This Christmas season I found out about Kwanzaa for the first time.

Kwanzaa is a non-religious holiday started in 1966 in response to the 1965 Watts Riots. The aim was to build community among African Americans; people who have lost their various ancestral communities and traditions. It runs seven days from the 26th December to the 1st of January.

The name comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza” which translates as first fruits” - it takes ideas from various harvest traditions and fruit festivals across Africa. Swahili was chosen as it is a regional language so not restricted to a single country.

It was seeing a photo of the kinara, a seven candle candelabra, first drew my attention. The candles are of three colours - black, red and green. To me these are the colours of the Kenyan flag taught to me at school in Nairobi. In the flag they correspond to the colour of the people, blood of the people, the colour of the land. Despite being a white kid, I don’t remember the first one troubling me too much. However, in the kinara the colours represent the African people, their struggle and hope for the future.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the Nguzo Saba, or Seven Principles. The principles are (from Wikipedia):

Umoja (Unity) To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-determination) To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.

Ujamaa (Cooperative economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

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

Kuumba (Creativity) 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) To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

With Adaptive organisations, we are also looking to build new communities, to return respect and agency to people. The Seven Principles could also be applied to these communities and groups of people:

Unity To strive for and to maintain unity in the organisation and purpose.

Self-determination To be self-organising and self-managing. For everyone to have a voice.

Collective work and responsibility To build and maintain the corporate community together, and to come together to solve challenges and problems.

Cooperative economics To co-produce products and support the various groups and micro-organisations that form the organisation. Also come together with other organisations to create economic and societal benefits.

Purpose To make the collective vocation the building and developing of the organisation in order to realise its noble vision, and help people to fulfil their individual purposes.

Creativity For people to bring their whole selves to work, and contribute wherever they can add value to leave the organisation and society better than it was when they started.

Faith Belief that the organisation, and the people within, always strive their best to deliver fulfil the guiding purpose of the organisation.

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