By MURPHY BROWNE
No part of our legacy is more valuable than the unique ethical teaching of the Odu Ifa, the sacred text of our Yoruba ancestors, that we and all humans are divinely chosen to bring good into the world and that this is the fundamental meaning and mission of human life.
As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America. In the final analysis shared social wealth and work are key to African economic development.
– Dr. Maulana Karenga
In 1965 Dr. Maulana Karenga and several advocates founded the organization, Us. Out of that period when African Americans struggled to gain their civil rights Us “projected a new vision of possibility through service, struggle and institution-building”. In that framework and spirit, they co-founded the Brotherhood Crusade, the Black Congress, Mafundi Institute, the Community Alert Patrol and the Operational Unity Committee. The organization was also involved in planning the Kedren Community Mental Health Center, the Watts Health Foundation and the Ujima Housing Project. They worked with schools and parent groups to establish and maintain quality education and built a youth movement, the Simba Wachanga (The Young Lions) which is a model and inspiration for numerous rites of passage programs. The organization also established and maintains the African American Cultural Center, the Limbiko Tembo Kawaida School of African American Culture (an independent cultural school for children), the Kawaida Institute of Pan-African Studies (which sponsors an annual seminar in Social Theory & Practice) and the University of Sankore Press.
The group is most famous for the creation of Kwanzaa and the introduction of the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles). Kwanzaa, which comes from the Kiswahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” (first fruits of the harvest), was created in December 1966.
Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University, Long Beach, author and scholar-activist stressed the need to preserve and promote African culture.
Dr. Molefi Kete Asante in his 2009 book, Maulana Karenga: An Intellectual Portrait, writes: “Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga is an intellectual and political activist who is always at work, writing, speaking, editing, teaching and consulting. Maulana Karenga is the pre-eminent African American cultural theorist and one of the towering figures in the science of social and cultural reconstruction of our era.”
In the foreword of the book, Dr. Ama Mazama, associate professor of African American Studies at Temple University writes: “Only five intellectual movements among African Americans in the last century have been fully transformative: Marcus Garvey’s Pan African movement, Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement, Elijah Mohammad’s religious nationalism, Maulana Karenga’s Kawaida and Molefi Kete Asante’s Afrocentricity. These intellectual and activist traditions have been at the forefront of changing the operational, social, religious, legal or symbolic nature of the African American community.”
Kwanzaa is a celebration of family, community and culture based on African harvest celebrations that urges and encourages Africans in the Diaspora to connect with their cultural and historical roots. Kwanzaa is cultural, practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the Pan-African philosophy of the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
In an interview with Emerge Magazine Karenga said: “As cultural nationalists, we believe that you must rescue and reconstruct African history and culture to revitalize African culture today in America. Kwanzaa became a way of doing just that. I wanted to stress the need for reorientation of values, to borrow the collective life-affirming ones from our past and use them to enrich our present.”
The Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) of Kwanzaa was designed to be a value system for African Americans to attain a national liberation from the cycle of poverty that has dogged Africans in the Diaspora since the abolition of chattel slavery. The Nguzo Saba are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith). Karenga has stressed the importance of culture as a way to unite and overcome oppression and achieve economic freedom for Africans.
Initially celebrated by a few hundred people in the United States, Kwanzaa has spread internationally and celebrated wherever Africans live. Its purpose has resonated with Africans and by the 1990s Kwanzaa was celebrated by over 18 million Africans in Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe and the United States. Africans in the Diaspora, the descendants of enslaved Africans who for hundreds of years were disconnected from their origins have embraced the opportunity to connect/reconnect with the culture and history of their ancestors.
Kwanzaa was created to be more than a seven-day celebration (December 26 – January 1) and the lighting of candles. The Nguzo Saba has encompassed every area of the lives of Africans including the education of our future generations.
The work of Karenga and other scholars like Dr. Asante led to the establishment of African-centred education from elementary schools to post secondary institutions. It is through their work that Africentric elementary schools were developed and African studies were established at universities. They ensured that it was recognized that Africentricity is not Eurocentricity in Black face. Africentricity includes exploring and analyzing the culture and history of African people from the continent and the Diaspora from an Africentric perspective.
Asante has described Africentricity as “literally placing African ideals at the center of any analysis that involves African culture and behaviour.” He has also written that “Afrocentricity stands as both a corrective and a critique.
“Whenever African people, who collectively suffer the experience of dislocation, are relocated in a centered place, that is, with agency and accountability, we have a corrective. By re-centering the African person as an agent, we deny the hegemony of European domination in thought and behaviour, and then Afrocentricity becomes a critique.
“On the one hand, we seek to correct the sense of place of the African, and on the other hand, we make a critique of the process and extent of the dislocation caused by the European cultural, economic and political domination of Africa and African peoples.”
During the celebration of Kwanzaa it is important that we remember to live the Nguzo Saba everyday.
Expressing Ujima (to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together) in 1999, Karenga spoke at a seminar about the need for a living wage where he said: “One of the most important struggles for social and economic justice of our times is the expanding and ongoing struggle for a living wage. The struggle is essentially directed towards securing for low-income workers a wage which provides for them with adequate means to support themselves and their families, rise above the poverty level which entraps them and live a life of dignity and decency due every human being.”
An important part of the Kwanzaa celebration is the recognition of those who went before us. We remember those who paved the way for us, those on whose shoulders we stand and we are thankful that they never stopped striving for their freedom. The community is invited to a free Kwanzaa karamu on December 31 to celebrate Kuumba (creativity) at 100 Devonshire Place. If you have not celebrated Kwanzaa, now is a good time to start. Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! May your Kwanzaa be happy!! Merry Christmas!!