What is Kwanzaa and why is it celebrated

December 20, 2006 by  

The Nguzo Saba

Kwanzaa is a pan-African (to use a phrase once popular during the 60’s) or Diasporic (to use a modern common collective description) holiday was devised by Dr. Maulana Kerenga as a way to re-connect African Americans, and other global hyphenated Africans, with African culture, and celebrations.

Much has been made of the ‘authenticity’ of the celebration with critics condemning it as a fictional holiday made up so that we hyphenated Africans could have an alternative to the ‘white Christmas’ in which we were largely ignored. Supporters of Kwanzaa hail it as a celebration in which previously disconnected Africans (us Diasporic ones) can proudly reaffirm our attachment to ancient traditions and cultures of various African nations.

The origins of ‘Matunda ya Kwanza’

The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase ‘Matunda ya Kwanza’ which translates as ‘first fruits’. As Kerenga states ‘Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of Continental African “first fruit” celebrations: in-gathering; reverence; commemoration; re-commitment; and celebration.1

Principally then we may consider the week long celebration as a way for Diasporic Africans to

  • restore a connection to continental African culture
  • re-establish communal bonds and our common identity as a global cultural community
  • re-introduce seven principles (the Nguzo Saba) that humans – in general and Diasporic Africans specifically – need, to develop a holistic approach to our lives

It is well to note that as a cultural and not a religious holiday, Kwanzaa is open to be recognised and celebrated by people of all religions.

The Seven Principles

The Nguzo Saba

An examination of The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa2 throws up an emphasis on collective endeavours and responsibility. This is something that has, over the past 20-30 years, been steadily eroded as a way of life, even for those who have always been here. The emphasis on the ‘individual’ is an ideology given prominence in the Thatcher years that lives on even now.

Many who arrived in the UK from parts of African and the Caribbean remember a time when hardships enforced by refusal of housing, relegation to menial, low paying jobs, disbarment from social and religious institutions and the general harassment and endangering of their ‘black’ bodies by the indigenous populations in the UK gave rise to a spirit within these communities of co-operation, support and economic survival. ‘Pardners’ gave those with little means the ability to buy cars and houses, shared (if overcrowded) accommodation gave those newly arrived a place to stay, the establishment of their own churches, clubs and bookshops gave them the ability to congregate and plan their collective response to their collective situation.

One can recognise the tenets inscribed within the seven principles (Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Co-operative Economics, Purpose, Creativity and Faith) within their struggles to establish themselves in this country, once it became evident that a swift return to their countries of origin was not to be.

So why again

Kwanzaa is celebrated because it makes us think about others. It allows for a prolonged period of reflection, of giving thanks, of reassessment and planning for our collective futures.

We party, we eat food, we show love. It’s what we’ve always done, it’s what we should always do.

If you wish to know more about Kwanzaa you can visit the following external links. These links will open in a new window.


One Response to “What is Kwanzaa and why is it celebrated”

  1. akua ofosuhene on January 5th, 2009 10:23 am

    thank you so much for this article. I saw The Black Candle last night and would really like to hold Kwanzaa event in Februrary. your piece has given me a really full explanation. It’s a shame there doesn’t seem to be a UK organization.
    I think Kwanzaa is a wonderful and positive event for the community and I for one will be doing all I can to promote it.
    thanks again

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