When I tell people that my family celebrates Kwanzaa, they usually remark that I am the only person they have met in "real life" that does so. Since my parents began observing the seven-day celebration shortly after it was created in the 60's, Kwanzaa has been something very present and important to me since childhood. The values exemplified by Kwanzaa are excellent and very relevant to the African-American community. I think more of us should "Keep Up" with the Seven Principles, so I was very excited to have the chance to share a brief history of my second favorite holiday (behind International Sister Toldja Day- July 22, start saving now folks!)
Dr. Malauna Karenga, a community activist and professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University , created Kwanzaa in 1966. It began as tool of healing for the community torn by the Watts Riots of 1965. Dr Karenga also said he wanted to "...give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." He borrowed elements from the harvest celebrations of various African cultures, including the Ashanti and the Zulu, for ideas. The name is taken from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which is Swahili for "first fruits".
There is a principle assigned to each day of Kwanzaa, which begins on December 26th. You light a candle on your kinara (candleholder) and discuss the meanings of the day's principle with your friends and family. While we pay special attention to the Seven Principles-known collectively as the Nguzo Saba in Swahili-during Kwanzaa, they are certainly to be reflected upon throughout the year.
The Nguzo Saba are:
Umoja (Unity) To build solidarity within our families and communities.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity) To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith) To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Kwanzaa celebrations typically include music (especially African drumming), dance, poetry, feasting (you know how our people love an excuse to throw down!), etc. Some people mistakenly believe that Kwanzaa is a Pagan or anti-religious holiday, likely because it falls close enough to Christmas to seem like it's competing with the Christian Holy day and because there is an emphasis on celebrating ancestral spirits that some religious folks find off-putting. However, Kwanzaa is a non-denominational holiday that was meant to be celebrated by people of all religions. Many churches celebrate Kwanzaa and have found ways to relate the Seven Principles to their message and worship.
There are many books and websites devoted to the celebration of Kwanzaa. This year, writer and filmmaker Molefi K. Asante released "The Black Candle", which is a documentary exploring the global celebration of the holiday and is narrated by none other than Maya Angelou. This year, share the gift of Kwanzaa with your friends in family! You can plan an extravagant Kwanzaa Karamu (Kwanzaa feast) or simply take the time to discuss ways in which you can connect the Nguzo Saba to your daily lives. As a people who were snatched from Africa with no claim to our original culture and traditions, Kwanzaa gives us an excellent way to connect with our history and build a better future for our people.
- Sister Toldja
- Sister Toldja