KWANZAA: HONORING A CULTURAL LEGACY
By Bakari Sanyu
Africa’s greatest gift to America is the endless generations of her sons and daughters who have embedded an immeasurable legacy within the fabric of America’s essence. The cultural holiday of Kwanzaa, serves as a vehicle for African American families and communities all across the USA, to collectively present and honor their cultural legacy.
The cultural holiday is traditionally celebrated from December 26 – January 1. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 in Los Angeles, California, in the midst of the African American Freedom Movement. Dr. Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa as an avenue for African Americans to collectively express their ethnicity as a people of African descent. The holiday celebrates family, community, and culture, and emphasizes that these three cherished values are indivisible. The Kwanzaa holiday emphasizes respect for the dignity and well being of our families and community, and seeks to maintain a profound sense of kinship, one with each other.
Kwanzaa is non-heroic, is neither religious nor political, and is not a substitute for, or supplement to Christmas. Kwanzaa is totally unrelated to the Christmas holiday. The year-end observance of Kwanzaa occurs, because this cultural holiday is derived from the African continent’s traditional year-end agricultural harvest celebrations.
The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya Kwanza, where matunda means “fruits”, and ya kwanza means “first”. Dr. Karenga added the extra “a” to the Swahili word kwanza, to distinguish the name of the holiday and convey a distinct African cultural identity. The language of Swahili was chosen for the name Kwanzaa and all of its accompanying phrases, because it is “non-tribal”, and is an official trade language used by multiple African countries.
It is important to note that nowhere on the continent of Africa is there a holiday named Kwanzaa. Nor is there any indigenous holiday celebrated on the African continent with the same symbols, practices, or principles. Kwanzaa is a positive and uplifting African American created cultural expression, intended to address a widespread need to rescue, reconstruct, restore, and reinforce rootedness in African heritage and culture.
Kwanzaa brings the community together from all religious traditions, all classes, all ages, and all generations, to celebrate, build, and strengthen, our families, communities, and cultural bonds in a rich and meaningful way.
The heart and soul of Kwanzaa revolves around Seven Principles. The Swahili term for the Seven Principles is the Nguzo Saba. There is one principle for each day of the cultural holiday observance. The principles in English and in Swahili with a brief explanation are:
Umoja (Unity) – stresses the importance of togetherness in the family and in the community
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – stresses that family members work together to define and develop common interests, and make mutually beneficial decisions, that are in the best interest of the family and community
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – stresses the obligation to always team together to solve problems, and to actively share work in creating institutions that serve to improve present conditions and expand future success
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – stresses the obligation to pool resources, and share, for collective economic strength to meet common needs
Nia (Purpose) – stresses introspect for setting personal goals that are beneficial to the family and to the community
Kuumba (Creativity) – stresses consistent use of our creative energies to build and maintain a strong and vibrant family and community
Imani (Faith) – stresses the obligation to honor the best of our traditions, to always strive for higher levels of achievement, to continuously affirm our dignity and self-worth, and to always maintain confidence in our unique ability to succeed and triumph, irrespective of surrounding adversity.
Kwanzaa is embraced because it establishes a cultural tradition for African American families and communities to circulate their African heritage in a multi-cultural world. Kwanzaa is observed in family centered activities and in community gatherings.
On Saturday, December 27, 2008, there will be a Kwanzaa Celebration for our community-at-large at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Community Center, located at 1000 S. Owens Street, from 1 pm until 4 pm. African attire is strongly emphasized to support the essence and ambiance of this cultural event and there is no admission charge.
Director, The Sankofa Collective
A local community-based cultural education organization
Telephone Number: (661) 319-7611