To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Celebrating Kwanzaa

Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday that focuses on the traditional African values of family, community, and culture, and is celebrated from December 26 - January 1. It is neither political nor religious, and is not meant as a substitute for any political or religious holiday.

"Kwanzaa" is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili.

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach, as way to bring African Americans together as a community after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. Karenga founded US, a cultural organization, and began to research African harvest celebrations. In the end, he combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations.

Since it's founding, Kwanzaa has come to be celebrated by more than 18 million people worldwide. As with most holiday traditions, every family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way. However, there are some common forms of celebration, including songs, music, dancing, storytelling, and a large traditional meal. Some celebrations also include African drums, poetry, and unity circles.

The seven days of Kwanzaa each relate to a different principle, or Nguzo Saba:
Unity (Umoja) - To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination (Kujichagulia) - To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima) - To build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa) - To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose (Nia) - To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity (Kuumba) - 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.
Faith (Imani) - To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

On each of the seven nights, the family gathers and a child lights one of the candles of the Kinara (candleholder), then one of the seven principles is discussed.

The Kinara is the center of the Kwanzaa setting and represents the original stalk of African American and Pan-African ancestry. It can be any shape, size, or material as long as the seven candles are separate and distinct. The seven candles that are put in the kinara are called the Mishumaa Saba.

The candles are ceremonial objects used to recreate symbolically the sun's power and to provide light. The celebration of fire through candle burning occurs everywhere, in several cultures (we've already seen it in the Hanukkah post and we will see it when I get to Advent in Christianity). In the celebration of Kwanzaa, the mishumaa saba consist of three red, three green, and one black candle(s). The candles' symbolic colors come from the red, black, and green flag (bendara) that was created by Marcus Garvey. The colors also represent African gods:
Red is the color of Shango, the Yoruba god of fire, lightning, and thunder, and represents the struggle for self-determination and freedom by people of color.
Black is the people, the earth, the source of life, representing hope, creativity, and faith, and denoting a message of opening and closing doors.
Green represents the earth that sustains our lives and provides hope, divination, employment, and the fruits of the harvest.

The first night, December 26th, the black candle in the center is lit and the principle of umoja/unity is discussed. The three green candles, representing Nia, Ujima, and Imani, are placed to the right of center, and the three red candles, representing Kujichagulia, Ujamaa, and Kuumba, are placed to the left.

As with the seven days and the seven principles of Kwanzaa, there are also seven symbols. I have already mentioned the kinara and the mishumaa saba. There are also Mazao (crops such as fruit, nuts, and vegetables), Mkeka (place mat), Vibunzi (ears of corn that reflect the number of children in the household), Kikombe Cha Umoja (the unity cup), and Zawadi (gifts that are enriching).

The Zawadi gifts are meant to be made, not bought. They are symbols of creativity (kuumba) and the making of these gifts (usually exchanged between parents and children) is meant to bring as much satisfaction as the receiving of them.

The Kwanzaa Feast (Karamu) is traditionally held on December 31st and usually revolves around the seven symbols and principles of Kwanzaa.

Note: The above information was researched for the sake of education and appreciation, in a hope to promote cross-cultural pollination, tolerance, and peaceful understanding. If I got anything wrong or missed anything, please feel free to comment. I love to learn and I'd like this to be as factual as possible.

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