Kwanzaa Founder Maulana Karenga Visits Oberlin

December 10, 2019
Jane Hobson ’22
Man in African attire standing behind a table with a candle holder of 9 lit candles.
Maulana Karenga gave a talk explaining the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Photo credit: Lucie Maria Weismueller

As part of Oberlin’s annual celebration of Kwanzaa, the holiday’s founder, Maulana Karenga, visited campus to deliver a lecture and lead the Kwanzaa ritual at Afrikan Heritage House.

Currently, Karenga works at California State University, Long Beach as a professor and the chair of Africana studies. Throughout his lifetime, Karenga has been an activist. He was a part of the Black Power movement and started the US Organization. In 1966, Karenga created Kwanzaa, an annual pan-African tradition to commemorate black history and culture. 

During his talk on Sunday titled ’’Living Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles: An All-Seasons Celebration and Practice of the Good,” Karenga explained the history and significance of the holiday as well as the meaning of Nguzu Saba, the seven principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

Display of lighted candles, ears of corn, red and green apples, and books on a table.
Karenga led the ritual of Kwanzaa at Afrikan Heritage House.
Photo credit: Lucie Maria Weismueller

“Even though our ancestors had lost their language and no longer wore their clothes, they still taught us to be the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest,” Karenga said. “They teach us to speak truth, to do justice, to honor our elders and our ancestors, to cherish and challenge our children, to care for the poor, to have a rightful relationship with the environment, to constantly struggle against evil, injustice, and oppression, and always raise up praise in pursuit of good.”

Candice Raynor, the director and faculty in residence of Afrikan Heritage House, organized the event.

“In preparation for the Africana studies and A-House 50th anniversary celebration, I went through the archives at the beginning of the semester and saw that Dr. Karenga visited Oberlin in 1977, 1980, and 1983,” Raynor explained.

“I thought it would be cool to invite him back for our 50th anniversary. In addition to special events to mark the occasion, I wanted to make our annual events a little bigger this year. Having the creator of the holiday you’re celebrating come and speak about that holiday is pretty big.”

View more photos from the event in our Flickr album.

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