It’s beginning to look a lot like … Kwanzaa! Yes African people it is that time of the year again!
In his song “African”, Peter Tosh sang:
“No matter where you come from as long as you’re a Black man you’re an African.”
So yes I am talking to you, “African”, as long as you are a Black man or woman. Even if, heaven help us, you still think you are a Negro or “coloured”, you are included.
In his song, Peter Tosh covered much of the perceived differences among us African people. He sang:
“Don’t mind your complexion, there is no rejection, you’re an African.”
So let us celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa!
For those who are not familiar with the celebration there are books that you can borrow from the library or buy from any African-Canadian Caribbean (Black)-owned bookstore in Toronto.
This is the Kwanzaa celebration when we practice the Nguzo saba (seven principles) of Kwanzaa. Of course, we should be living the Nguzo saba every day but at least during the Kwanzaa celebration (December 26 to January 1) we can make a start and go from there. The fourth Kwanzaa principle is Ujamaa (cooperative economics) which means supporting the businesses in our community first.
The best book to read to get the correct information about celebrating Kwanzaa is the book written by the man credited with the establishing of the celebration. The book Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture, written by Dr. Maulana Karenga is available at the Toronto Public Library (TPL), which has four copies listed on its website even though there are 98 branches in the TPL system.
All books published about Kwanzaa are not equal. The misinformation in some books folks have written about the celebration of Kwanzaa is shocking. However, if you cannot borrow the book from the library buy it from A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Books or any of our community bookstores.
The celebration of Kwanzaa was initiated in 1966 during the time when African-Americans were recognizing their Africanness (even if some were merely Black and proud) and that they were more than the descendants of “slaves”. They were recognizing that their ancestors had been enslaved Africans who had a brilliant history and culture which had been obscured (but never erased) by their enslavers.
It is indeed sad that even now in the 21st century, many Africans in the Diaspora do not know that they are African. Other people whose ancestors choose to leave their homeland and migrate to the Caribbean, the Americas or elsewhere arrived in their new homes with their names, culture and belief systems intact.
Africans were kidnapped, forcibly removed from their homes, enslaved and brutally stripped of their names, cultures and belief systems.
Karenga initiated the Kwanzaa celebration to support African Americans who were beginning to understand that their history did not begin with slavery (www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=xMwJzh_NyOc).
The philosophy on which Kwanzaa is based was not new in 1966 when Karenga organized the first Kwanzaa celebration in the USA. The Kwanzaa principles draw on the philosophies of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Garvey encouraged African unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, sense of purpose, creativity and faith.
Karenga chose to incorporate Kiswahili (the most widely spoken African language) and some traditional African harvest traditions. Kwanzaa is not a religious celebration and does not compete with any religion to which Africans subscribe. Peter Tosh sang:
“No mind denomination. That is only segregation, you’re an African. ‘Cause if you go to the Catholic (you are an African). And if you go to the Methodist (you are an African) And if you go to the Church of God, you’re an African” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hxm1cU5Ewbw).
Kwanzaa is a Pan-African celebration which celebrates the history and culture of Africans from the continent and the Diaspora. Those of us in the Diaspora who do not speak an African language, do not have African names (taken away during slavery) can begin to learn about our history and culture during the celebration of Kwanzaa.
Some of the Kiswahili words used during the Kwanzaa celebration are: kinara (candle holder), mishumaa saba (seven candles), bendera (flag), mkeka (mat), zawadi (gift), muhindi/vibunzi (corn), mazao (fruits and vegetables) and kikombe cha umoja (unity cup). All these items are part of the Kwanzaa table setting.
The Nguzo saba (seven principles) of Kwanzaa are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics) Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).
During the Kwanzaa celebrations the candles are set in the kinara with the black candle in the middle, three red candles to the left of the black candle and three green candles to the right of the black candle.
The first Kwanzaa principle is Umoja (unity), which is celebrated on December 26 and recognized by lighting the black candle. The second principle is Kujichagulia, celebrated on December 27 and recognized by lighting the red candle next to the black candle. The third principle is Ujima, celebrated on December 28 and recognized by lighting the green candle next to the black candle.
The fourth principle is Ujamaa, celebrated on December 29 and recognized by lighting the second red candle. The fifth principle is Nia, celebrated on December 30 and recognized by lighting the second green candle. The sixth principle is Kuumba, celebrated on December 31 and recognized by lighting the third red candle. The seventh principle is Imani, celebrated on January 1 and recognized by lighting the third green candle.
The Kwanzaa celebration includes performing a libation to recognize our ancestors on whose backs we crossed over, on whose shoulders we stand. We stand tall and we exist because of our countless ancestors who resisted their enslavement in various ways. Even today we resist racism in various ways so that we can survive in school and in workplaces where we may be exposed to the toxicity of White supremacy.
When we gather to celebrate Kwanzaa it is imperative that we remember our ancestors with no apology. Whether we use water or liquor to pour libation is our choice. Community Kwanzaa celebrations are usually open to everyone whether or not they are African.
We must never allow anyone who is not African to tell us how we must celebrate, recognize or praise our achievements and those of our ancestors. Even if the person is African but does not recognize their Africanness or is suffering from internalized oppression we cannot allow such a person to spread within our midst some of the popular mainstream (White supremacist) misinformation about us as a people and how we got here.
We are an African people whether or not we recognize this. As Peter Tosh sang:
“No mind your nationality you have got the identity of an African.”
We are all at different places in our consciousness but we need to be gentle with each other even when we disagree. Children are an important part of the Kwanzaa celebration. Here a group of children explain Kwanzaa: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oqzh8bDPfec&feature=related and www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWPrJG7Cei4&NR=1.
Attend a Kwanzaa event or organize a group of family and friends and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa, African people.
Kwanzza yenu iwe na heri! Happy Kwanzaa!