The Symbols of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa celebrations incorporate seven basic symbols and two supplemental ones. Each symbol represents a different value of, or important concept related to, African culture and the preservation of the African-American community. Here is a basic overview of each of the symbols. A more detailed explanation may be found at the links below:
Mazao (The Crops) The basis of Kwanzaa is celebration of the first fruits. Likewise, harvest celebrations recognize the rewards of the productive and collective work of a community.
Mkeka (The Place Mat) Typically made of straw or cloth, the mat is symbolic of the foundation of history and tradition the community is built on. That history is studied as observers help to shape the future.
Kinara (The Candle Holder) The Kinara is thought of as the "center stalk," and represents the ancestry from which observers came.
Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles) The candles are used to represent the seven principles (Nguzo Saba). There are three red, three green, and one black. The back candle sits in the center, and is lit on December 26. The three green candles represent Nia, Ujima, and Imani. They are placed to the right of the Umoja candle. The three red candles represent Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba. They are placed to the left of the Umoja. One candle, representing one principle, is lit each day and participants discuss what is Kwanzaa and how the candle relates to the celebration.
Muhindi (The Corn) The corn is symbolic of the children, which are essentially the future of both the family and the community. Typically, one ear of corn for each child in the family is placed on the Mkeka. At least two ears of corn are placed on the mat - regardless of whether there are any children in the immediate family. This is done to acknowledge the African tradition where every adult is considered a social parent to the children of the community
Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup) The kikombe cha umoja is used to perform the tambiko (libation) ritual during the Karamu feast. During the Karamu feast, the cup is passed to observers, who drink from it as a remembrance of the ancestors and to promote unity.
Zawadi (The Gifts) On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, gifts are given to reward accomplishments and commitments kept. Often, these gifts are handmade. According to the official Kwanzaa website, gifts "must always include a book and a heritage symbol. The book is to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning stressed since ancient Egypt, and the heritage symbol to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history."
The two supplemental symbols used during Kwanzaa include:
Bendera (The Flag) The color of the Kwanzaa flag were taken from the colors used by the Organization Us and given by the Hon. Marcus Garvey as the national colors of African people throughout the world. The colors, and what they represent are as follows:
- Black (people)
- Red (struggles)
- Green (hope)
Also used during the celebrations is the poster of the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles.