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December 26, 2007 > Kwanzaa: Celebrating Pan-African Culture

Kwanzaa: Celebrating Pan-African Culture

By Anuja Seith

The final month of the calendar is a happy time of year that in many households is synonymous with singing, dancing and lavish feasts. Although some of these celebrations are religious, Kwanzaa spotlights African culture, an indelible part of the American tapestry. The name of this celebration is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili. Created to reflect African-American commitment to the African culture, Kwanzaa includes five fundamental tenets of Continental African "first fruit" celebrations: gathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration.

Founded by Maulana Karenga in 1966 during the Black Freedom Movement, the festival is celebrated annually from Dec. 26 to Jan.1. This Pan-African festival is founded on seven principles or "Nguzo Saba" that introduce and reinforce basic values of African culture including: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), Imani (Faith) and Ujima (collective work and responsibility).

Each of these values is celebrated to create a feeling of kinship among community and family so every year this festival attracts people not only of African-American or African heritage, but from other ethnic communities as well. "We have a multicultural attendance; we don't discuss any specific religion," said Nancy Eady, President of Afro-American Culture Society (AACS), a local Bay Area organization that has been celebrating this festival for more than 20 years. This year, all community members are invited to celebrate Kwanzaa with the Afro-American Culture Society at the Holly Community Center in Union City on the evening of Saturday, December 29 at 6 p.m.

According to Eady, Kwanzaa festivities initially were celebrated over seven nights - one principle for each night - but the AACS has now condensed their public observance into a single night. Festivities weave the principles into the merriment as children perform dances and recite poetry to exhibit creativity or express their feelings. All seven principles are discussed.

Kwanzaa is suffused with African culture, attire, food and decorations. Black, green and red colors are dominant and implements include African baskets, art objects, cloth patterns and harvest symbols. The colors have deep meaning in African heritage: black represents the people, red symbolizes struggle, and green epitomizes their future and hope that comes from their struggle. According to Eady, a "kinara" is the center piece at the celebration and holds candles to represent the seven principles. People come dressed in long dresses made of kente fabric and head robes.

The feast includes greens and sweet potatoes in different dishes, and everyone drinks from the unity cup known as "Kikombe cha Umoja" in honor of their ancestors. While this cup is symbolic of the foundational principle and practice of unity, other symbols associated with this festival include "Zwadi," or gifts of parental love and labor and the commitments made and kept by their children, "Mazao" or crops that epitomize African harvest celebrations and the rewards of productive and collective labor and "Mkeka" or the mat which is symbolic of African tradition and history. Gifts that are usually given to children include books to stress African values of learning prevalent since ancient Egypt.

Kwanzaa reminds everyone of basic human values. This is a time of festivity, but also a period for personal reflection of who we are and how our actions affect our own lives and others. The cultural holiday of Kwanzaa is an opportunity to enjoy and explore a distinct and proud culture while reflecting on profound and humane values.


Background information on Kwanzaa has been taken from:
http://www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org


Kwanzaa: Celebrating Pan-African Culture
Saturday, Dec. 29
6 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Holly Community Center
31600 Alvarado Blvd., Union City
(510) 471-6877

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