By: Michelle

 

 

Kwanzaa is a African American and Pan-African holiday that is celebrated between December 26th and January first.  Kwanzaa celebrates family, community and culture. It was created in 1966 by Dr.Maulana Karenga. Dr. Karenga is a professor of Africana Studies at California State University in Long Beach. Dr. Karenga is also a author and a scholar-activist who stresses the crucial need to preserve, continually revitalize, and promote African American culture.

 

Kwanzaa’s origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means first fruits in Swahili, a Pan-African language which is the most widely spoken African language. The first fruits celebrations are recorded in African history as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia, and appear in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. These celebrations are also found in ancient and modern times among societies as large as empires {the Zulu or kingdoms Swaziland} or smaller societies and groups like the Matabele,Thongs,and Lovedu, all of southeastern Africa.  Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental  activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration.

 

 

Kwanzaa is a time for the following:

 

~ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them

~special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation

~commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, our ancestors

~recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice

~a time for celebration of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of family, community and culture, the

good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word, the good of the divine, natural and social.

 

 

Kwanzaa was first created to reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture. It is, therefore, an expression of recovery and reconstruction of African culture which was being conducted in the general context of the Black Liberation Movement of the sixties and in the specific context of The Organization Us, the founding organization of Kwanzaa and the authoritative keeper of its tradition. Secondly, Kwanzaa was created to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people. It was designed to be an ingathering to strengthen community and reaffirm common identity, purpose and direction as a people and a world community. Thirdly, Kwanzaa was created to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba {the seven principles}. They are:

~Umoja {Unity}

~Kujichagulia {Self-Determination}

~Ujima {Collective Work and Responsibility}

~Ujamaa {Cooperative Economics}

~Nia {Purpose}

~Kuumba {Creativity}

~Imani {Faith}

 

 

In Kwanzaa, there are also symbols. They represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contributive to community building and reinforcement. The basic symbols in Swahili and then in English are:

 

Mazao {The Crops}

These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.

 

Mkeka {The Mat}

This is symbolic of their tradition and history and so, the foundation on which they build.

 

Kinara {The Candle Holder}

This is symbolic of their roots, their parent people–continental Africans.

 

Muhindi {The Corn}

This is symbolic of their children and their future which they embody.

 

Mishumaa Saba {The Seven Candles}

These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix, and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.

 

Kikombe cha Umoja {The Unity Cup}

This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible.

 

Zawadi {The Gifts}

These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.

 

The two supplemental symbols are:

 

Bendera {The Flag}

The colors of the Kwanzaa flag are the colors of the Organization Us, black, red and green; black for the people, red for their struggle, and green for the future and hope that comes from their struggle. It is based on the colors given by the Hon. Marcus Garvey as national colors for African people throughout the world.

 

Nguzi Saba Poster {Poster of The Seven Principles}

 

Colors

 

Kwanzaa’s colors are black, red and green. These colors can be utilized in decorations for Kwanzaa of course. Decorations should also include traditional African items such as African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects, harvest symbols,etc..

 

Celebrating Kwanzaa

 

There is a traditionally established way of celebrating Kwanzaa.  First, you should come to the celebration with a firm respect for its values, symbols and practices, and do nothing to violate its integrity, beauty, and expansive meaning. Second of all, you should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday with any other culture. This would violate the principles of Kujichagulia {Self Determination}, and thus, violate the integrity of the holiday.

Thirdly, choose the best and most beautiful items to celebrate Kwanzaa. This means taking the time to plan and select the most beautiful objects of art, colorful African cloth, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. so that every object used represents African culture and your commitment to the holiday in the best of ways.

 

Procedures

 

First, a central place in the home for the Kwanzaa set, the symbols of Kwanzaa are chosen.  A table is then spread with a beautiful  piece of African cloth. Then, the mkeka {mat} is placed down and all of the other symbols are placed on it or immediately next to it to symbolize our rootedness in our tradition. Next the Kinara {candle holder} is placed on the mat and the Mishumaa Saba{seven candles} are placed in the kinara {candle holder}.

 

To represent the colors of Kwanzaa, one black candle, and three red, and three green candles are used. Black represents the people, red represents their struggle, and green represents their future and hope that comes from their struggle. These candles are the seven candles. They represent the seven principles. The black candle represents the first principle Umoja{Unity}. It is placed in the center of the Kinara. The red candles represent the principles of Kujichagulia {self determination}, Ujamaa {cooperative economics} and Kuumba {creativity}, and are placed to the left of the black candle. The green candles represent the principles of Ujima {collective work and responsibility}, Nia {purpose} and Imani {faith}. They are placed to the right of the black candle. The black candle is lit on the first day of the celebration. The remaining candles are lit afterward from left to right on the following days. This procedure is to indicate that the people come first, then the struggle, and then the hope that comes from the struggle.

 

Day of Meditation

 

The last day of Kwanzaa is January the first. Historically for African people, this has been a time of sober assessment of things done and things to do, of self reflection and reflection on the life and future of the people and of recommitment to their highest cultural values in a special way. It is for followers of Kwanzaa to ask and soberly answer the three Kawaida questions. Who am I? Am I really who I say I am? Am I all I ought to be? And it is, of necessity, a time to recommit themselves to their highest ideals, in a word, to the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense.

 

This Day of Assessment or Day of Meditation is noted in the first fruits celebration of the Akan by J.B. Danquah. He states that the Akan have one day during the first fruits harvest in which they engage in silent reflection. The idea is to maintain a quiet, humble and calm attitude with regard to oneself and towards one’s neighbors. It is a good time for reassessment and recommitment on a personal level.

 

Closely related to this is an activity noted by Danquah and Sarpong, the Day of Remembrance of the Ancestors or the Adae celebration. One could use one of the days to pay homage to the ancestors, those of the national community, and those of the family.

 

Happy Kwanzaa to all who celebrate!

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *