Do you know what Kwanza is?

banner_kwanzaaWith the holiday season officially here, people are gearing up for Christmas and Chanukah, but what about Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa takes place from December 26 to January 1. However, unlike Christmas and Chanukah, Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. Rather, it is a secular festival observed by many African Americans as a celebration of their cultural heritage, unity, and creativity. Due to its racial foundation, Kwanzaa is often overlooked in areas that lack any significant racial diversity, such as the San Lorenzo Valley. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach named Dr. Maulana Karenga. Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes one of the seven principles and seven symbols.

Kwanzaa is often related to the Jewish holiday Chanukah because of their unusual names and candle lighting, but the celebrations are very different. Upon interviewing students, this assumption was validated when Shayne Kiyabu heard Kwanzaa and asked, “That’s the Jewish holiday, right?” Several other students had vague ideas of what the holiday is, but no one had a confident description.

Kwanzaa was created after the Watts riots in Los Angeles. The hatefulness and disconnect that prompted the riots inspired Dr. Karenga to search for ways to bring African-Americans together as a community. He started to research African “first fruit” (harvest) celebrations once he founded US, a cultural organization. Karenga used the information he learned about several different harvest celebrations and combined those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu, to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

Each day of Kwanzaa emphasizes one of the seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

The goal behind emphasizing unity is to strive for and maintain unification in the family, community, nation, and race.

The day of self-determination is for those celebrating to define, name, create, and speak for themselves.

Collective work and responsibility is meant to build and maintain their community and make their brother’s and sister’s problems their own, as well making efforts to solve them together.

Cooperative economics emphasizes building and maintaining their own shops, stores, or other businesses and profiting from those.

The day of purpose is to make the collective vocation of the African American peoples to build and develop their community in order to restore their people to their traditional greatness.

The principle of creativity emphasizes doing as much as you can and the best you can in order to leave the community in a more beneficial and beautiful way than it was inherited.

The day of faith is a day of remembrance and belief in their people and the victory of the African American struggle.

The seven symbols are a set of ideals created by Dr. Karenga, and like the seven principles, each day emphasizes a different symbol. The seven symbols are: Mazao, the crops; Mkeka, place mat; Vibunzi, ear of corn; Mishumaa Saba, the seven candles; Kinara, the candleholder; Kikombe Cha Umoja, the unity cup; and Zawadi, gifts.

By Sequoia Green

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