celebrating kwanzaa and pan african culture

December 26, 2018
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As a South African transplant in New York, my Kwanzaa knowledge is limited to tone-deaf descriptions in pop culture and that dumpster-fire Kwanzaa cake made by Sandra Lee, a becky.

In fact, when do I think of the holiday, all I can picture is Justin Timberlake in a dashiki with a box attached to his junk (thank you for that Saturday Night Live), which makes me realize that my entire conception of it is shaped by white people. That is a poor showing on my part so that being said, let’s get into what Kwanzaa actually represents.

Kwanzaa originates from Swahili phrase “Matunda Ya Kwanza” which means “first fruits.” The week-long celebration taking place between December 26th and January 1st commemorates the African heritage found in African-American culture. Celebrated in the United States and the African diaspora, Kwanzaa is an African-American and Pan-African holiday created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966. Dr. Karenga was a professor in African Studies. The holiday is structured around Nguzo Shaba (The Seven Principles), with each of seven days dedicated to a principle.

The Seven Principles consist of: Umoja (Unity); Kujichagulia (Self-Determination); Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility); Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics); Nia (Purpose); Kuumba (Creativity); and Imani (Faith). According to the Official Kwanzaa Site, participants celebrate the end of the seven days with a feast (Karamu), music, dance and narratives, concluded with a promise to rededicate themselves to the core principles in the coming year. As an African, these concepts are familiar to me and the philosophy they espouse consists of integral pillars in Black liberation theory.

A year-end celebration that calls for the strengthening of the Black community while also providing an opportunity for reflection might just be exactly what the Black community needs. For those that do celebrate, we wish you a prosperous day of Umoja. For those that don’t, a little Unity never hurt — and, perhaps these principles can guide to a less catastrophic 2019. Either way, Happy Kwanzaa!