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Why Kwanzaa?

By Nancy Monnya

Kwanzaa is the most well known celebration of African heritage. It is by far the only celebration of that kind that many Africans and people of African descent partake in, from the Americas to Europe and the mother continent, Africa.

Dr. Maulana Karenga

The week-long celebration was created by Dr. Maulana Ndabezitha (Ron) Karenga, an African American professor of Africana studies, as a way to honor the African heritage by remembering the first harvest celebrations of the people of Africa. Its name derives from the phrase, “matunda ya kwanza” which means first fruits, in Swahili. As a language that has spread mainly from the eastern part of the continent, it is one language that many Africans and people of African descent would gravitate towards. It is widely spoken and has been advocated for as the possible official language for a United Africa. It is therefore befitting that the celebration has a name in a language that many can identify with.

Kwanzaa is celebrated from the 26th of December to the 1st of January, and it was first celebrated in 1966. Dr Karenga stressed the fact that the celebration was not meant to replace Christmas, nor was it meant to be any kind of religious holiday, but rather it was created to instill a sense of African pride and unity within the African community.

Why celebrate Kwanzaa?

Many question the logic of this celebration, riding on the argument that it was created by someone. This argument neglects the fact that all cultural and religious celebrations and norms were created by people. Even religions themselves were created. Christianity is the first that comes to mind, having been created about 2000 years after the life of Jesus. Therefore it is a moot argument to cite creation as the reason not to celebrate Kwanzaa.

Others also question the character of Dr. Karenga, with many citing supposed crimes and questionable behavior as the reason to disregard the importance of the celebration. Such people expect the Dr. not to be human, and they fail to see that it is Kwanzaa that we celebrate and not Dr. Karenga.

The major reason to celebrate Kwanzaa lies in its principles. It was created for the purposes of unity and pride; it was not forced on Africans and people of African descent, neither was it beaten, lynched, raped, drowned, and quartered into them. It is not laced with connotations of a movement or religion that was a tool used to wipe away the identity of a people, scraping off the face of the earth the civilizations of others; neither was it used to demonize the origins and lineage of others. Therefore this, more than many of the celebrated holidays deserves to be recognized and celebrated.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa represented by 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green candles (Mishumaa saba). Red - the struggle, black - the people, green - the future

The seven principles of Kwanzaa (known as Nguzo saba)

Day 1

  • Umoja – Unity

This is a day to remember the importance of coming together as a unit; a day to reawaken the spirit of Ubuntu, botho, togetherness. Ku kuwa na umoja, ‘to have unity’ is the foundation to ensure that the rest of the principles to follow in the next days would be easier to understand and accomplish.

Day 2

  • Kujichagulia – self determination

This is where as a unit, the people can then assert their own abilities to form allegiances that would further them, to meditate on the importance of being in charge of your lives, and the lives of your children. A day to reassert the power of a united people in determining their own destinies.

Day 3

  • Ujima – work and responsibility

Ujima, letšema, work, is fundamental aspect of any building process. On this day we meditate on how to work together, what responsibilities we have towards the community, and remember that work does not do itself. We therefore need to stand up and get working.

Day 4

  • Ujamma – cooperative economics

When you don’t have the finances, all plans to build are but mere ideas. This is why cooperative economics is crucial. Therefore on this day we think about ways to pool funds together. We strategize on creating closed economies of our own. This is where the principle of “keeping the money in the circle” comes in. We source from each other, buy from each, hire each other, invest in each other, educate each other, and most importantly we build our homes together.

Day 5

  • Nia – purpose

A day of reflection - Think about why you are doing all these. Reason with yourself, reason with your people, reason with your ancestors. Remember why all these have to be done. Remember why you are building. Give reasons to each other to keep one another on the path without faltering. This is that day when we remember why the celebration is necessary, and why we build.

Day 6

  • Kuumba – creativity

Kuumba, go bopa, to create, is where everything springs from. Taping into life itself; for everything that is, began as a mere thought. On this day we let our abilities to create come forth. We reaffirm our intentions to work together bringing our individual creative abilities. We bring out original ideas and create masterpieces that will sustain us a people, as well as make us proud.

Day 7

  • Imani – faith

On the last day of Kwanzaa, we cultivate faith in all that we have planned. We also remember that faith does not mean idleness, but rather it means trusting in the processes we have begun, trusting that we are on the right path, and that our ancestors are fully behind the works of our hands. We ignite faith in each other, knowing that we can trust each other. We are also reminded to serve as pillars of strength to each other.

We therefore need to have faith in our unity, be self determined, work together and take our responsibilities seriously, practice cooperative economics with purpose, as well as bringing our creative streaks and abilities together, in order to achieve the goals that seem so elusive to Africans and people of African descent all over the world.

With all that said, there is definitely a need for more celebrations like Kwanzaa that will bring together Africans and people of African descent from all over the world, the revival of our ways of life, thoughts and reasoning and cultures – Kawaida.

There is a need to cement our ancient rituals and practices, to ensure that future generations will remember them and get to know that we were not just mere bones and flesh scattered across the continent, but we were mighty civilizations that should be revived.

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