Interview of Kwanzaa Founder

December 26, 2000

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

On December 26, 2000, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published its interview of Maulana Karenga, the black nationalist and professor of black studies at California State University in Long Beach who started Kwanzaa in 1966. "Rooted in East African harvest festivals," Kwanzaa is "a festival of music, drama, dance, readings and mask-making" that is observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Each day focuses on one of the nguzo saba, the seven principles of living: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The daily rituals include "libation, which acknowledges the ancestors of African-Americans and thanks them for paving the way." In the interview, Karenga said he celebrates Kwanzaa while travelling by visiting people, "explaining Kwanzaa, pouring libation, telling narratives, lighting the candles and making wishes for the coming year within the framework of each of the nguzo saba." Some of the reasons he gives for why people celebrate Kwanzaa are "to celebrate and reinforce family, community and culture," to reaffirm African tradition, and to bring "us together from all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions on the common ground of our Africanness." "As a matter of self-determination and cooperative economics," he says, celebrants resist commercialization of the holiday by following certain rules. For example, says Karenga, "the people...produce the products ourselves which we use to celebrate Kwanzaa; [we] don't allow the oppressor or other outsiders to sell us our symbols or other products we need; [and we] always finance our own community celebrations." Asked if Kwanzaa is today the way he envisioned it forty years ago, Karenga says, "I give honor to African people who...wove this holiday out of the rich and rare fabric of their own culture and spoke this special cultural truth to the world, passing it on to generation after generation as a legacy worthy of the name African." 28 million people now celebrate Kwanzaa worldwide.