History of Kwanzaa
Kwanzaa is a holiday celebrated in the United States by African -Americans. It is meant to emphasize the values of commerce, community responsibility, family and self-improvement. The celebration is held yearly between December 26 and January 1. The title of the event means 'fresh fruits' in the Swahili language. Its origin is in an African harvest festival. A feast called karamu takes place on December 31.
Maulana Karenga, a professor of Black Studies at California State University at Long Beach created the holiday in 1966. He did this as a response to the riots in the Watts area of Los Angeles in 1965. He wanted to inspire African-Americans to work for progress. It is a celebration for African-American families to emphasize family and social values. The celebration has no political or religious content. African-Americans give gifts at this time. They must always include a book, as this symbolizes the African tradition of valuing learning. This gift is called a zawadi.
One of the purposes of the holiday is to show the five fundamental parts of African first fruits events. The first is called ingathering, the coming together of people for community. The second is reverence, thankfulness for the creator and his creation. The third is commemoration, remembering those in the past who strove for excellence. The fourth is recommitment to the highest ideals of African culture. The fifth is the celebration of the good in all its shapes and forms on earth.
Kwanzaa has seven symbols. Each represents one of the seven principles (Nguzo saba) of African culture and community. The gift (zawadi) mentioned above is one symbol. A mat is the symbol of the foundation upon which all the Africans traditions rest. It is usually made of straw. It is called Mkeka. Mazao represents fruits and vegetables of the African harvest celebration. Mishumaa is a candle. Seven candles are placed in a candleholder, a kinara. The candles are red, black and green and stand for the struggle of the Africans. The candleholder stands for the stalk from which all the Africans come. Muhindi is an ear of corn. One is set out for each child in the family. The Unity Cup, Kikombe cha Umoja, is used to pour out a drink for family and friends.
Seven candles are placed in the kinara. The middle one is black and shows unity. Three red candles on the left stand for self-determinism, cooperative economics and creativity. The three green candles on the right symbolize purpose, faith and collective work and responsibility.
The official flag of Kwanzaa is black, red and green. Black stands for the color of the people. Red stands for the struggle and green for the hope which will come from their struggle. These colors were important in Ancient Africa and were brought out again through Marcus Garvey's Black Nationalist Movement. A poster of the seven principles is another secondary symbol.
Dr. Karenga combined traditions of two African tribes, the Zulu and the Ashanti. The celebration usually includes singing, dancing, poetry reading, storytelling and African drumming. Activities may take place at homes, community centers and churches. Meals include traditional African foods besides those made from ingredients which Africans brought to America. These foods include sesame seeds, sweet potatoes, collards, peanuts and spicy sauces.
Families celebrating Kwanzaa decorate their houses with objects of art, colorful cloths and fresh fruits. Women wear flowing dresses called kaftans. The celebration has now spread to Canada, France, Great Britain, Jamaica and Brazil. An annual Kwanzaa event is held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C.
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