What is Kwanzaa?
In 1966 after the Watts riots in Los Angeles, California Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University decided to come up with a solution to bring African Americans together within the community. Dr. Karenga researched intensely on African Harvest and combined aspects of several different harvest celebrations such as those of the Zulu and Ashanti in order to start the basis of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa derives from a Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”.
Kiswahili was chosen because it is a non-tribal African language which encompasses a larger portion of the African continent. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 through January 1st. Families that celebrate Kwanzaa may implement in their celebrations: songs and dance, storytelling, poetry reading, and large traditional meals.
Each of the 7 night when the family gathers together a child would light the candle on the Kinara (the candle holder) once this is done one of the seven principles would be discussed.
What are the seven principles?
In Swahili the seven principles are called Nguza Saba these seven principles are values of African culture which contribute to the building and reinforcing community among African Americans.
The seven principles are
To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Self-determination: Kujichagulia (koo–gee–cha–goo–LEE–yah)
To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Collective Work and Responsibility: Ujima (oo–GEE–mah)
To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
Cooperative Economics: Ujamaa (oo–JAH–mah)
To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Purpose: Nia (nee–YAH)
To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Creativity: Kuumba (koo–OOM–bah)
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.
Faith: Imani (ee–MAH–nee)
To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
These are the seven symbols of Kwanzaa
Mazao (The Crops)
These are symbolic of African harvest celebrations and of the rewards of productive and collective labor.
Mkeka (The Mat)
This is symbolic of our tradition and history and therefore, the foundation on which we build.
Kinara (The Candle Holder)
This is symbolic of our roots, our parent people — continental Africans.
Muhindi (The Corn)
This is symbolic of our children and our future which they embody.
Mishumaa Saba (The Seven Candles)
These are symbolic of the Nguzo Saba, the Seven Principles, the matrix and minimum set of values which African people are urged to live by in order to rescue and reconstruct their lives in their own image and according to their own needs.
Kikombe cha Umoja (The Unity Cup)
This is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity which makes all else possible.
Zawadi (The Gifts)
These are symbolic of the labor and love of parents and the commitments made and kept by the children.
The candle lighting ceremony occurs each evening and provides the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa. The lighting of the candles begin on the first night by lighting the black candle that is located in the middle. Once the candle is lit the principle of Umoja/ unity is discussed.
Families gather for the great feast of karamu on December 31st. Karamu may be held at a home, community center, or church etc.. Celebrants enjoy traditional African dishes as well as those featuring ingredients Africans brought to the United States, such as sesame seeds (benne), peanuts (groundnuts), sweet potatoes, collard greens, and spicy sauces. Especially at karamu, Kwanzaa is celebrated with red, black and green.
These three colors were important symbols in ancient Africa that gained new
recognition through the efforts of Marcus Garvey’s Black Nationalist movement.
Green is for the fertile land of Africa; Black is for the color of the people; and red is for the blood that is shed in the struggling for freedom.
Kwanzaa has been adapted by people of African descendants outside of the United States also. Particularly in the Caribbean and other countries across the world.
Kwanzaa was conceived as a nonpolitical and nonreligious holiday which also does not take the place of Christmas.
Here are some traditional food and drink menus used in the celebration of Kwanzaa throughout the Caribbean:
Red Sorrel: is a Jamaican variation on hibiscus tea, and is traditionally paired with black cake during Christmas.
Turron : A Spanish delicacy of nougat studded with nuts (usually almonds) or seeds, turrón is popular as a Christmas treat in Puerto Rico and Cuba
Arroz Con Dulce : Rice puddings pop up in Christmas spreads everywhere, from the Caribbean to Scandinavia to the Philippines
Rice and Peas (Arroz con Gandules) : Although the name suggests otherwise, there are no peas in Jamaica’s rice and peas. Instead, “peas” here refers to beans. And while rice and peas is an everyday dish in Jamaica
Black Cake : Fruitcake has a deservedly bad reputation in the States, but don’t let that dissuade you from trying its Caribbean counterpart, the black cake. Popular in Jamaica, Bermuda, St. Vincent, and other Caribbean islands.
Inclosing, should Kwanzaa be celebrated more in the Caribbean, Latin and Central America, and other parts of the world of African descendants?