Kwanzaa Beginnings: How did Kwanzaa Begin?

Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa as a way to celebrate the Black community. Because of the impact he gave, we were blessed with many informative texts.

Author's Corner Black Voices Book Culture Bookstr Trivia
kwanzaa candles

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.

Maulana Karenga
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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.

Watts Riots

Watts Riots
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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. 

The Principles

the principles on the candle
IMAGE VIA BENTON SPIRITS

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.

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture-- book cover
IMAGE VIA AMAZON

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:

Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition

Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition-- book cover
IMAGE VIA AMAZON

Kwanzaa: Living on Principle

Kwanzaa: Living on Principle-- book cover
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Practicing Kwanzaa Year Round

Practicing Kwanzaa Year Round-- book cover
IMAGE VIA AMAZON

KWANZAA: How to Celebrate it in your Home 

KWANZAA: How to Celebrate it in your Home -- book cover
IMAGE VIA AMAZON

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.

To learn more about the traditions of Kwanzaa, click here!