The fifth principle of the Nguzo Saba is Nia which is essentially a commitment to the collective vocation of building, developing and defending our national community, its culture and history in order to regain our historical initiative and greatness as a people. The assumption here is that our role in human history has been and remains a key one, that we as an African people share in the grand human legacy Africa has given the world. That legacy is one of having not only been the fathers and mothers of humanity, but also the fathers and mothers of human civilization, i.e., having introduced in the Nile Valley civilizations the basic disciplines of human knowledge. It is this identity which gives us an overriding cultural purpose and suggests a direction. This is what we mean when we say we who are the father's and mothers of human civilization have no business playing the cultural children of the world. The principle of Nia then makes us conscious of our purpose in light of our historical and cultural identity.
Inherent in this discussion of deriving purpose from cultural and historical identity is a necessary reference to and focus on generational responsibility. [Frantz] Fanon has posed this responsibility in competing terms. He says, "each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, [and then] fulfill it or betray it" (48). The mission he suggests is always framed within the larger context of the needs, hopes and aspirations of the people. And each of us is morally and culturally obligated to participate in creating a context of maximum freedom and development of the people.
Finally, Nia suggests that personal and social purpose are not only non-antagonistic but complementary in the true communitarian sense of the word. In fact, it suggests that the highest form of personal purpose is in the final analysis, social purpose, i.e., personal purpose that translates itself into a vocation and commitment which involves and benefits the community. As we have noted elsewhere, such a level and quality of purpose not only benefits the collective whole, but also gives fullness and meaning to a persons life in a way individualistic and isolated pursuits cannot.
For true greatness and growth never occur in isolation and at other's expense. On the contrary, as African philosophy teaches, we are first and foremost social beings whose reality and relevance are rooted in the quality and the kinds of relations we have with each other. And a cooperative communal vocation is an excellent context and encouragement for quality social relations. Thus, [W.E.B.] Du Bois' stress on education for social contribution and rejection of vulgar careerism rooted in the lone and passionate pursuit of money is especially relevant. For again our purpose is not to simply create money markers, but to cultivate men and women capable of social and human exchange on a larger more meaningful scale, men and women of culture and social conscience, of vision and values which expand the human project of freedom and development rather than diminish and deform it.
Practice Nia every day!
SOURCE: "The African American Holiday of Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family Community & Culture"
by Maulana Karenga, University of Sankore Press, Los Angeles, California, 1988, ISBN 0-943412-09-9