Kwanzaa: A Time to Celebrate
Imagine waking up and not recognizing anything. No one speaks the same language you speak. Their words are useless babble and when you do not understand them, they push and shove you to get you where they want you. You are separated from your family and within a few years, your heritage is lost as your culture is forgotten. It is better to do what these new people want and live as they do. They seem afraid of your differences and what few customs you remember. IT is impossible to pretend you are one of them. Your hair and skin color is far too different. You try, though, because that seems to the only way to survive. Within a few generations, your family, their customs, beliefs, and rituals are all lost, victim to the tide of fear people experience due to their own lack of self-confidence and their own lack of faith.
In 1966, Maulana Karenga sought to reaffirm his heritage. He developed what he called a holiday based upon “matunda ya kwanza, a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits”. Karenga wanted a time to celebrate family, the family of those who were brought to this country and then made to forget their heritage. “It is a cultural rather than a religious holiday, and can be celebrated regardless of a person’s faith tradition”, explains Karenga. Kwanza celebrates the first fruits of the harvest by remembering the roots of the African people in Ancient Egypt and Nubia, people who worked the fields and reaped the fruits of their labor and culture.
The seven principles of Kwanza can be celebrated by all peoples. Collectively these seven principles or values are called Nguzo Saba and they are remembered during the seven days of Kwanza, December 26th through January 1st. AS in Hanukkah and the Advent Wreath, Kwanza also uses candles to gather the family together. Each day a candle is lit, the candles being the colors of Kwanza – black, red, and green. Some also use a unity cup to celebrate the spirits of ancestors long passed.
Right about now you might be thinking “What if I am not of African heritage?” Science tells us we all are descended from one area and that area is in part on the African continent. So if you are a part of mankind, then at some point, you had an ancestor from Africa. One year ago Forbes magazine reported on the oldest fossil recovered to date, a fossil that dated to be three hundred and fifty thousand years old. This was at least two hundred thousand years older than the previous oldest fossil. We may never really know all of our connections but our presence on this planet at the same time is a very strong connection. No one ethnicity has ever existed without owing something to its ancestors and to the other cultures on earth.
The seven principles of Kwanza are an excellent place to remember the African heritage but also our own individual heritage. On the first day of Kwanza, Umoja or unity is celebrated. Kujichagulia or self-determination is reason to celebrate day two and day three emphasizes Ujima or collective work and responsibility. Ujamaa or cooperative economics is day four with Nia or purpose being the word for day five. On day six, creativity or Kuumba is the cause and on the final day of Kwanza, Imani or faith is remembered.
There are many ways to celebrate Kwanza and an Internet can help one explore them. The reason to celebrate is universal and best explained by author Alex Haley. ““In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. ”
Through the seven day celebrations of Kwanza, descendants of those first African-Americans rediscover their heritage and honor their heritage. The events of the past cannot be undone. None of us has a time machine to go back in time and correct the wrongs committed against not only African slaves but all enslaved peoples. What we can do is go forward and celebrate the living and the possibility of today as we prepare for the promise of tomorrow. All lives matter and all deserve to be celebrated.