Kwanzaa – A Celebration of African Culture

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[Editor's Note: The seven-day festival of Kwanzaa begins on December 26. What's Kwanzaa, you ask? Well, read on! Laina Dawes explains the basics of this celebration of African culture. --Grace]

The seven-day celebration of Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) carries many different meanings to many people. It is a time for both black folks to celebrate their cultural heritage, and for non-blacks to enjoy this African-inspired festive season. Like many holidays, those who acknowledge Kwanzaa (meaning ‘first fruits of the harvest’) use the week to spend quality time with friends and family but more importantly, it serves as a unifier within the black community. As the culturally-based holiday does not carry any religious connotations, perhaps this is one of the reasons for the growing popularity of this holiday, which is not officially recognized by the States.

Kwanzaa

 

Image by soulchristmas via Flickr

 

With the emphasis on celebrating African culture, it is also a time when people can celebrate their heritage a time to “reinforce the bonds between us” -especially in the United States where a large portion of black Americans have cultural ties to Africa, yet because of the legacy of slavery, know little about the continent. Even though the holiday was conceived on American soil, emphasis is placed on the promotion that Kwanzaa be celebrated globally, as one of the reasons for the creation of this holiday was to serve as a unifier between people of African decent, regardless of cultural differences and / or origin of birth. Founded in 1966 by Maulana (Ron) Karenga in California, the holiday was created around Kawaida, referred to as a ‘cultual nationalistic’ philosophy that stresses the acknowledgement and the challenges of knowing one’s culture – something that I guess that founder Karenga, who lived in California at the time, felt that African-Americans desperately needed to acknowledge during that era. Using the Nguzo Saba (seven principles), each one which represents and is to be observed on each day of the holiday, are used to acknowledge the reinforcement and buildings of the black family. Here are the principles from Everything About Kwanzaa:

• Umoja (oo-MO-jah) Unity stresses the importance of togetherness for the family and the community, which is reflected in the African saying, "I am We," or "I am because We are." • Kujichagulia (koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah) Self-Determination requires that we define our common interests and make decisions that are in the best interest of our family and community. • Ujima (oo-GEE-mah) Collective Work and Responsibility reminds us of our obligation to the past, present and future, and that we have a role to play in the community, society, and world. • Ujamaa (oo-JAH-mah) Cooperative economics emphasizes our collective economic strength and encourages us to meet common needs through mutual support. • Nia (NEE-yah) Purpose encourages us to look within ourselves and to set personal goals that are beneficial to the community. • Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) Creativity makes use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant community. • Imani (ee-MAH-nee) Faith focuses on honoring the best of our traditions, draws upon the best in ourselves, and helps us strive for a higher level of life for humankind, by affirming our self-worth and confidence in our ability to succeed and triumph in righteous struggle.

In order to start the holiday right, some fast for about a week before December 26th. After that, it is time to party! Check out some of these traditional foods served during Kwanzaa: Koki, an appetizer of mashed black-eyed peas steamed in banana leaves; Peanut Soup Okra and Greens Coconut Pie Green Tea with Mint As with many holidays, there is quite a fair bit of criticism about Kwanzaa, partly because it a relatively new holiday. There is a fair bit of controversy surrounding founder Karenga and his ties to a Black Nationalist party during the Civil Rights era, during which he reportedly held some Anti-Semitic beliefs. One of the other issues is that Kwanzaa is thought to be a ‘secular’ holiday – that only blacks can celebrate it ( on a side note, when researching for this post it was amazing how many websites I came across that called the holiday racist – and some other rather unflattering language). There is a growing concern that Kwanzaa is becoming too commercialized which is more of a concern than you would think, as Kwanzaa is considered a cultural practice, which in theory no one should profit from. Also, commercialization goes against the seven principles that Kwanzaa is founded on. Some naysayers have charged that the holiday is grounded in Marxist principles, and while that might be a tad harsh, there are certain trains of thought within the holiday that do have a more ‘socialist’ bent than other cultural observances. But like many other culturally-grounded holidays, it is open to anyone to celebrate not only the holiday, but to observe the seven principles in that the holiday is centered on. The focus is that the holiday should be respected for what it is – a time for unification and the reaffirmation of values geared to build self-empowerment within the African Diaspora. Here are some links for more information: You can celebrate Kwanzaa on Second Life Celebrate Kwanzaa and Remember Katrina A religious take on Kwanzaa: Kwanzaa - A Spurious Christmas? An interesting post from one of my faves, Jasmyne Cannick

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