Kwanzaa, a week long celebration held in the United States to honor universal African American heritage and culture, has been observed from December 26 through January 1 each year since 1966. The celebration includes activities such as lighting of a kinara and libations. It culminates in a feast and gift giving.
Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first specifically African American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to "give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society."
The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza", meaning first fruits of the harvest. The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960s. It was first celebrated by a small number of African American families in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas as an Afrocentric alternative to Christmas to "restore and reaffirm our African heritage and culture."
Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s, and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of African traditions and Nguzu Saba, the "seven principles of blackness" which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy".
The first Kwanzaa stamp was issued by the United States Postal Service on October 22, 1997, with artwork by Synthia Saint James. In 2004, a second Kwanzaa stamp, designed by Daniel Minter, was issued; this has seven figures in colorful robes symbolizing the seven principles.
During the early years of Kwanzaa, Karenga said that it was meant to be an alternative to Christmas, that Jesus was psychotic, and that Christianity was a white religion that black people should shun. However, as Kwanzaa gained mainstream adherents, Karenga altered his position so that practicing Christians would not be alienated, then stating in the 1997 Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday."
Many Christian African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.
In 2009, Maya Angelou narrated the award-winning documentary "The Black Candle", the first film about Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of blackness), which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy," consisting of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili term for tradition and reason. Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:
- Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
- Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
- Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.
- Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- Kuumba (Creativity): 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.
- Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
In 2004, BIG Research conducted a marketing survey in the United States for the National Retail Foundation, which found that 1.6 percent of those surveyed planned to celebrate Kwanzaa. If generalized to the U.S. population as a whole, this would imply that around 4.7 million Americans planned to celebrate Kwanzaa in that year. In a 2006 speech, Ron Karenga asserted that 28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. He has always maintained it is celebrated all over the world. Lee D. Baker puts the number at 12 million. The African American Cultural Center claims 30 million.
According to Keith Mayes, the author of "Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition", the popularity within the U.S. has "leveled off" as the black power movement there has declined, and now between half and two million people celebrate Kwanzaa in the U.S., or between one and five percent of African Americans. Mayes adds that white institutions now celebrate it.
Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their households with objects of art; colorful African cloth such as kente, especially the wearing of kaftans by women; and fresh fruits that represent African idealism. It is customary to include children in Kwanzaa ceremonies and to give respect and gratitude to ancestors. Libations are shared, generally with a common chalice, 'Kikombe cha Umoja', passed around to all celebrants. Non-African Americans also celebrate Kwanzaa. The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".
A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (Karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is "Habari Gani?" which is Swahili for "What's the News?"
At first, observers of Kwanzaa avoided the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values, and practice with other holidays, as doing so would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended as an event to reclaim important African values. Today, many African American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year's. Frequently, both Christmas trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic of African American roots, share space in kwanzaa-celebrating households. To them, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and celebrations of Christmas.
Cultural exhibitions include the Spirit of Kwanzaa, an annual celebration held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts featuring interpretive dance, African dance, song and poetry.
In 1977, in Kwanzaa origin, concepts, practice, Karenga stated that Kwanzaa "was chosen to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society." However, as the community evolved, he said Kwanzaa can be celebrated by people of any race. "Other people can and do celebrate it, just like other people participate in Cinco de Mayo besides Mexicans; Chinese New Year besides Chinese; Native American pow-wows besides Native Americans."
Currently, according to the Official Kwanzaa Web Site (written by Karenga and maintained by US Organization , which Karenga chairs), "Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people's religion or faith but a common ground of African culture...Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity, and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one."
Karenga's most recent interpretation emphasizes that while every people has its own holiday traditions, all people can share in the celebration of our common humanity: "Any particular message that is good for a particular people, if it is human in its content and ethical in its grounding, speaks not just to that people, it speaks to the world."
Compiled from Wikipedia.