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What are the 3 primary symbols of Kwanzaa?

What are the 3 primary symbols of Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is an African American holiday celebrated from December 26 to January 1 each year. It was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to celebrate African heritage and culture. Kwanzaa has seven core principles called the Nguzo Saba and three primary symbols that represent the values and concepts of the holiday. These symbols act as visual representations of Kwanzaa’s guiding values. The three main symbols of Kwanzaa are the kinara, the mkeka, and the mazao.

The Kinara

The kinara is the most well-known symbol of Kwanzaa. It is a seven-branched candelabra that represents the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Kinara is a Swahili word meaning “candle holder.” Each night during Kwanzaa, one candle is lit to honor one of the seven principles. The black, red, and green candles represent the Pan-African colors. The order in which the candles are lit hold meaning:

Candle Color Principle
Black Umoja (Unity)
Red Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
Green Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
Red Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)
Green Nia (Purpose)
Red Kuumba (Creativity)
Green Imani (Faith)

The black candle is lit first to represent the importance of unity in the African American community. The three green candles represent the future, hopes, and dreams. The three red candles symbolize the struggles and bloodshed of the past.

The kinara reminds participants of their roots, the richness of their heritage, and the ongoing struggle for liberation. It reflects the original stalk from which Africans were forcibly taken and links them back to their continent. The kinara represents their growth into a new people yet still holding onto their history.

The Mkeka

The mkeka is a straw mat on which all other Kwanzaa symbols are placed. Mkeka means “place mat” or “foundation” in Swahili. It symbolizes the foundation of African tradition, history, and culture. The other items are placed on the mkeka to honor the heritage they all rest upon.

During Kwanzaa ceremonies, families often put their mkeka on a wooden table or tray. Then, they place the kinara in the center and arrange the mazao around it. The mkeka unites all the symbols of Kwanzaa and reinforces the bonds between them.

In many African societies, straw symbolizes the gathering of people in peace and harmony. It also represents the foundation upon which communities are built. The mkeka reminds participants of their connection to the past and the foundation that supports them today. It represents family, community, and culture.

The Mazao

The mazao (crops) are symbolic fruits, vegetables, and nuts placed in a bowl on the mkeka. Each food represents one of the children’s principles known as the Nguzo Saba:

Fruit/Vegetable/Nut Principle
Corn Umoja (Unity)
Peas Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
Peanuts Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)
Apples Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)
Oranges Nia (Purpose)
Coconut Kuumba (Creativity)
Grapes Imani (Faith)

The mazao represent the rewards of collective labor and responsibility. They embody the agricultural heritage of African people and the rewards of cooperative work. Each fruit and vegetable has a unique meaning:

– Corn represents children and the hope embodied in new generations.

– Peas evoke the sorrow and struggles of the past.

– Peanuts signify the importance of nourishing communities and cleanliness.

– Apples embody knowledge gained through hard work and spiritual clarity.

– Oranges are the call for solidarity and social justice in all communities.

– Coconuts represent wisdom, insight, and intelligence.

– Grapes signify success through hard work and excellence.

The mazao are a tangible reminder of the values Kwanzaa upholds and the principles families strive to live by throughout the year. They reflect the bounty that comes through unity, purpose, and cooperative work.


Kwanzaa brings African American families together through symbols that reflect their common heritage. The kinara, mkeka, and mazao provide visual representations of the seven principles and values of the holiday. They reinforce the bonds between past and present, reminding participants to honor their roots while building for the future. The candles, straw, and fruits unite families under shared principles and shared hopes. Kwanzaa’s symbols pay homage to the struggles and triumphs of previous generations while lighting the way forward for the next.