Kwanzaa: Day Four (Ujamaa)


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Hello history lovers and welcome to where we are remembering history and we’re making it.

Habari gani, I’m Robin the host and in-house historian at

I’m so glad that you’ve come back for this great and groundbreaking show that will inspire YOU and your FAMILY with true stories, real experiences, practical lessons, cultural traditions, and fun celebrations—all inspired by African American history and culture. And today is a very special day because we are continuing with our celebration of Kwanzaa! We are already on day four of this uplifting and inspirational celebration. Today we will focus on Ujamaa.

So, I’ll bid you the traditional greeting of Kwanzaa in the Swahili language: Habari gani! If you’re just joining us, you’re very welcome but I would strongly urge you to listen to the 4 previous podcasts: the introduction to Kwanzaa podcast, the first day of Kwanzaa podcast (called umoja or unity), and the second day of Kwanzaa podcast (called kujichagulia or self-determination) and day 3 which is called Ujima.

We learned yesterday that collective work and responsibility (or Ujima) is a commitment to active and informed togetherness on matters of common interest. And we learned a powerful lesson that African freedom is indivisible, meaning that if any African anywhere is oppressed then all Africans are oppressed. If you haven’t heard the previous Kwanzaa podcasts, I strongly recommend that you do so. If you have any questions, please contact us at website or the Wiki History Podcast page on Facebook. Stay with us today—everyone is welcome around the Kwanaa mat (the mkeka)—but please take time to listen to the previous shows.

Let’s prepare ourselves to begin to Kwanzaa celebration for the fourth day. Sometimes I take a deep cleansing breath before the celebration begins but I always find some way to quiet and focus myself. Remember Kwanzaa is a celebration but please remember to show respect for the solemn ritual.

Day 4: Ujamaa (cooperative economics)

Habari gani! Your response: Ujamaa!

Let’s do it again: Habari gani! Ujamaa!

Now please give me the Swahili greeting. (pause) Ujamaa!

The fourth day of Kwanzaa is Ujamaa! It means cooperative economics. That’s a strange and curious term but what IS cooperative economics?

Dr. Karenga (remember he founded Kwanzaa) said that cooperative economics means to build our own businesses, control the economics of our own community and share in all its work and wealth.

It sounds like a complicated term but it is actually quite simple. Ujamaa (cooperative economics) is a commitment to the practice of shared social wealth and the work necessary to achieve it. Cooperative economics is built on the fundamental communal concept that social wealth belongs to the masses of people who created it and that no one should have more than his or her fair share. It is the principle and practice of shared wealth. I really like that the Kwanzaa principles are not just theoretical but require action and practical effects.

One famous African president strongly believed in Ujamaa. He was Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, following colonialism. Much loved by Tanzanians and the British, Nyerere (known to most people as Mwalimu, meaning teacher) was an African socialist who strongly believed in Ujamaa. He said, “Ujamaa is based on the assumption of human equality, on the belief that it is wrong for one person to dominate or exploit another , and on the knowledge that every individual hopes to live in a society as a free person able to lead a decent life, in conditions of peace with his or her neighbor.” Mwalimu (President Nyerere) told us that ujamaa is above all human centered, concerened foremost with the well-being, happiness and development of the human person.

Ujamaa also stresses self-reliance in the building, strengthening and control of the economics of the community. Mwalimu said that we must depend on ourselves and our own resources. Closely related to self-reliance is the respect for the dignity and obligation of work and appreciation for the value of work. Inherent in this belief is harnessing our resources and putting them to the best possible use. All of this is for the community and society at large.

A strong (though possibly not obvious) element of ujamaa is generosity. Generosity is thought to generate its own reward. An African proverb (in the book of Ani) says “small gifts return greater and what is replaced brings abundance.” And the Book of Ptah-Hoptep teaches “be generous as long as you live. What goes into the storehouse should come out. for the bread is made to be shared.”

This is an ancient African ethic of care and responsibility which forms the concept of shared wealth. This ethic is expressed in one of the earliest books—called the Book of Coming Forth by Day—which defines generosity as “one who has given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked and a boat to those without one.” In fact, many of the ancient writings in Egypt and other parts of Africa express the ethic of responsibility and shared social wealth. In modern philosophy, the concept of shared social wealth is not simply to be generous to the poor and vulnerable but ultimately to end their poverty and vulnerability so that they too can live a decent, un-deprived and meaningful life.

As African Americans, we can also think of ways to be generous. How can we help our communities? How can we work to end poverty? What is our vision of a shared social wealth?

Volunteering and donating money are both admirable and necessary to help others. But how can we envision an end to poverty in the African American community and on a global scale? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while fighting for social justice, was also working for economic justice and an end to poverty.

Most people are not familiar with Dr. King’s attack on poverty as an evil pervasive in American society. His dream of a more free and democratic America and world morphed into a nightmare owning to the persistence of racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. (These are Dr. King’s words!) This is the Radical King that was committed to looking beyond race and instead looked to concentrations of economic power and pockets of economic weakness or deprivation. So, we can think and envision a world in which poverty no longer exists rather than accept that it is simply a fact of life. Like Mwalimu (Julius Nyerere) and Dr. King, we can envision a world based on shared wealth.

For more information, refer to the book, The Radical King by Cornel West. This book shows the radical, intellectual and visionary that was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Essential and eye-opening book.

Remembering Julius Nyerere in Tanzania. History, Memory, Legacy

by Marie-Aude Fouéré

If you’re interested in learning more about Julius Nyerere—and I hope that you are—this is a great introduction to this lesser known post-colonial African leader.

The Book of Going Forth by Day

Yes, it’s a real book!

Let’s end the discussion about cooperative economics and move to the next step in the Kwanzaa celebration.

It is now time to light another red candle to the right.

It is now time to hear a Kwanzaa story about cooperative economics.

If you like, you can discuss this story and what it meant to you. No pressure or demands. This is a time of sharing for those who wish to share. And a time of listening for those who prefer to listen.

Now let’s fill and pass the unity cup (kikomba cha umoja). Everyone take a sip.

Pause and reflect on the concept of ujamaa (cooperative economics) and how you can work to help people suffering in poverty or other disadvantages. Try to envision a world without poverty. Yes, it’s possible.

Then blow out the candles.

This concludes Day 4 of the Kwanzaa celebration.

I just want to thank Eshu Bumpus for providing this story about collective work and responsibility. This story was written by Eshu who is an accomplished storyteller and expert on Kwanzaa. You might know that storytelling has strong roots in African culture as a method of teaching and transforming as well as entertainment. Eshu has a website called I am so grateful that he has agreed to allow us to present his stories on this Wiki history podcast.

Thank you for participating in Day 4 of Kwanzaa with us. Remember to visit us on our Facebook page called Wiki History if you need more information or want to share your Kwanzaa experiences with us.

We hope to see you tomorrow at where we are remembering history and we’re making it. Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri. (Kwanzaa YEH-Noo ee-wah nah heh-REE). Happy Kwanzaa!

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