All rituals have a principle that is to be extracted and applied, but sometimes the principles get lost, overlooked or outright ignored in the midst of us celebrating our respective “holidays” in the various religious sects. Being overly ritualistic does not make us more enlightened nor will it improve our depleted morality.
Plainly: If we’re not practicing what we’re preaching or living in accords with the essence of the rituals, then it’s all in vain; merely a feel good moment resulting in a hollow existence.
Kwanzaa is no different.
According to its founder, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa is an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community and culture. Started in the midst of the Black Liberation Movement in the 1960s, Kwanzaa has since been celebrated every year from December 26 – January 1.
Some people call it a “fake holiday” started by a so-called “fraud” and “criminal” individual. Yes, I’ve heard and read the criticisms for years. I’m not writing this to argue, however, I think Dr. Karenga has done and continues to do a lot of good for Black people. It’s funny how everytime someone Black attempts to do anything to promote unity among Blacks, they are labeled “racist”, “separatist”, and “divisive.”
Heck, I’ve been called this by readers since I started blogging and writing for The Final Call newspaper. (smile)
The founder notes in one of his past writings that, “Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one, thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness. Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday.”
The name Kwanzaa is said to be derived from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza” which means “first fruits” in Swahili. Dating back to the times of Ancient Egypt, we’re told that our ancestors held many first harvest celebrations.
Dr. Karenga had three desires when starting Kwanzaa: To reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture; to serve as a regular communal celebration to reaffirm and reinforce the bonds between us as a people; and to introduce and reinforce the Nguzo Saba, which means “The Seven Principles or Values” in Swahili. What’s wrong with encouraging that?
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa are:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and solve our problems together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity): To always do as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
During the week-long celebration, each day is highlighted by one of the principles. If you attend a celebration in the community, you may see decorations such as a candle holder with seven candles, corn, African baskets, beautiful cloth patterns, communal cups to pour libations, and the red, black and green flag. When giving gifts during Kwanzaa, its encouraged that it includes a book. Yes, a book. Not Air Jordans or iPads.
You will be greeted by someone saying “Habari Gani?” which is Swahili for “What’s The News?” The response would be whatever the principle of that day is.
When I first started attending Kwanzaa events back in high school, someone always expressed the importance of us practicing the Seven Principles the other 51 weeks of the year. They also stressed the importance of us not allowing the spirit and sense of family, community and culture die on the morning of January 2.
I believe these are principles we all strive for in some way no matter if we’re Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Buddhists, or Non-Denominational.
Lastly, when you’re headed down the highway to a destination you come across many signs telling you that your exit is a certain amount of miles or exits away. Do you stop at the sign? No, you keep going until you get to where the sign is pointing you ultimately to, right?