I had always heard of Kwanzaa growing up but didn’t know all that much about it. I thought it was some kind of Christian thing, like I’m sure other folk once did. But it actually has its roots in Africa. I didn’t really know the specifics of its origins until a couple of year’s age.

The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza.” Translated it means “first fruits.” The first fruits relates to the first harvest of African farmers many, many years ago.

The first harvests of the season were a time of new beginnings for families, both personally and economically. Even though none of us were around back then, I can imagine that it was festive period for our African ancestors. So, the name Kwanzaa made a lot more sense.

Historically, the first-fruits celebrations date as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia. For those who don’t, I’m a huge?”and I mean huge?”history buff. And I like watching all kinds of documentaries. I’ve got stuff ranging from the Kennedy family and President Franklin Roosevelt to one about the “Ice Man” mob killer Richard Kuklinski.

Anything having to do with Egypt I’ve probably seen, but I’ve yet to see or read anything detailing Kwanzaa or first-fruit celebrations in ancient Africa. But I’m still looking. From what I read on the great Wikipedia Encyclopedia website, first fruits were celebrated in places like Swaziland. Ya!

But today, Kwanzaa is nicely planted as an American tradition. Kwanzaa, celebrated from Dec. 26 until Jan. 1, was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Karenga, a professor at the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, created Kwanzaa as a family holiday, celebrating community and culture.

The principles of Kwanzaa are founded in the ancient first-fruits celebrations?”gathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration.

Karenga decided to take those principles and adapt them to Kwanzaa. You also have to keep in mind the times in which folk lived then. This was the mid-1960s. Vietnam was raging. Malcolm X and Medgar Evers had already been killed and the murders of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were still to come.

This was also two decades after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed discrimination of on the basis of race, sex, religion, color or national origin. Black folk were, as we say, “looking for ours” now. So the principles Karenga came up with had a special significance for that time.

The seven principles, or Nguzo Saba, as they’re known are: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one principle. The truth is, the principles Karenga created are principles to be celebrated and dedicated to 365 days a year, and on “Funny February Day” as I like to call that leap year day.

Now that you know what it is and how it started, go and enjoy your Kwanzaa “fruits.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com