Kwanzaa’s Woven Foundation

December 26 marks the start of Kwanzaa, a holiday created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga as a way for African Americans to celebrate their history and culture. For each of the seven days of the holiday there is a corresponding guiding principle, referred to by its name in Swahili. Each day a candle is lit representing the principle, and families are encouraged to discuss what the principle means to them and their community.

 

Along with the seven days in Kwanzaa and the seven guiding principles, there are also seven basic symbols of the holiday. The symbols each represent an important part of African heritage and culture, and as with the principles are referred to by their Swahili name. 

 

As part of Kwanzaa all seven of these symbols are displayed together in a place of prominence within the home. The base of these symbols is a woven mat referred to as the mkeka. The mkeke can be as simple as a mat woven from straw, or as complex as a beautiful length of kente cloth, although it should reflect some form of African weaving traditions. The mkeka represents history and traditions, the foundations on which the six other symbols are built. 

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