In His Own Words: An Interview with Maulana Karenga
Beliefnet talks to the founder of the holiday, Dr. Maulana Karenga, about its origins, its aim and its future.
Maulana Karenga: Kwanzaa is celebrated by over 28 million people throughout the world African community on every continent in the world. I am very pleased with how many people, parents and children have embraced it as an essential cultural and value orientation which expands and enriches their lives. Of all the good which came out of the Black Freedom Movement, both its Civil Rights and Black Power phases, Kwanzaa stands as a unique heritage and cultural institution. It is this institution as a definitive and enduring carrier of culture which has kept the 60's struggles and achievements as a living tradition. But it also brings forth the whole of African history and culture as a valuable, ancient and enduring model of human excellence and achievement and uses this culture as a rich resource for addressing modern moral and social issues. It is in celebrating Kwanzaa and practicing its Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, that our families and community are reaffirmed and reinforced and our lives enriched and expanded.
Beliefnet: Is the Kwanzaa holiday as successful as you set out for it to be? Did you expect it to be more widely accepted by now?
Maulana Karenga: Kwanzaa is extremely successful. It has 28 million celebrants on every continent in the world throughout the world African community. I know of no other holiday that has established itself, grown so quickly and captured the public imagination and respect in such a worldwide way without aid of media favor or discussion of its philosophy, legislative acts or governmental support. Indeed, I give honor to African people who as a beautiful act of self-determination, wove this holiday out of the rich and rare fabric of their own culture, spoke this special cultural truth to the world, used it to enrich and expand their lives and are passing it on to generation after generation as a legacy worthy of the name African.
Beliefnet: Across the African-American diaspora today, which of the Kwanzaa principles are most apparent? Which principles do you think that African-Americans need to work on as a collective?
Maulana Karenga: All the Seven Principles must be practiced and are being practiced. They are Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith). And they are all dedicated to honoring the teachings of our ancestors in the Odu Ifa, that the fundamental mission and meaning of human life is "to bring good into the world and not let any good be lost." Umoja is put first because without unity we cannot even seriously begin the project. And Imani is placed last because without faith we can't sustain it. But without practice of all the principles, we cannot really accomplish it.
Finally, it is important to note that the Nguzo Saba are used as value orientation and cultural grounding in a vast number of programs throughout the world African community. These range from independent schools, rites of passage programs, youth development and support programs, public school educational programs, and religious institutional cultural programs to various economic and political initiatives and structures. Thus, I'm confident that African people will continue to see their value, embrace their practice and pass on these values and the culture in which they are rooted as a legacy which expresses and encourages the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense.
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