Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kwanzaa-What is it?

Kwanzaa--What is it?

Kwanzaa is not a festival originating in any of the 55 African countries nor is it an "African" Christmas celebration. Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration of life from December 26th to January 1st.

Dr. Maulana Karenga introduced the festival in 1966 to the United States as a ritual to welcome the first harvests to the home. Dr. Karenga created this festival for 
African-American as a response to the commercialism of Christmas. In fact, one might say that Kwanzaa has similarities with Thanksgiving in the United States or the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria. The word "Kwanzaa" is a Swahili (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) word meaning "first."

Five common sets of values are central to the activities of the week: in gathering, reverence, commemoration, re-commitment and celebration. The seven principles (nguzo saba) of Kwanzaa utilize Swahili words: 

1. unity (umoja)
2. self-determination (kujichagulia)
3. collective work and responsibility (ujima)
4. cooperative economics (ujamaa)
5. purpose (nia)
6. creativity (kuumba)
7. faith (imani).

Each of the seven candles signify the principles. Similar to Hanukkah, candles are used to represent the concept of the holiday.

The symbols of Kwanzaa includes crops (mzao) which represents the historical roots of African-Americans in agriculture and also the reward for collective labor. The mat (mkeka) lays the foundation for self- actualization. The candle holder (kinara) reminds believers in the ancestral origins in one of 55 African countries. Corn/maize (muhindi) signifies children and the hope associated in the younger generation. Gifts (Zawadi) represent commitments of the parents for the children. The unity cup (Kkimbe cha Umoja) is used to pour libations to the ancestors. Finally, the seven candles (mishumaa saba) remind participants of the several principles and the colors in flags of the African liberation movements -- 3 red, 1 black, and 3 green.

Gifts are exchanged. On December 31st, participants celebrate with cuisine from various African countries. Participants greet one another with "Habari gani" which is Swahili for "how are you/ how's the news with you?" 

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