Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Video Courtesy of The Root and Erace The Hate


On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing.

It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous Black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated.

As a scholar who has written about racially motivated violence against Blacks, directed Black cultural centers on college campuses and sponsored numerous Kwanzaa celebrations, I understand the importance of this holiday.

For the African-American community, Kwanzaa is not just any “Black holiday.” It is a recognition that knowledge of Black history is worthwhile.

History of Kwanzaa

Maulana Karenga, a noted Black American scholar and activist created Kwanzaa in 1966. Its name is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language. However, Kwanzaa, the holiday, did not exist in Africa.

A candle is lit each day to celebrate the seven basic values of African culture.
Ailisa via Shutterstock.com

Each day of Kwanzaa is devoted to celebrating the seven basic values of African culture or the “Nguzo Saba” which in Swahili means the seven principles. Translated these are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics (building Black businesses), purpose, creativity and faith. A candle is lit on each day to celebrate each one of these principles. On the last day, a black candle is lit and gifts are shared.

Today, Kwanzaa is quite popular. It is celebrated widely on college campuses, the U.S. Postal Service issues Kwanzaa stamps, there is at least one municipal park named for it, and there are special Kwanzaa greeting cards.

Kwanzaa’s meaning for black community

Kwanzaa was created by Karenga out of the turbulent times of the 1960’s in Los Angeles, following the 1965 Watts riots, when a young African-American was pulled over on suspicions of drunk driving, resulting in an outbreak of violence.

Subsequently, Karenga founded an organization called Us – meaning, black people – which promoted black culture. The purpose of the organization was to provide a platform, which would help to rebuild the Watts neighborhood through a strong organization rooted in African culture.

Karenga called its creation an act of cultural discovery, which simply meant that he wished to point African-Americans to greater knowledge of their African heritage and past.

Rooted in the struggles and the gains of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s, it was a way of defining a unique black American identity. As Keith A. Mayes, a scholar of African-American history, notes in his book,

“For Black power activists, Kwanzaa was just as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kwanzaa was their answer to what they understood as the ubiquity of white cultural practices that oppressed them as thoroughly as had Jim Crow laws.”

Overturning white definitions

Today, the holiday has come to occupy a central role, not only in the U.S. but also in the global African diaspora.

A 2008 documentary, “The Black Candle” that filmed Kwanzaa observances in the United States and Europe, shows children not only in the United States, but as far away as France, reciting the principles of the Nguzo Saba.

‘The Black Candle’

It brings together the Black community not on the basis of their religious faith, but a shared cultural heritage. Explaining the importance of the holiday for African-Americans today, writer Amiri Baraka, says during an interview in the documentary,

“We looked at Kwanzaa as part of the struggle to overturn white definitions for our lives.”

Indeed, since the early years of the holiday, until today, Kwanzaa has provided many black families with tools for instructing their children about their African heritage.

Current activism and Kwanzaa

Students celebrate Kwanzaa.
Black Hour, CC BY-NC

This spirit of activism and pride in the African heritage is evident on college campus Kwanzaa celebrations – one of which I recently attended. (It was done a few days early so that students going on break could participate.)

The speaker, a veteran of the Nashville civil rights movement, spoke about Kwanzaa as a time of memory and celebration. Wearing an African dashiki, he led those in attendance – blacks and whites and those of other ethnicities – in Kwanzaa songs and recitations. On a table decorated in kente cloth, a traditional African fabric, was a kinara, which contains seven holes, to correspond to the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. There were three red candles on the left side of the kinara, and three green candles on the right side of the kinara. The center candle was black. The colors of the candles represent the red, black and green of the African Liberation flag.

The auditorium was packed. Those in attendance, young and old, black and white, held hands and chanted slogans celebrating black heroes and heroines, as diverse as the civil rights icons, Rosa Parks and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Jamaican musician Bob Marley.

It was a cultural observance that acknowledged solidarity with the struggles of the past and with one another. Like the black power movements, such as today’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is an affirmation of “Black folks’ humanity,” their “contributions to this society” and “resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

Karenga wanted to “reaffirm the bonds between us” (Black people) and to counter the damage done by the “holocaust of slavery.” Kwanzaa celebrations are a moment of this awareness and reflection.The Conversation

Frank Dobson, Associate Dean of Students, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Why We Celebrate Kwanzaa

Video Courtesy of The Root and Erace The Hate


On Dec. 26, millions throughout the world’s African community will start weeklong celebrations of Kwanzaa. There will be daily ceremonies with food, decorations and other cultural objects, such as the kinara, which holds seven candles. At many Kwanzaa ceremonies, there is also African drumming and dancing.

It is a time of communal self-affirmation – when famous Black heroes and heroines, as well as late family members – are celebrated.

As a scholar who has written about racially motivated violence against Blacks, directed Black cultural centers on college campuses and sponsored numerous Kwanzaa celebrations, I understand the importance of this holiday.

For the African-American community, Kwanzaa is not just any “Black holiday.” It is a recognition that knowledge of Black history is worthwhile.

History of Kwanzaa

Maulana Karenga, a noted Black American scholar and activist created Kwanzaa in 1966. Its name is derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language. However, Kwanzaa, the holiday, did not exist in Africa.

A candle is lit each day to celebrate the seven basic values of African culture.
Ailisa via Shutterstock.com

Each day of Kwanzaa is devoted to celebrating the seven basic values of African culture or the “Nguzo Saba” which in Swahili means the seven principles. Translated these are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics (building Black businesses), purpose, creativity and faith. A candle is lit on each day to celebrate each one of these principles. On the last day, a black candle is lit and gifts are shared.

Today, Kwanzaa is quite popular. It is celebrated widely on college campuses, the U.S. Postal Service issues Kwanzaa stamps, there is at least one municipal park named for it, and there are special Kwanzaa greeting cards.

Kwanzaa’s meaning for black community

Kwanzaa was created by Karenga out of the turbulent times of the 1960’s in Los Angeles, following the 1965 Watts riots, when a young African-American was pulled over on suspicions of drunk driving, resulting in an outbreak of violence.

Subsequently, Karenga founded an organization called Us – meaning, black people – which promoted black culture. The purpose of the organization was to provide a platform, which would help to rebuild the Watts neighborhood through a strong organization rooted in African culture.

Karenga called its creation an act of cultural discovery, which simply meant that he wished to point African-Americans to greater knowledge of their African heritage and past.

Rooted in the struggles and the gains of the civil rights and black power movements of the 1950s and 1960s, it was a way of defining a unique black American identity. As Keith A. Mayes, a scholar of African-American history, notes in his book,

“For Black power activists, Kwanzaa was just as important as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Kwanzaa was their answer to what they understood as the ubiquity of white cultural practices that oppressed them as thoroughly as had Jim Crow laws.”

Overturning white definitions

Today, the holiday has come to occupy a central role, not only in the U.S. but also in the global African diaspora.

A 2008 documentary, “The Black Candle” that filmed Kwanzaa observances in the United States and Europe, shows children not only in the United States, but as far away as France, reciting the principles of the Nguzo Saba.

‘The Black Candle’

It brings together the Black community not on the basis of their religious faith, but a shared cultural heritage. Explaining the importance of the holiday for African-Americans today, writer Amiri Baraka, says during an interview in the documentary,

“We looked at Kwanzaa as part of the struggle to overturn white definitions for our lives.”

Indeed, since the early years of the holiday, until today, Kwanzaa has provided many black families with tools for instructing their children about their African heritage.

Current activism and Kwanzaa

Students celebrate Kwanzaa.
Black Hour, CC BY-NC

This spirit of activism and pride in the African heritage is evident on college campus Kwanzaa celebrations – one of which I recently attended. (It was done a few days early so that students going on break could participate.)

The speaker, a veteran of the Nashville civil rights movement, spoke about Kwanzaa as a time of memory and celebration. Wearing an African dashiki, he led those in attendance – blacks and whites and those of other ethnicities – in Kwanzaa songs and recitations. On a table decorated in kente cloth, a traditional African fabric, was a kinara, which contains seven holes, to correspond to the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. There were three red candles on the left side of the kinara, and three green candles on the right side of the kinara. The center candle was black. The colors of the candles represent the red, black and green of the African Liberation flag.

The auditorium was packed. Those in attendance, young and old, black and white, held hands and chanted slogans celebrating black heroes and heroines, as diverse as the civil rights icons, Rosa Parks and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Jamaican musician Bob Marley.

It was a cultural observance that acknowledged solidarity with the struggles of the past and with one another. Like the black power movements, such as today’s Black Lives Matter movement, it is an affirmation of “Black folks’ humanity,” their “contributions to this society” and “resilience in the face of deadly oppression.”

Karenga wanted to “reaffirm the bonds between us” (Black people) and to counter the damage done by the “holocaust of slavery.” Kwanzaa celebrations are a moment of this awareness and reflection.The Conversation

Frank Dobson, Associate Dean of Students, Vanderbilt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

Video Courtesy of Inside Edition


All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.

Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.

There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.

These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:

  1. Umoja or Unity
  2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia or Purpose
  6. Kuumba or Creativity
  7. Imani or Faith.

People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.

Symbolic Decor

Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.

Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.

The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.

Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.

Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.

Pan-African Creativity

You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.

Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”

Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!

 

Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

What is Kwanzaa Really About?

Video Courtesy of Inside Edition


All week long, African Americans have been celebrating Kwanzaa across the U.S.

Perhaps you may attend a Kwanzaa celebration at your church or even participate in Kwanzaa in the comforts of your own home, but do you really know why? What is Kwanzaa and why do so many African Americans choose to celebrate the holiday?

Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created and developed Kwanzaa in 1966. Dr. Karenga is an author, professor, and scholar-activist who is passionate about sustaining Pan-African culture in America with an emphasis on celebrating the family and the community.

There are three main ideas that are foundational to sustaining Kwanzaa tradition. The first idea is to reinstate rootedness in African culture. The second is to serve as a consistent, annual, public celebration to strengthen and confirm the bonds between people of the African diaspora. And finally, Kwanzaa is to familiarize and support the “Nguzo Saba,” also known as the “Seven Principles,” which are each celebrated during the seven days following Christmas.

These seven principles represent the values of African communication. They include the following:

  1. Umoja or Unity
  2. Kujichagulia or Self-Determination
  3. Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa or Cooperative Economics
  5. Nia or Purpose
  6. Kuumba or Creativity
  7. Imani or Faith.

People celebrate Kwanzaa in numerous ways and have different practices that have been incorporated into their celebrations.

Symbolic Decor

Are you unsure as to how you and your family can participate in a Kwanzaa celebration? A good way to start is to decorate your home or living quarters with the symbols of Kwanzaa.

First start by putting a green tablecloth over a table that is centrally based in the space in the space you intend to decorate. Then, place the Mkeka, a woven mat or straw that represents the factual cornerstone of African descent, on top of the tablecloth.

Place the Mazao, the fruit or crops placed in a bowl, on top of the Mkeka symbolizing the culture’s productivity. Next, place the Kinara, a seven-pronged candle holder, on the tablecloth. The Kinara should include the Mishumaa Saba, seven candles that represent the seven central principles of Kwanzaa.

The three candles placed on the left are red, symbolizing struggle, the three candles to the right are green, symbolizing hope, and one candle placed in the center is black, symbolizing those who draw their heritage from Africa or simply just the African American people. The candles are lit each day in a certain order, and the black candle is always first.

Next, include the Muhindi, or ears of corn, used to symbolize each child. However, if there are no children present, place two ears to represent the children within the community.

Also, include Zawadi, gifts for the children, on the table. And finally, don’t forget the Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to symbolize family and unity within the community.

Pan-African Creativity

You may also choose to decorate the rest of your home with Kwanzaa flags, called Bendera, and posters focusing on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Some children usually take pleasure in making these flags or they may be purchased instead. African national and tribal flags can also be created to symbolize the seven principles.

Other ways to celebrate may include learning Kwanzaa greetings, such as “Habari Gani,” which is a traditional Swahili greeting for “What is the news?”

Other activities for celebrating Kwanzaa is to have a ceremony, which may include lighting the candles, musical selections played on the drums, readings of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflections on the Pan-African colors, discussing African principles for that day and/or reciting chapters in African heritage. Be creative!

 

Have you and your family been participating in your own Kwanzaa traditions? Share them below.

Whatever Happened to Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa anyone? Is it just me, or does it seem Kwanzaa’s popularity has taken a hit? Over the last decade or so the celebration of this distinctively African American holiday seemed to really picked up momentum, thanks largely to our society’s increased emphasis on diversity and cultural sensitivity. But lately there seems to be less buzz about this 44-year-old Afrocentric festival.

What gives? Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jenice Armstrong ponders this question in her excellent essay at Philly.com. Though it’s hard to put an official figure to exactly how many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, conservative estimates place it at between 1 and 2 million people. But, on a personal level, how many of us actually know people who seriously observe Kwanzaa? How many of us really take it seriously?

(more…)