In 1966, Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa as a way for the Black community to reconnect to their African roots. He received the name chosen from Swahili, ‘matunda ya kwanza’, and chose to add an extra ‘a’ for the fun of it.
Karenga went as far as changing his own birth name, Ronald McKinley Everett, to Maulana Karenga as his chosen name to feel closer to his ancestral background.
The Watts Riots inspired Karenga. This was a series of brutal riots that occurred from August 11, 1965, to August 17, 1965, in the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles, California. Many were arrested, injured, and died. A lot of high tensions between the black community versus the police force occurred, but what truly sparked the match was the arrest of Marquette Frye.
A white police officer pulled him over, because it was thought Frye was driving under the influence. A fight broke out between Frye and the officer when they tried to arrest him. As a result, onlookers began to join the scuffle. Steadily the fight became a riot. Because of this, more riots started occurring throughout LA prompting millions of dollars from injuries and properties. 34 people lost their lives, as well. To learn more about what occurred in Watts, click here.
From all the mayhem and dark destruction, Karenga created Kwanzaa. A week full of celebration where each day is dedicated to a core principle.
Unity: Umoja (oo–MO–jah)
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
He became partially inspired by The First Fruits traditions of the Southern African people of Nguni. In their tradition, you are supposed to sacrifice the first fruits for God. Initially, Kwanzaa was meant to be an alternative to Christmas as Karenga believed Christmas was heavily influenced by Christianity, and therefore it was viewed as a “White religion.” Recently, it’s been discussed that Kwanzaa is not meant to be an alternative religious holiday, but rather a way of spiritual connection to the original roots of Africa.
As a result of the Kwanzaa creation, Karenga came out with differing books pertaining to or about Kwanzaa.
With Karenga’s heavy influence, he established a national holiday celebrated by many black individuals in America and people of Africa and the Caribbean. As a result, there has been a plethora of Kwanzaa-related books as a way to share the evergrowing holiday:
As of now, Karenga is a current professor at California State University of Long Beach where he teaches African/Black studies. He’s also written countless books pertaining to black culture and Egyptians.
If you would like to read some of his work, here you go!
To learn more about the traditions of Kwanzaa, click here!