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-Nana Poussaint in Daughters of the Dust

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The Kwanzaa Celebration


The 1960’s brought forth a new found awareness of self strength and empowerment for African Americans. Abandoning negative self-images and embracing our African past were our first steps toward this new way of looking at ourselves. Further explorations transpired through traditional African community concepts, dress and hairstyles. As the desires for ties to an African past increased, Kwanzaa soon became an ideal forum to further explore our cultural roots; recognizing the unique heritage of African-Americans as fruits from both worlds.

Kwanzaa was founded in 1966 by Dr. Karenga who was a leading theorist of The Black Movement in the 1960’s. His writing credits are quite extensive and have appeared in many journals and anthologies. Kwanzaa’s birth stems from a cultural idea and an expression of the US organization which Brother Karenga headed. This new way of exploring self has blossomed into the only nationally celebrated, native, non-religious, non-heroic, non-political African-American holiday.

The name Kwanzaa is a Kiswahili word for "the first fruits of the harvest". Kiswahili was chosen because it is a non-tribal African language which encompasses a large portion of the African continent. As an added benefit its pronunciation is rather easy. Vowels are pronounced as they would be in Spanish and consonants, with few exceptions, as they are in English. For example: A=ah as in father; E=a as in day; I=ee as in free;O=oo as in too. One last note, the accent or stress is almost always on the next to last syllable.

This holiday is observed from December 26th through January 1st. Again its focus is to pay tribute to the rich cultural roots of People of the African Diaspora. Though first inspired by African-Americans, many of African descent celebrate this occasion today.  Its reach has grown to include all whose roots are in the Motherland.  Its’ concept is neither religious nor political, but is rooted strongly in a cultural awareness. This is not a substitute for Christmas; however, gifts may be exchanged with the principles of Nguzo Saba always in mind. Gifts are given to reinforce personal growth and achievement which benefits the collective community.

The principles are:

Umoja (unity) U-MO-JA
Kujicahgulia (self determination) KU-JI-CHA-GU-LIA
Ujima (collective work and responsibility) U-JI-MA
Ujamaa (cooperative economics) U-JA-MA
Nia (purpose) NIA
Kuumba (creativity) KU-UM-BA
Imani (faith) I-MANI

We hope that you will pass someone this year and wish them a Harambee Kwanzaa. May the principles guide you year round.

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