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The philosophy of the cultural nationalist theory and movement called kawaida (a Swahili word meaning "tradition" or "reason," pronounced ka-wa-EE-da ) is a synthesis of nationalist, pan-Africanist, and socialist ideologies. It was created and defined by Maulana Karenga during the height of black pride and self-awareness that characterized the Black Power movement in 1966. Karenga believed that black people needed a change of consciousness before they could mount a political struggle to empower themselves. He argued that the reclamation of an African value system based on the nguzo saba (seven principles) of umoja (unity), kujichagulia (selfdetermination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith) would serve as a catalyst to motivate, intensify, and sustain the black struggle against racism. This value system, which served as the basis of kawaida, would provide the foundation for a new African-American culture defined in terms of mythology (religion); history; social, economic, and political organization; creative production; and ethos.

Kawaida, the guiding philosophy behind Karenga's California-based cultural nationalist organization, called US, was introduced to a wider audience of African Americans at the National Conference on Black Power in Newark, New Jersey, in 1967. Although some African Americans criticized the ideology for not mounting a revolutionary challenge to the economic status quo, the search for connections to an African past and the ideal of unifying the black nation had widespread appeal.

Amiri Baraka, a writer and militant activist, became the chief spokesperson for the ideology in the late 1960s and was key to its popularization. Baraka believed that kawaida could be used to politicize the black masses, and he supported the creation of community theaters and schools that focused on African cultural values. In the late 1960s he became head of the Temple of Kawaida in Newark, New Jersey, which taught African religions, and he played a key role in the creation of Kawaida Towers, a lowand middle-income housing project in Newark, during the early 1970s. Baraka sought to bridge the gaps between culture, politics, and economics, and by 1974 he had reinterpreted kawaida to include a socialist critique of capitalism.

Kawaida's influence in black America continued to grow, and the ideology provided a basis for the development of theories of Afrocentricity in the late 1970s and 1980s. In the late 1980s, the National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO) was founded under Karenga's direction. NAKO sponsors workshops, forums, and symposia to promote awareness of and appreciation for Africa in the black community. The most influential expression of kawaida is Kwanza, an African-American holiday based on the nguzo saba, which Karenga created in 1966.

See also Baraka, Amiri (Jones, LeRoi); Black Power Movement; Karenga, Maulana; Kwanza; Nationalism in the United States in the Nineteenth Century; Pan-Africanism


Baraka, Imamu Amiri. Kawaida Studies: The New Nationalism. Chicago, Ill.: Third World Press, 1972.

Baraka, Imamu Amiri. Kawaida, National Liberation, and Socialism. Newark, N.J.: Jihad, 1974.

Huber, Palmer. "Three Black Nationalist Organizations and Their Impact upon Their Times." Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1973.

Karenga, Maulana. Kawaida Theory: An Introductory Outline. Inglewood, Calif.: Kawaida Publications, 1980.

Van Deburg, William L. New Day in Babylon: The Black Power Movement and American Culture, 19651975. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

mansur m. nuruddin (1996)

robyn spencer (1996)