The last Saturday in 2012 will always hold a special place in my heart; on that evening I was blessed to attend a Kwanzaa celebration with some of my literary friends. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Kwanzaa is a word meaning ‘First Fruits’. The celebration which originated in 1966, was derived from ancient African ‘harvest time’ celebrations, and was initiated by Brother Maulana Karenga.
Kwanzaa always takes place annually, the day after Christmas and lasts until the New Year, exactly seven days. This festive occasion is based on the Nguzo Saba or seven principals, namely Umoja (or unity); Kujichagulia (self-determination); Ujima (collective work and responsibility); Ujamaa (cooperative economics); Nia (purpose); Kuumba (creativity); and Imani (faith). As explained by the program’s Facilitator, Brother Jabari, these seven principals are not meant to replace God’s Ten Commandments, but rather to enhance their effectiveness among African American people.
By celebrating Kwanzaa, we are honoring our ancestors and keeping their legacy alive, as well as stressing the importance of African culture through song, dance, poetry, mime, drums and other cultural expressions. Kwanzaa instills pride in African Americans and provides hope for a bright future. We must especially instill these values in our children and youth, so that they can develop into responsible, mature adults and pass on these values to their children.
Because children are such an important part of Kwanzaa, they largely contributed to Saturday’s program. The program got underway with a warm welcome from the Facilitator, Brother Jabari. Following the welcome, young warriors (little African American boys) produced beautiful, rhythmic sounds on their African drums. Next came the Libation ceremony performed by Brother Jubalani, who poured libation for our ancestors; after he pronounced each ancestor’s name, he poured libation and the audience chanted Ashe for each ancestor. Brother Jubalani also recited some original poetry.
After these performances, came the candlelighting ceremony. A table was set complete with a Kwanzaa tablecloth (the cloth displayed the African colors: red, for the bloodshed of our ancestors; black, which represented our people; and green, which represented our land and other possessions such as money). On top of the tablecloth were seven candles, representing the seven principals. On either side of the candles were a variety of fruit as well as corn, which represented our children. Brother Jabari selected seven Watoto or children from the audience to light each candle as he instructed. After the candles were lit, Brother Jabari asked each child to reflect aloud on the meaning of Kwanzaa. It was so entertaining to hear those little children express their feelings regarding the celebration.
Then the Watoto performed a special type of African dance and drill called the Tabura, which was led by Brother Hutchinson, an educator at the Village Leadership Academy. It was exciting to see all those youth dancing and marching to each unpredictable instruction given in Swahili by Brother Hutchinson. After these things, we sang the National African American anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”.
Of course, no Kwanzaa celebration would be complete without the Umoja Karamu, or Unity Feast. All that celebrating and performing stirred up an appetite in the performers and in their audience members. We were not disappointed, for we were treated to such savory fare as: Ginger Chicken; Red Beans and Rice; Fried Chicken; Spaghetti; Corn on the Cob; Pasta Salad; Green Salad; Tuna Salad; Broccoli Salad; and Dinner Rolls. Desserts consisted of three different types of cakes: Cranberry Nut; Caramel; and Lemon. Fruit drinks were provided to help us wash it all down. There was even a fruit tray. As we dined, background music was provided by a popular Kwanzaa CD, featuring Steve (Kwame) Cobb and his wife Chavunduka.
Following the Umoja Karamu, the celebration continued with a mime performance from the Watoto, a poetry performance from one of my literary friends, a poetry performance from one of the little girls, and a Choir performance.
As Brother Hutchinson so aptly put it, ‘if we don’t teach our children about their history and their heritage, who will’? We certainly can’t expect them to learn these things in the public school system. No, we must teach our children the truth regarding the importance of the African struggle and how we as a people, have overcome and triumphed through much adversity. A grand time was had by all.