The Symbols of Kwanzaa

Along with the Seven Principles(Nguzo Saba) and the seven days of Kwanzaa, there are seven symbols ortable implements that are used in the celebration of the holiday. These seven items are arraigned in an area set up as a Kwanzaa altar or table in the home.

The seven symbols of Kwanzaa are:

Mkeka (m-KAY-kah): The Mat

A mat woven of fabric, raffia, or even paper. The Mkeka is important because the other holiday implements rest upon it.

Symbolizes the experiences, culture, achievements and sacrifices of our ancestors upon which our lives are built.

Kikombe cha Umoja (kee-KOHM-bay cha oo-MOH-jah): The Unity Cup

Representing family and community unity. When the Unity cup filled with water, juice, or wine, a little bit is poured out as reminder and respect for our ancestors. The cup is then passed around and shared with those gathered, with each person taking a sip.

Mazao (mah-ZAH-oh): The Crops

The fruits and vegetables that are the result of the harvest. Bananas, mangoes, peaches, plantains, oranges, or whatever might be the family favorites. The Mazao are placed on the Mkeka and are shared and eaten to honor the work of the people it took to grow them.


Kinara (kee-NAH-rah): The Candleholder

Representing our African ancestors, the Kinara holds the seven candles that symbolize the Nguzo Saba. The Kinara is placed on the Mkeka and holds the Mishumaa Saba (the seven candles).

Mishumaa Saba(mee-shoo-MAH SAH-ba): The Seven Candles

Seven candles, representing the seven principles of Nguzo Saba, which are placed in the Kwanzaa Kinara. The colors of the candles are red, green, and black which are the colors of the Bendera (or African Flag).

Muhindi (moo-HEEN-dee): The Corn

Represents the children (and future) of the family. One suke (ear) of corn is placed on the Mkeka for each child in the family. If there are no children in the family one suke is still placed on the Mkeka to symbolize the children of the community.

The Muhindi also represents the Native Americans who were the first inhabitants of the land. Without whom there would be no corn, also known as Maize. It is used as acknowledgment and respect of their contribution to the culture and ancestors of the African American.

Note: A single ear of corn can also be know as Vibunzi. Indian Corn is sometimes used.

Zawadi (zah-WAH-dee): Gifts

Kwanzaa gifts given to children that will make them better people. The gifts should always include a book, video, or other educational item that will educate and inform the child. There should also be a gift know as a “heritage symbol”. Something to remind the child of glory of the past and the promise of the future.

Since Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, you, your family and your community can use great creativity in the observance of Kwanzaa. The area in your home where you set up the Kwanzaa altar or table can be decorated in the same spirit as other holidays. Create posters and banners to hang on the walls, add African sculptures or other artwork to the display. Many crafts and decorations can be created by the children of the home to be used in your Kwanzaa display.

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