5 Kwanzaa Traditions


The Seven Principles

Each day of Kwanzaa represents one of the seven principles, or nguzo saba. Taken together, the seven principles make up kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Kwanzaa celebrants are encouraged to discuss, meditate on and dedicate themselves to a different concept every day:

  1. Umoja (unity): commemorates togetherness not only in family, friend and community groups but in the world African population
  2. Kujichagulia (self-determination): honors the ability to define, create and speak for the self
  3. Ujima (collective work and responsibility): focuses on communal problem-solving and consensus-building
  4. Ujamaa (cooperative economics): spotlights sharing work and wealth and following non-exploitative business practices that benefit the whole community
  5. Nia (purpose): a commitment to upholding black history and heritage and regaining prominence as a culture
  6. Kuumba (creativity): explores the obligation to beautify the community for future generations
  7. Imani (faith): focuses on being positive and believing in the potential of the self and the community as a whole

During the evening candlelighting (which we'll talk about in more detail on the next page), everyone in the group explains what the day's principles means to them and how they tried to apply it that day. There might be an activity based on the principle, like a project, a musical performance or a poetry reading.

There's a specific greeting for each day, too. The answer to the question "Habari gani?" (Swahili for "what's the news?") is always the name of that day's principle. So, for example, on the third day the response would be "ujima."

When Kwanzaa started, the intention was -- as a part of the kujichagulia principle of self-determination -- to keep it separate from non-African holidays. But over the years, more and more African-American families have begun celebrating Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year's.