Animation: The Nguzo Saba - Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

yenu iwe
na heri!
[ kwahn-ZAH
YEH-noo EE-weh
nah heh-REE ]

Happy Kwanzaa!

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....... Practice the Principles of Kwanzaa, every day!

Day #1: December 26
Nguzo Saba Kwanzaa Principle #1


Umoja (oo-MOE-jah) 


"To strive for a principled and harmonious togetherness in the family community, nation and world African community."

This is the First and foundational Principle of the Nguzo Saba, for without it, all other Principles of the Nguzo Saba suffer. Unity is both a principle and practice of togetherness in all things good and of mutual benefit. It is a principled and harmonious togetherness not simply a being together. This is why value-rooted ness is so important, even indispensable. Unity as principled and harmonious togetherness is a cardinal virtue of both classical and general African societies. In ancient Egypt, harmony was a cardinal virtue of Maat, i.e., righteousness, rightness. In fact, one of the ways to translate Maat is to define it as harmony - harmony on the natural cosmic and social level. Likewise cieng among the Dinka, means both morality and harmonious living together. Thus in both ancient Egyptian and Dinka society, one cannot live a moral life without living in harmony with other members of the community.

If unity is in essence a Principle, it is no less a practice as are all the other Principles. For practice is central to African ethics and all claims to ethical living and commitment to moral principles are tested and proved or disproved in relations with others. Relations, then, are the hinges on which morality turns, the ground on which it rises or falls. In this regard, we can refer back to the discussion on character development through ethical instruction. Character development is not simply to create a good person abstracted from community, but rather a person in positive interaction, a person whose quality of relations with others is defined first of all by a principled and harmonious togetherness, i.e., a real and practiced unity.

Another way of discussing unity is to see it as active solidarity. This essentially means a firm dependable togetherness that is born, based and sustained in action. It is usually applied to groups, organizations, classes, and peoples and expresses itself as building together, struggling together, maintaining together, and acting together in mutual benefit. The key here is again practice. In the end practice proves everything. No matter how many books one reads on swimming, sooner or later s/he must get into the water and swim. This may be called on this level, the priority of practice Finally, unity means a oneness, a similarity and sameness that gives us an identity as a people, an African people. And inherent in the identity as a people is the ethical and political imperative to self-consciously unite in order to define, defend and develop our interests.

Unity as principle and practice begins in the family but presupposes value-orientation of each member. Adults and children must respect and approach unity as a moral principle of family and community not simply a political slogan. As principle and practice, this means principled and harmonious living with brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers - sharing and acting in unison. It means avoidance of conflict and quick, willing and principled resolution when it occurs. It means a yielding and gentleness of exchange as taught in the Sacred Husia (33). The family must reject harshness and practice gentleness, stress cooperation and avoid conflict, and be very attentive to things that would divide or create differences negative to togetherness.

Especially important is the unity of the father and mother, for they are the models for children and the foundation for the family in every sense of the word. Here the African concept of complementarity of male and female as distinct from and opposed to the concept of conflict of the genders is instructive and of value. As Anna J. Cooper, educator and social theorist, taught "there is a feminine as well as masculine side to truth (and) these are related not as inferior and superior, not as better or worse, not as weaker or stronger, but as complements - complements in one necessary and symmetric whole" (34). The recognition of this truth and responding creatively to it is necessary, she says, to give balance to the individual, and to save the nation from its extremes. It also is a shield against sexism, i.e., the social practice of using gender to establish and/or justify exploitation, oppression or unequal relations.

In African complementarities, three principles internal to it are necessary and reinforcing of both the concept and practice:

       1) Equality
       2) Reciprocity
       3) Friendship

One starts from the assumption of human equality and cultivates social equality as its logical and necessary complement. Reciprocity among equals is morally and socially compelling. And friendship is the fruit and expected outcome of a mutually respectful and mutually beneficial relationship which is tested and tempered through time and is rooted in mutual investment in each other's happiness, well being and development.

Finally, the family must be, as in African culture, the focal point of unity not simply of siblings and genders, but also of generations. One of the most important expressions of family unity is the respect and collective concern and care for the elders. Respect for elders as Amadi points out is a "cardinal article of the code of behavior" of African society (35). One who does not respect his/her elders is seen as immoral and uncultured. Elders are respected like the ancestors they will become, for their long life of service to the community, for their achievement, for providing an ethical model and for the richness of their experience and the wisdom this has produced. Thus, elders are seen as judges and reconcilers. It is they who hear cases of conflict and problems and offer solutions. One of the most important aspects of African respect for elders is that it makes them useful and active in the community, unlike the worst of European society which deprives them of meaningful roles and places them to the side, leaving them with only failing memories.

Also, the active participation and involvement of elders in the daily life of the family not only benefits them but the younger people. For it teaches them to understand and appreciate the process of growing old, gives them access to seasoned knowledge and experience and helps prevent the so-called generation gap so evident and advertised in European society. Key to this linking of young and old is the concept of lineage that links all the living, the departed and the yet unborn. This is translated in practice into the extended family and the protocol, ritual, reciprocity and remembrance this involves and requires. Early in life continental African children are taught to memorize and recite their family tree as far back as any ancestor is known. This keeps historical memory alive and reaffirms respect for those living and departed who contributed to their coming into being and cultural molding.
Practice Umoja every day!

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga

SOURCE: "The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family Community & Culture"
Maulana Karenga, University of Sankore Press, Los Angeles, California, 1988, ISBN 0-943412-09-9

 | Umoja | Kujichagulia | Ujima | Ujamaa | Nia | Kuumba | Imani |

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga

 | Siku ya Taamuli | Tamishi La Tutaonana |


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Practice the Principles of Kwanzaa, every day!  

Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri!
(kwahn-ZAH YEH-noo EE-weh nah heh-REE)
Happy Kwanzaa!
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