A Time for Family
If you are following our winter holiday day count, then you know that today, December 29th, is the fourth day of Kwanzaa. What day it is in Christmastide is a different matter. For some it is Day Five, “five gold rings”, or Day Four “four calling birds”. Why the discrepancy? Because how the days in Christmastide are counted depends on who you are and who your family is. It is, fittingly enough, a matter of Ujamaa, the fourth principle of Kwanzaa that discusses social economics. That economics, however, is based upon the family.
In the late 1960’s an African nation gained its independence from Great Britain. Its president sought to develop a consciousness that would encourage his country and his countrymen to feel united, work together, and recognize that they were all family. Africa, like the Middle East, was a country of tribes and tribal loyalty still remained strong. Conquerors in other lands such as the Romans in Europe had helped to create a more unified sense of culture among the peoples they conquered. While the Romans often incorporated customs and habits from those they conquered, they also had learned the value of allowing people to maintain their identity in certain ways.
The president of the newly liberated Tanzania, Louis Nyerere, sought to unify the various tribes within his country. He saw it as the only way independence could be effective and successful. IN many ways his program which he called Ujamaa proved successful. More than just a political statement, it was a social and economic blueprint. Under his policies, the literacy rate for adults rose significantly and infant mortality rates decreased. However, was with neighboring Uganda and the world economic crisis with rising oil prices led to the end of Ujamaa and Nyerere’s voluntary resignation.
Kwanza celebrates the definition of Ujamaa – “local people cooperating with each other to provide for the essentials of living”. Think about that. People cooperate with each other to provide for the essentials of living. No more famine; no more diseases caused by lack of clean water or living conditions; no more groups of people living huddled together in fear because their religion is feared.
Many saw Nyerere has a man who did not help his country but a man interested in only his own power. History will have to be the judge for his tenure. What we need to focus on is the concept of how we are all part of the family of man and how our dependence and livelihood depends on each other. American writer of African descent Alex Haley often spoke of how the family is both our connection to the past and our hope for the future.
Henry David Thoreau is a well-known American writer who lived for two years in a cabin at Walden’s Pond in a semi-isolation state. He explained: ““I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” He documented his time in his book “Walden” and his last words are similar to the concept of Ujamaa. His final words of the book are one final homily of sorts about the potential of man and mankind and it concludes with encouraging the reader to “meet” one’s life and life it to the fullest.
Some of us know our family while others may not. As the world has gotten smaller, the distances between some families have grown greater. Family is not just those with whom you are blood-related, though. Family is the group with whom you catch the ferry or ride the subway or shop at the same markets. Family can be your neighbors, your coworkers, or your countrymen. As John Donne penned, “No man is an island.” We all live on this planet together and our actions affect each other. If one of us is to fly, another one of us must be the wind to enable it.