Kwanzaa is a time to celebrate our African heritage

By Murphy Browne Wednesday December 04 2013 in Opinion
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By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)


Sisi ni watu wa Afrika

Sisi ni watu wa Afrika

Penda Afrika

Tunai penda Afrika

We are an Afrikan people

We are an Afrikan people

Love Afrika

We love Afrika


From “Penda Afrika” composed by Charles Roach and sung at several Kwanzaa celebrations in Toronto.

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Kwanzaa! Yes African people it is that time of year again. Time to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa! I was very fortunate to celebrate Kwanzaa in Georgetown, Guyana in December 2011 and December 2012. This year I find myself without the prospect of visiting Guyana to celebrate Kwanzaa.

 

In 2011 while visiting relatives and friends and reacquainting myself with the country of my birth I was pleasantly surprised to find a group of African Guyanese who celebrate Kwanzaa. The African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) hosts an annual Kwanzaa event on December 26 (the first day of Kwanzaa to observe Umoja, “Unity”) at its Thomas Lands, Georgetown headquarters. So during my visit to Guyana in 2012 I knew exactly where and when the Kwanzaa celebration was happening.

 

If you are planning to visit Guyana in December get some information about the ACDA Kwanzaa celebrations and attend.

 

Kwanzaa is a Pan African celebration of African culture and history, commemoration of African achievement, recognition of African ancestors and a time for us to gather, reflect on the past year and look forward to the future. Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits”. An extra “a” was added to the end of the word to make it a seven letter word since the number seven is repeated in the theme surrounding the celebration.

 

During the celebration of Kwanzaa, we can take the first step to learn the Kiswahili words that are used during the celebration of Kwanzaa. Kiswahili is the most widely spoken African language just as English is the most widely spoken European language. As African people in the Diaspora we should strive to at least know the words of an African language since most of us only speak European languages.

 

The Kwanzaa celebration lasts seven days during which seven principles are observed. During the celebration seven symbols are prominent on a decorated table.

 

The seven symbols are the mkeka (mat,) kinara (candle holder,) mishumaa saba (seven candles,) mazao (crops/fruits and vegetables,) muhindi (ears of corn,) kikombe cha umoja (unity cup) and zawadi (gifts).

 

The seven symbols are laid out on the Kwanzaa table with the mkeka (mat) as the base. The other six symbols are placed on the mkeka. The kinara (candle holder) is placed in the middle of the mkeka and the mishumaa saba (seven candles) are placed in the kinara. The black candle is placed in the middle of the kinara with the three red candles to the left and the three green candles to the right. The muhindi (ears of corn) represents the children of the family or the children of the community. One ear of corn for each child in the family is placed on the mkeka and if there are no children in the home two ears of corn are used in a symbolic representation of the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”.

 

Children play an important role in the Kwanzaa celebration and here an amazingly articulate group of African American children explain Kwanzaa at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oqzh8bDPfec&feature=related and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWPrJG7Cei4&NR=1

 

The kikombe cha umoja, mazao and zawadi are added to complete the Kwanzaa table setting.

 

Zawadi (gifts) are given to the children on January 1 when the seventh Kwanzaa principle Imani is celebrated. Zawadi given to children for Kwanzaa are usually books and heritage symbols. Handmade gifts are recommended to avoid the commercialization of the holiday. Appropriate gifts for the Kwanzaa celebration are also available at several stores in the community including A Different Booklist, Nile Valley Bookstore, Accents on Eglinton Bookstore and Knowledge Bookstore.

 

The celebration of Kwanzaa is a time of ingathering and unity for Africans who celebrate Kwanzaa. It is a time for us to realize that we can achieve much when we are united. This is an African tradition as illustrated by the Ethiopian proverb: “When spiders’ webs unite they can tie up a lion.”

 

There are numerous examples of united Africans’ achievement even during their enslavement. The various Maroon societies established throughout the Diaspora (including Brazil, Guyana, Jamaica and Suriname) established by Africans who escaped their enslavement is proof of this.

 

On December 26,the first day of Kwanzaa, the principle Umoja (unity) is recognized by lighting the black candle. On December 27 the second principle which is Kujichagulia (Self-determination) is recognized by lighting the red candle next to the black candle. On December 28 the third principle Ujima (Collective work and responsibility) is recognized by lighting the green candle next to the black candle. On December 29 the fourth principle Ujamaa (Co-operative economics) is recognized by lighting the second red candle. On December 30 the fifth principle Nia (Purpose) is recognized by lighting the second green candle. On December 31 the sixth principle Kuumba (Creativity) is recognized by lighting the third red candle. On January 1st which is the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration the seventh principle Imani (Faith) is recognized by lighting the third green candle.

 

During community Kwanzaa celebrations all the candles are lit on whichever day the event happens but for those of us who celebrate Kwanzaa in our homes, the candles are lit one day at a time.

 

On the final day of Kwanzaa, January 1, when we celebrate Imani, all the candles are lit. On December 31,a Karamu or feast is usually part of the celebration for Kuumba. Celebrations include pouring of libation to honour and remember those who have transitioned to be with our ancestors. The celebration closes with a unity circle and chanting of harambee (let us all pull together) seven times.

 

During the Kwanzaa celebrations I attended in Guyana in 2011 and 2012 the community spirit was evident with the sharing of groceries donated by various African Guyanese businesses and individuals. The skilled drumming led to an impromptu kwe-kwe session where the uniquely Guyanese pre-wedding ceremony songs and dances ruled for more than an hour. The young, not so young and young at heart put there best feet forward and it was truly an African celebration by the descendants of those who were kidnapped, separated and enslaved. As a people who were torn away from their language, their culture, their belief systems it is truly amazing that we have survived. The celebration of Kwanzaa is proof that we have managed to re-group and in many cases prosper. We are an African people, we are a talented people, we are a creative people. Yes, indeed, we are all that!

 

Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! Heri za Kwanzaa!

 

tiakoma@hotmail.com

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