The Story of Kwanzaa

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Social Studies

Grade 5- 8


Students will learn about the history and traditions of Kwanzaa.


Background Information
Kwanzaa (pronounced Kwahn-zaah) is a relatively new holiday, begun in 1966 by an African American named Maulana Ron Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at the California State University at Long Beach. Celebrated from December 26 through January 1, Kwanzaa is a time when people of African descent can honor the customs of their ancestors.
In the Swahili language, the word kwanzaa means "first." The holiday received its name because in Africa so many tribes celebrated the first harvest of their crops each year. The celebration dates were chosen to correspond with the African harvest festivals, usually held in late December and early January.
Kwanzaa is not a religious or political holiday. It is a cultural celebration based on seven principles which serve as a guide for daily living, and which came from family beliefs in many parts of Africa. The seven principles are referred to as the Nguzo Saba (en-goo-zo sah-bah). The seven principles are: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith. The activity sheets attached are bulletin board patterns for the seven principles.
During Kwanzaa, a special candleholder called a kinara is lit each evening to celebrate one of the seven principles. This kinara is symbolic of the family's African ancestors. As a candle is lit, the family talks about the special meaning of the day. The candles are only part of the holiday. Family and friends enjoy special foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and small homemade gifts are exchanged. A karamu, or feast, is held on the last day with music and dancing.
Activity Description
The Arabs call this game Kalah. They brought it to Africa where it has many different names. In East Africa it is called Mankala. In West Africa, it is called Owara. In South Africa it is known as Ohora.
You can make this game out of an empty egg carton. The end sections are the Kalahs. Each player's Kalah is on his or her right. These sections count as cups during the game.
Activity Directions
Build the game board by separating the top and bottom of the egg carton. Cut the top section in half and affix each half to the side of the bottom section (be sure you put the top with the flat part down so that it forms cups at the ends of the egg carton).
Play starts when the players put three beans into each of the small cups on their own sides.
The first player begins by taking all of the beans out of one of his or her cups and moving to the right, dropping one bean into each of the next three cups. Remember, the Kalah counts as a cup after play begins.
If the first player is able to drop the bean into his or her own Kalah, he/she gets another turn. If the last (third) bean does not end up in his/her own Kalah, it becomes the other player's turn.
Each player continues to take turns trying to get as many beans as possible into his/her own Kalah, until all the cups on one player's side are empty.
The winner is the player with the most beans in his/her Kalah.


  • empty egg cartons
  • dried beans or other small markers
  • scissors
  • tape/glue

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