Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

Understanding Kujichagulia: A Journey Into Self-Awareness

Baked King Fish

We face neither East nor West; we face Forward.
by Kwame Nkrumah

Kujichagulia (pron: koo-jee-chah-GOO-lee-ah) is the guiding principle of the second day of Kwanzaa. Defined as self-determination, it affirms the need and right of each individual to speak, name, and define their unique dreams, goals and personhood. According to the Nguzo Saba (the official Seven Principles of the festival) kujichagulia means “to define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.” Although it seems like a simple concept we all carry and receive messages that contradict and undermine our private hopes and ambitions. Attention is often paid (and deservedly so) to negative messages that are perpetuated by media houses and social institutions. Equally insidious however, and often more difficult to emotionally disentangle, are messages that are delivered and reinforced from those we know and love, those within our own homes, families and/or communities.

On a personal level, 2012 has been a crash course in self-determination. One would not think that writing a food blog would be a vehicle for self-discovery or inner battles. Yet as I struggled with the ideas of publishing e-books (was I arrogant to charge for my materials?), making videos (am I too x? not enough y?), and opened myself to greater levels of public criticism and judgement, it became aware that there is no ‘safe’ way to take risks. Kujichagulia asks us to be aware of these negative voices and to become critical of them. Wherever these voices result in limiting or diminishing our contribution to our communities and the greater dialogue around us they are to be effectively resisted and countered through active self-expression.

Eventually, after much, inner work (and more than a few self-help tools) I got my first ebook out, and I have started making those videos. In doing so, I have opened myself up to a stronger and truer vision of myself and my potential. I am writing my story and honoring it through its memorialization, an act that Kujichagulia says is vitally important for those in the African diaspora who have usually been the subjects rather than the authors of their histories.
The principles of Kwanzaa are meant to be studied and practiced not just during the festival but throughout the year. So how can you work towards bringing the spirit of Kuijchagulia into your life?

1. Make a list of goals for the coming year.
2. Break each goal into monthly, even weekly milestones. Make yourself accountable.
3. Think about the values you want to embody in the coming year. How would living them feel? What form would living them take? What (or who) would you have to embrace? What (or who) would you have to reject?
4. What can you do daily, weekly, monthly, to bring your external life in line with the one you desire internally?
5. Study the biographies of individuals from the African diaspora who embody the goals or values you want to manifest. I’ve found the tales of those who have gone before, especially against public (and private) opposition/ridicule to be especially inspiring and empowering.
6. Seek mentors and allies. Form bridges with those who can help and support you along your journey. Social media has made it even easier to connect with people outside of your geographic borders.

Like-minded spirits have never been nearer!

Baked Kingfish In Pineapple Sauce
Serves 6

This recipe is one that I developed for my second, upcoming e-book Holiday Glam: 30+ Festive Caribbean Recipes. It’s significant to me, because earlier this year it was incomprehensible to me that I would ever publish one e-book let alone have a second one near completion within one year. Yet, after the arduous release of the first, I realized it was important not to sit back for too long, but rather to dig even deeper within myself and keep the momentum, i.e. growth going. As you enjoy this remarkably simple dish consider what other outwardly simple changes or decisions you can make this year that would signify more monumental internal shifts in your inner life/outlook/life plan. You may be surprised what you have inside!

Ingredients for Fish
6 kingfish steaks (or tilapia, mahi-mahi, white sea bass)
1 recipe Trinidad Green Seasoning (recipe below)

Ingredients for the Sauce
1/2 cup ginger wine (or white)
1/2 cup pineapple chunks, preferably fresh (if using tinned, drain first)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1. Marinate fish overnight in Green Seasoning (recipe below).
2. Leave at room temperature for at least one hour.
3. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
4. Remove fish from marinade (discard marinade).
5. Place fish steaks into a well-greased 9×13 inch baking dish.
6. Combine ingredients for sauce in a bowl.
7. Pour sauce ingredients over fish steaks.
8. Cover baking dish tightly with foil.
9. Bake for 25 minutes.

Trinidad Green Seasoning

1/2 cup chive
1/2 cup cilantro (found in latin american/caribbean markets, also sold as ngo gai in Asian markets)
4 pimento peppers
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons thyme, dried
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients in food processor until mixture emulsifies

Sarina is the founder of She is also the author of Glam By Request: 30+ Easy Caribbean Recipes and the upcoming Holiday Glam: 30+ Festive Caribbean Recipes. Starting December 6, she will also host Sweet Han’: Caribbean Cooking With Sarina on Google Plus & Follow Sarina on Facebook, Twitter @TriniGourmet, Google+, and Pinterest/SarinaNow.

About Sanura

Art Director/Senior Graphic Designer at Food Writer at

One comment on “Understanding Kujichagulia: A Journey Into Self-Awareness

  1. akiasi
    December 4, 2012

    This looks amazing! I’m so making this dish. Wonderful, and so inviting as well.


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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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