mob of on-lookers. Before long, the mob was composed of hundreds of people and turned to rioting. The riots lasted for six days and consisted of rock throwing, vandalism and violence. These acts left many people behind bars and 34 people dead.

While the rioting may have happened for several reasons, Karenga felt the need to reinforce positive community values, thus the birth of Kwanzaa.

Kwanzaa means fresh fruits in Swahili, which is the most widely used language in Africa. The fruits resemble the African harvest festivals and placed on a “mkeka,” a straw mat, during the holiday. A candelabra, which holds seven candles, also sits on the mkeka. The candles are lit, one by one, nightly in recognition of the seven guiding principles known as Nguzo Saba.

The first day follows the principle of Umojo, meaning unity.

Kujichagulia, the second day, is self-determination. The third day is Ujima, which means collective work and responsibility. Ujamaa is the fourth day and means cooperative economics. The fifth day, Nia, represents purpose. Duumba means creativity and is practiced on the sixth day. The final day of Kwanzaa represents faith (in one’s self) and is called Imani. The candle colors, which are black, red and green also represent important tradition.

The black candle, of which there is only one, represents the African-American people and their heritage. The three red candles are symbolic of the blood from the history and the three green candles represent the future and the children that will be born into the culture. Following the candle lighting, many families will traditionally drink from a unity cup, which brings the family together and also sits on top of the mkeka.

The holiday represents unity through its principles and brings family and culture together in a symbolic way. While only 3 percent of GCC’s students are black, there are approximately 26 million people in the world who celebrate Kwanzaa; thus continuing, according to, to celebrate an organized unity that focuses on the commonalties of ancestry and experience.
Kwanzaa can be experienced…..