The Seven Symbols of Kwanza                                                                                                                             vc

The Seven Symbols of Kwanza vc

Worldwide--Kwanzaa has seven basic symbols and two supplemental ones. Each is representative of values and concepts that are reflective of African culture and contributive to community building and reinforcement. The seven basic symbols are:


Mazao or Crops (Fruits, Nuts and Vegetables): Symbolizes work and the basis of the holiday. It also represents the historical foundation for Kwanzaa...the gathering of the people that is patterned after African harvest festivals in which joy, sharing, unity and thanksgiving are the rewarding fruits of collective planning and labor. Since the family is the basic social an economic center of every civilization, this festival forged stronger bonds between family members and served to reaffirm commitment and responsibility to each other. In native Africa, the family may have included several generations of two or more nuclear families, as well as distant relatives.


Although Ancient Africans were unconcerned with the large numbers that might make up a family, it was accepted that there could only be one leader...the oldest male of the strongest group. Hence, an entire village might have been composed of one single family. The family was considered a limb of a tribe that shared common customs, cultural traditions and political unity...they were supposedly all descended from common ancestors. The tribe lived by traditions that provided both continuity and identify. Tribal laws frequently determined the value system, judiciary and customs encompassing birth, adolescence, marriage, parenthood, maturity and death. Through personal sacrifice and hard work, the famers sowed seeds that brought forth new plant life to feed the people and other animals of the earth. To demonstrate their mazao, celebrations of Kwanzaa place nuts, fruits and vegetables...all of which are representative of work...upon the mkeka.


Mkeka or Mat: The mkeka is fashioned from straw or cloth and originates directly from Africa. Thus, it is symbolic of African tradition, history and culture...a foundation upon which to stand and build. In much the same way that today stand upon all the yesterdays that came before, the other symbols associated with this holiday stand on the mkeka. During Kwanzaa, celebrants study, recall and reflect on their native history and the role each is to play as a legacy to the future. Ancient societies made mats from straw...the dried seams of grains that were sowed and reaped collectively. The weavers took the stalks and created household baskets and mats. Today, celebrants of Kwanzaa buy mkeka that are fashioned from Kente cloth, African mud cloth, and other textiles from various areas of the African continent. The mishumaa saba, the vibunzi, the mazao, the zawadi, the kikombe cha umoja and the kinara are placed directly on the mkeka.


Kinara or Candle Holder: The kinara is the center of the Kwanzaa setting, representative of the original stalk from which the people came...the ancestry. The kinara can be any shape...straight, semicircular or spiral...provided the seven candles it holds are separate and distinct, like a candelabra. The kinara may be made from a variety of materials and many celebrants create their own from fallen branches, wood or other natural substances. It is symbolic of the ancestors, who were once earth bound, but who understood the problems of human life and are now willing to protect their progeny from danger, evil and mistakes. In African festivals, the ancestors are remembered, honored and deeply revered. The mishumaa saba are placed in the kinara.


Muhindi or Ear of Corn: The muhindi represents fertility and symbolizes that through the reproduction of children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life. One ear is known as vibunzi while two or more ears are called minindi. Each ear is symbolic of a child in the family. Thus, one ear is placed on the mkeka for each child in the household. If there are no children in the home, then two ears are still set upon the mkeka because each person is responsible for the children of the community. During Knwanzaa, the love and nurturance that was heaped upon the individual as a child is selflessly returned to all children, but particularly the helpless, the homeless and the loveless of the community. Hence, the Nigerian proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child," is realized in this symbol, since raising a child in Africa was a community affair, which involved the tribal village as well as the family. Good habits of respect for self and for others, together with discipline, positive thinking, expectations, compassion, empathy, charity and self-direction, are learned in childhood from parents, peers and experiences. Children are essential to the celebrations of Kwanzaa. They are the future...the seed-bearers who will carry cultural values and practices into the next generation. It is for this reason that children were cared for both communally and indiviually within the tribal village. The biological family was ultimately responsible for raising its own children, but every person in the village was held accountable for the safety and welfare of all the children.


Mishumaa Saba or Seven Candles: Symbolic of the Nguzo Saba or Seven Principles...the matrix and minimum set of values by which African people are urged to live in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs. Candles are ceremonial objects with two primary purposes: to symbolically recreate the power of the sun and to provide light. The celebration of fire through candle-burning is not limited to one particular group or country. Indeed, it occurs everywhere. Mishumaa saba are the seven candles of Kwanzaa...three red, three green and one black. (Please see the section on this page entitled "Lighting the Kinara" for more information.)


Kikombe cha Umoja or Unity Cup: The kikombe cha umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation or tambiko ritual during the Karamu feast on the Sixth Day of Kwanzaa. It is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible. In may African societies, libations are poured for the living dead, whose souls remain with the earth that they tilled. The Ibo people of Nigeria believe that to drink the last portion of a libation is to invite the wrath of the spirits and ancestors. Consequently, the final drops of the libation belong to the Ancient Ones. During the Karamu feast, the kikombe cha umoja is passed to family members and guests, who drink from it to promote unity. Then, the eldest individual present pours the libation...usually water, juice or the direction of the four winds: north, south, east and west, thereby honoring the ancestors. This person asks the gods and ancestors to share in the festivities and in return, to bless all those who are not present at the gathering. After requesting this benediction, the elder pours the libation on the ground and the group says, "Amen." Large Kwanzaa gatherings may operate in a manner very similar to communion services in most churches and it is common for celebrants to have individual cups, but drink the libation together as a sign of unity. Some families may have a cup that is specifically designated for the ancestors with everyone else having his or her own. The last few ounces of the libation are poured into the cup of the host or hostess, who sips it and hands it to the oldest individual in the group, who then asks for the blessing.


Zawadi or Gifts: When Imani is celebrated on the Seven Day of Kwanzaa, meaningful gifts are exchanged with members of the immediate family...especially the promote or reward accomplishments achieved and commitments that have been kept. Gifts may also be exchanged with guests during this time. Handmade presents are encouraged in order to promote self-determination, purpose and creativity, as well as to avoid the chaos of shopping and conspicuous consumption during the December holiday season. A family may spend a entire year making kinaras in addition to creating cards, dolls and/or mkekas to give to their visitors. The acceptance of a gift implies a moral obligation to fulfill the promise of the gift. It obliges the recipient to follow the training of the host or hostess. The Kwanzaa gift cements social relationships, allowing the receiver to share in the duties and rights of a family member. The gifts, particularly those given to the children, must include a book and a heritage symbol. The book emphasizes the African value and tradition of learning stressed since Ancient Egypty, and the heritage symbol is to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.


The two supplemental symbols of Kwanzaa are:

Bendera or The Flag: The colors of the Kwanzaa flag are black, red and green...the colors of the Organization Us. Black is representative of the people, red symbolizes their struggle and green represents the future and hope that comes from the struggle of the people. The colors of this flag are based upon those given by the Honorable Marcus Garvey as the national colors for African people throughout the world.

Nguzo Saba Poster or The Poster of The Seven Principles.

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