KWANZAA... Tis' the Culture Season

Considering it is Christmas, this months topic will look into the celebration of Kwanzaa by the African diaspora in the USA. This celebration in essence personifies the issue of filling the cultural void left as a legacy of the cultural removal faced by the African  American. The truth is that the spirit of the African within every African diasporan is everlasting and the desire to associate with the African continent will never fade. I have taken exerts from Wikipedia and inserted my commentary to make the relation to the topics we discuss at the Afrimerican Culture Initiative.

Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the West African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors African heritage in African American Culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving. Kwanzaa has seven core principles  called Nguzo Saba . It was created by Maluna Kerenga and African American professor and civil rights/black power activist and was first celebrated in 1966–67.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Kwanzaa is the fact that the founder chose Swahili an East African language despite the true heritage of the African diaspora in America being West Africa. During those times apparently East Africa associated with Pan-Africanism most likely because of what similarly affected The Rasta of Jamaica, the teachings of Marcus Garvey.

Kwanzaa celebrates the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of African Heritage), which Karenga described as a " communitarian African philosophy" or general African cultural values as seen by its founder. Karenga described the seven principles as  "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning "common".

The general African cultural values expressed by the seven principles are in a way what we choose to elaborate on here at the Afrimerican Culture Initiative, albeit, we try and take it a few steps further. The idea is the same. There are core African values that are critical to the African diaspora if it wishes to thrive. We obviously get more specific and use more experience based information. Using our DNA services to connect the African diaspora to current day countries and tribes removes ambiguity, interaction with African culture in the diaspora provides clarity to demystify stereotypes and the travel to Africa serves to give the COMPLETE picture of Africa.

Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:

  • Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create 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 hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

These seven principles are extremely well selected and we speak of many of these principles in different ways throughout our discussions at Afrimerican Vibes. We focus on the specific cultural traditions and practices in order to explain and generate these feelings and attitudes described in the seven principles, from within. So while these principles are a great guide, without more specificity, we fear the reasons why these principles work for us will be lost.

Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster, the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks – all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement. Corn is the primary symbol for both decoration and celebratory dining.

We LOVE the symbolism and recognition of the ceremony in itself as a pillar of the African culture. Ask any African and you will find out we have a ceremony for everything!!! The symbols described above in essence while representing great ideals, there are more authentic traditions and celebrations actually found on the continent that will have more direct influence on daily life. Wedding, engagement, naming ceremonies are but a few. Will practice of original African ceremonies enhance the African American experience and family?

Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art, colorful African cloth such as Kente, especially the wearing of Kaftans by women, and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common chalice, Kikombe cha Umoja, passed around to all celebrants. Non-African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa.The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".

The use of African cultural products like the Kenta cloth is a pivotal cultural aspect of Kwanzaa that will increase the economic power in our communities. In Yoruba culture the 'Aso Ebi' in essence is a particular fabric that comes in many colorful patterns. The same pattern and color of fabric is used by every visitor to a certain ceremony. Not only does this provide a uniform of sorts and is often displayed in various creative styles of clothing, it provides the family holding the ceremony a way to generate funds by selling the fabric to the potential visitors to the ceremony. In essence, if every African diasporan family celebrated Kwanzaa there would be a a lot more Kente cloth dollars to grow business in our community.

A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is Habari Gani? which is Swahili for "How are you?"

These African diaspora aspects of the ceremony are very important. Even though we must focus on original African culture,there equally must be room for recognition of the African diasporan experience. The trials and tribulations experienced by the African diaspora add to the meaning and importance of African culture in all its forms. The music and readings are very common African practices and similar practices should be reflected in Kwanzaa. The ancestors that have paved the way must be honored.

At first, observers of Kwanzaa avoided the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values, and practice with other holidays, as doing so would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended as a reclamation of important African values. Today, many African American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year's. Frequently, both Christmas trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic of African American roots, share space in Kwanzaa-celebrating households. For people who celebrate both holidays, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and celebrations of Christmas.

After learning about Kwanzaa, I must say that it is truly a beautiful holiday, born out of longing and therefore it sounds very replenishing. Kwanzaa is definitely a good thing and it needs to be more popular, or does the popularity suffer because its generic like the made up names like Lashonda. We think that it is irrelevant even if the survival culture has given birth to it. The beauty is its family orientated message of unity and community.

We want to be clear that this blog, while it does critique Kwanzaa for its 'best effort from the diaspora approach' , we do not downplay its importance as a representation of the desire for African Culture. So in our eyes, its the first step, which is always the most important. It shows that African Diaspora needs to remember Africa. We just want to take it further and provide the actual memories.

Merry Christmas and God bless you and yours this holiday Season!!!

Marlon Solomon