CNN logo


kwanzaa graphic banner

Kwanzaa ties African-Americans to their roots

still life December 26, 1996
Web posted at: 10:00 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Greg LaMotte

(CNN) -- African-Americans on Thursday began the seven-day celebration known as Kwanzaa to acknowledge the uniqueness of their African heritage. (Celebrating Kwanzaa - 1.5M/36 sec. QuickTime movie) movie icon

"The good of life. The good of existence. The good of family, community and culture. The good of the awesome and the ordinary. The good of the divine, the natural and the social."


That is how Professor Maulana Karenga, African-American scholar and activist, describes the cultural celebration he developed following the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Kwanzaa was first observed in 1966 and reflects the civil rights struggles of that decade. The holiday also is celebrated in Canada, England, the Caribbean and Africa.

The secular holiday that ends New Year's Day is based on a theory that social revolutionary change for black Americans can be achieved by exposing them to their African culture, said Karenga, chairman of the Department of Black Studies at California State University in Long Beach.


"It's like discovering who and what I'm about as an African-American woman, and that we have celebrations that we can honor, as the Jewish have Hanukkah and everybody has Christmas. So it has a very deep meaning," one African-American woman explained.

"It means a lot to me. It means a lot to my culture," a little girl responded when asked what Kwanzaa means to her.

Family and community


The celebration is based on seven principles, with a special emphasis on family unity, and every day one of the candles on a seven-branched candelabrum is lighted to recognize one of the beliefs: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Although not a religious holiday, Kwanzaa has growing support from African-American churches.

"I've encouraged my congregation to embrace those significant elements in African-American culture that bring life to us as a congregation, that embraces the community, that calls us together as people to celebrate who we are," said the Rev. Andrew Robinson-Gaither of Faith United Methodist Church.


There also are other signs that African-Americans have enthusiastically embraced Kwanzaa.

Shops in African-American communities are finding increased demand for items related to the holiday. There are parades to celebrate community unity, and private celebrations to emphasize family unity.

Kwanzaa, which means first fruits, is the harvest of African culture.


Special section:

Related story:

What You Think Tell us what you think!

You said it...

To the top

© 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.