Kwanzaa helps people of African ancestry reconnect


We have just celebrated Christmas and are in the midst of celebrating Kwanzaa. While the celebration of Christmas has evolved over many centuries, the celebration of Kwanzaa is relatively new, just 44 years old. It is a seven-day Pan-African celebration which begins each year on December 26 and concludes on January 1.

The creation of Kwanzaa served as a way to reconnect African-Americans to African culture and to celebrate family, community and culture. The celebration, which began with a few people in the U.S. in 1966, is now an international celebration. In 1998 it was estimated that Kwanzaa was celebrated by 18 million Africans worldwide.

Kwanzaa is a celebration for all Africans, regardless of their religion or country of birth. It is a time to celebrate our culture, learn about our history, honour African ancestors and traditions, spend time with family and friends and look to our future as a people.

The Kwanzaa celebration inspired racial pride in African-Americans who, like other Africans in the Diaspora had been brainwashed into thinking that European culture was superior. The values articulated in the seven Kwanzaa principles, “Nguzo Saba”, resonate with Africans everywhere.

Kiswahili, the most widely spoken African language is used during the celebration of Kwanzaa which comes from “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits of the harvest”. Decorating the Kwanzaa table is an opportunity to learn some Kiswahili words. There are seven symbols that make up the table setting for a Kwanzaa celebration. The mkeka (mat) is the foundation upon which the other symbols are placed. The kinara (candle holder) holds the mishumaa saba (seven candles). The kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), mazao (fruits and vegetables), muhindi/vibunzi (corn) and zawadi (gifts) are placed on the mkeka. To the greeting/question, “Habari gani?” the answer is the principle of the day.

The Nguzo Saba (seven principles) are Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self- Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity) and Imani (Faith). Each principle is represented by a candle (mshumaa). The colours used during Kwanzaa (red, black and green) are the Pan-African colours chosen by Marcus Mosiah Garvey.

The red, black and green bendera (flag) is sometimes a part of the Kwanzaa decoration. Black represents the African people; red represents the blood shed in our struggle for freedom and green is the symbol of our future and the richness of the African continent.

The Mishumaa saba (seven candles) used during Kwanzaa are red, black and green. The black candle is placed in the centre of the kinara, the three red candles to the left of the black candle and the three green candles to the right.

On the first day of Kwanzaa, December 26, the black candle, representing umoja (unity) is lit. On the second day of Kwanzaa, the first red candle next to the black candle, representing kujichagulia (self-determination) is lit. On the third day of Kwanzaa, the first green candle, next to the black candle, representing ujima (collective work and responsibility) is lit. The candles are lit in this alternating pattern until the last green candle, representing Imani (faith) is lit on the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration on January 1.

Celebrating Kwanzaa encourages making or buying educational African-centred zawadi (gifts) for our children as we practice Ujamaa so that our money circulates in the community at least seven times. There are excellent books written for African children about the heroes and sheroes who can serve as inspiration and role models. The decorations for the Kwanzaa table, including a beautifully carved wooden kinara, mkeka, kikombe cha Umoja and kente cloth can all be found at African Canadian-owned stores. The seven principles can be a guide throughout the year and do not have to be relegated to the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26 to January 1.

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!!

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