A traditional Kwanzaa table adorned with a kinara, umoja cup, fruits, and a gift. Image by Shutterstock.
A traditional Kwanzaa table adorned with a kinara, umoja cup, fruits, and a gift. Image by Shutterstock.

Each of Kwanzaa’s seven principles has special meaning. Learn the meaning behind the Swahili words and how they can be applied to everyday life.

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The Nguzo Saba: Kwanzaa’s Seven Principles

Umoja | Unity | Dec. 26

To strive for and maintain unity in family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia | Self-Determination | Dec. 27

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.

Ujima | Collective Work and Responsibility | Dec. 28

To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa | Cooperative Economics | Dec. 29

To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia | Purpose | Dec. 30

To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

Kuumba | Creativity | Dec. 31

To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.

Imani | Faith | Jan. 1

To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

A Kwanzaa celebration begins on Monday, Dec. 29, 2008 with a lesson about the holiday from left to right, Jawana Norris, Mari’yam Floyd, 18, and Kamaria Hakeem, 18. (Photo By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Traditional Kwanzaa Symbols

Bendera | Liberation Flag

Represents Black people around the world, the struggle for freedom, and a prosperous future.

Hawk Newsome, chairperson of the Black Lives Matter Greater New York, wears a Black Lives Matter sweater and holds a Pan-African Black Liberation Flag in front of a barricade with police officers at Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle. Photographed in the Manhattan Borough of New York on June 14, 2020. (Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images)

Mazao | Crops

Representing African harvest celebrations.

Mishumaa Saba | Seven Candles

Each representing the principles—or values—Black people should live by. There are three red, three green, and a single black candle in the kinara.

Mkeka | Straw Mat

Represents tradition and history; foundation.

A traditional Kwanzaa table adorned with a kinara, umoja cup, fruits, and a gift.

Muhindi | Ear of Corn

Each ear of corn placed on the mat represents children living in the home or future children desired.

Kikombe cha Umoja | Unity Cup

A symbol of togetherness—both the principle and practice.

Pictured, the Kwanzaa display in the Thomas’ living room features a wide array of symbolic items, such as the basket of fruit, and the corn and the cup. PHOTOG: Bill O’Leary TWP. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Kinara | Candleholder

Usually wooden, and representing Black people’s connection to the African continent.

Zawadi | Gifts

Like many other holiday celebrations, gifts are exchanged and represent the sacrifice and bond of parents, and their children’s achievements.

A program to educate children about Kwanzaa by a local Kwanzaa committee is hosted at the Pauline Robinson Library in Denver, where children could sing and dance and then make a Kwanzaa Mkeka straw mat where the Kinara, a candleholder with seven candles, is placed. (Photo By Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

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