Kwanzaa: Affirming African Heritage & Culture

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

By Bakari Sanyu

Letter to the Editor

What African heritage tradition functions to renew and strengthen the intertwined, cherished, and indivisible values of family, community, and culture in a rich and meaningful way? Kwanzaa, celebrated from December 26th to January 1st, provides a designated time to collectively acknowledge our ancestral origin and present the best of tradition by indulging in the richness and festive cultural ambiance of ethnic art, dance, poetry, folktales, music, literature, and the beauty of heritage clothing, jewelry, heirlooms, hairstyles, and creative productions.

The cultural tradition of Kwanzaa was founded and framed by Dr. Maulana Karenga in Los Angeles, California within the midst and context of the 1960’s African American Freedom Movement. The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, matunda ya kwanza, where matunda means “fruits”, and ya kwanza means “first”. Dr. Karenga added the extra “a” to the Swahili word kwanza, to distinguish the cultural tradition’s name. The language of Swahili was chosen for the name Kwanzaa and the accompanying phrases, because it is a widespread trade language used by multiple African countries. The year-end observance of Kwanzaa occurs because this cultural expression is derived from the African continent’s traditional year-end agricultural harvest celebrations.

Since the 1960’s African American families and communities across the USA, have continued to present and circulate Kwanzaa to address a widespread need to rescue, reconstruct, restore, and reinforce rootedness in African heritage and culture. The Kwanzaa season provides a time to share the beauty of culture, its values, insights and instructive practices, so that we can deeply rejuvenate our lives for mutual flourishing and benefit. The fundamental thrust of the cultural celebration is to continually strive to build, strengthen, maintain, and reaffirm our family, community, and cultural bonds. The cultural expression brings us together from various countries, classes, ages, generations, religious traditions, and political persuasions to focus on, renew, and recommit to struggle to develop, enrich, contribute to, uplift, and preserve our heritage and cultural tradition for future generations.

The cultural celebration of Kwanzaa is first and foremost anchored in value-rootedness that provide key categories of priorities by which African Americans can self-consciously rescue and reconstruct our history, heritage, and culture in our own image and interests, and uniquely contribute to the forward flow of human development. Kwanzaa honors the moral responsibility and obligation to remember our Ancestors, who through their love, labor, and struggle, laid the foundation for us and pushed our lives and history forward, and on whose shoulders we now stand. The thrust of the cultural celebration is to continually strive to build, strengthen, maintain, and reaffirm family, community, and cultural bonds through deliberate actions that expand progress, trust, productivity, cooperation, and empowerment. Kwanzaa reminds our community in its historical, geographical, and current diversity to continue to affirm, embrace, maintain, and expand a dignity-affirming cultural legacy as a way of life.

The heart and soul of Kwanzaa revolves around Seven Principles. The Swahili term for all Seven Principles is the Nguzo Saba. There is one principle to focus on during each day of the cultural tradition. The Nguzo Saba addresses the cultural challenges we face, and how to successfully deal with the challenges. The Nguzo Saba in Swahili and English with a brief explanation are:

-Umoja (Unity) – stresses the necessity to concentrate on and embrace togetherness in the family and in the community.

-Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) – stresses that family members define and develop common dignity-affirming interests and make mutually beneficial decisions that sustain the family and uplift the community.

-Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) – stresses the obligation to self-consciously commit time and finances to harmoniously work together and use our minds and hands to build a flourishing community.

-Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) – stresses the obligation to commit to create goods and services, pool resources, and establish businesses and companies to develop an economic base for wealth expansion in our community.

-Nia (Purpose) – stresses introspect for setting personal goals that are beneficial to building and maintaining a dignified family, vibrant community, and strong cultural foundation.

-Kuumba (Creativity) – stresses consistent use of our creative energies to generate dignified cultural expressions and to build infrastructure that serve and uplift the family and community.

-Imani (Faith) – stresses the obligation to honor the best of our sacred traditions for a better world by persistently performing good deeds as a way of life to show care, support, and responsibility for our community’s well-being and to expand trust and widespread cooperation.

Cultural tradition has, and will continue to be, a source of African American identity, purpose and direction. For as our esteemed Ancestor the honorable Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer taught, “there are two things we should always care about, never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over”. The message and meaning of Kwanzaa are intended to continually invigorate and preserve a cultural foundation for uplifting our family and community with self-defining and self-confirming bedrock principles derived from tradition, reason, and history. Let’s remember that year-round use of the principles and practices requires sustaining a profound sense of kinship with each other.

On Friday, December 28, 2018, from 1 pm to 5 pm, there will be a Kwanzaa Celebration for our community-at-large at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, located at 1000 S. Owens Street, Bakersfield, California.

African attire is strongly emphasized to portray, elevate, and support the essence, ambiance, and imagery of the cultural event. Admission is FREE and our entire community is cordially invited to enjoy this annual cultural event.

Bakari Sanyu
Director, The Sankofa Collective
A community-based cultural education organization
Telephone Number: (661) 319-7611