How to Pronounce and Understand Kwanzaa Terms

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How to Pronounce and Understand Kwanzaa Terms. The first Kwanzaa was held less than 35 years ago, and a lot of families are celebrating for the first time. This pronunciation and definition key will help new celebrants connect with the Swahili terms and concepts and gain a deeper understanding of the holiday.

Kwanzaa (KWAN-za) comes from the Swahili word Kwanza, which means first fruits.

Nguzo Saba (n-GU-zo SAH-bah) refers to the seven principles upon which Kwanzaa is based. There is one principle for each of the seven days of Kwanzaa. They are celebrated in the following order.

Umoja (oo-MO-jah), which means unity, is first.

Kujichagulia (koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah), which means self-determination, is celebrated on the second day.

Ujima (oo-JEE-mah), which means collective work and responsibility, is the third principle.

Ujamaa (oo-jah-MAH-ah), which means cooperative economics, comes next.

Nia (NEE-ah), which means purpose, is fifth.

Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah), which means creativity, comes on the sixth day.

Imani (ee-MAH-nee), which means faith, is the principle of the seventh and last day of Kwanzaa.

"Habari gani?" (Ha-ba-ri ga-ni) is the question asked at the start of every Kwanzaa celebration. This is Swahili for, "What is the news?" Celebrants answer with the Nguzo Saba (principle) of the day.

Mkeka (em-KEH-kah) refers to a straw mat on which a Kwanzaa centerpiece is arranged. Items placed on the mkeka include the following: mazao (mah-ZAH-oh), a bowl of fruits and vegetables, especially those native to Africa; muhindi (moo-HEEN-dee) or vibunzi (vee-BOON-zee), ears of corn that represent the number of children in the family; kikombe cha umoja (kee-KOHM-bee chah oo-MOH-jah), a unity cup; and zawadi (zah-WAH-dee), gifts.

Kinara (kee-NAH-rah) refers to a candleholder central to the celebration.

Mishumaa saba (mee-shoo-MAH-ah SAH-ba) are the seven candles of the kinara that represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

Karamu (kah-RAH-moo) is the big feast traditionally held on December 31, the sixth day of Kwanzaa.

"Harambee!" (hah-RAHM-beh) is a call of unity cried out at the end of each nightly celebration, meaning "Let's pull together!"

Tips & Warnings

  • Swahili consonants are pronounced like English consonants. The "R" is like the Spanish "R" and is pronounced by rolling the tongue.
  • In most Swahili words, the accent is placed on the next-to-last syllable.
  • Swahili vowels are pronounced as follows: a (ah), e (ay), i (ee), o (oe), u (oo).
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