Saturday, November 21, 2009


It’s beginning to look a lot like Kwanzaa! Yes African people, it is that time of year again. Time to celebrate, celebrate, celebrate Kwanzaa!

Kwanzaa is a cultural Pan-African seven day celebration which begins on December 26th and finishes on January 1st. The celebration of Kwanzaa began in the USA in 1966 during the political and social changes that took place when many African Americans were beginning to be “Black and Proud.” The creation of Kwanzaa served as a way to reconnect African Americans to African culture and to celebrate family, community and culture. Kwanzaa is a celebration for all Africans regardless of their religion or country of birth. It is a time to celebrate our culture, learn about our history and spend time with family and friends. Millions of Africans - not only in the USA but across the globe – celebrate Kwanzaa each year. Africans from the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and wherever we live, come together with family and friends to honour African ancestors and traditions and look to our future as a people. We gather in homes, in schools, in places of worship and in community centres. The Kwanzaa celebration inspired racial pride in African Americans who, like other Africans in the Diaspora had been brainwashed into thinking that European culture was superior. Many Africans in the Diaspora still do not know their history and do not recognize that the continent from which their ancestors were stolen is a rich continent that was underdeveloped by Europe. The values articulated in the seven Kwanzaa principles “Nguzo Saba” resonate with Africans and the celebration which began with a few people in the USA in 1966 is now an international celebration. In 1998 it was estimated that Kwanzaa was celebrated by 18 million Africans worldwide.

Kiswahili, the most widely spoken African language is the language of choice during the celebration of Kwanzaa. The celebration of Kwanzaa can be used as an opportunity to learn the words of an African language, Kiswahili. Kwanzaa comes from the Kiswahili phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits. Decorating the Kwanzaa table is certainly an opportunity to learn. There are seven symbols that make up the table setting of a Kwanzaa celebration. The mkeka (mat) is the foundation upon which the other symbols are placed. The kinara (candle holder) holds the mishumaa saba (seven candles). The kikombe cha umoja (unity cup), mazao (fruits and vegetables), muhindi (ears of corn) and zawadi (gifts) are placed on the mkeka. To the greeting/question, “Habari gani?” the answer is the principle of the day. The seven principles which are recognized one day at a time are Unity (Umoja), Self-Determination (Kujichagulia), Collective Work and Responsibility (Ujima), Cooperative Economics (Ujamaa), Purpose (Nia), Creativity (Kuumba) and Faith (Imani). Each principle is represented by a candle (mshumaa). The colours of the candles (red, black and green) are significant because they are the Pan-African colours chosen by the Honourable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. The red, black and green bendera (flag) is oftentimes a part of the Kwanzaa decoration. Black represents the African people; red represents the blood shed in our struggle for freedom and green is the symbol of our future and the richness of the African continent.

The Mishumaa saba (seven candles) used during Kwanzaa are placed in the kinara with the black candle in the centre, the three red candles to the left of the black candle and the three green candles to the right. On the first day of Kwanzaa, December 26th, the central black candle, representing Umoja (unity) is lit. On the second day of Kwanzaa, the first red candle next to the central black candle, representing Kujichagulia (self-determination) is lit. On the third day of Kwanzaa, the first green candle, next to the central black candle, representing Ujima (collective work and responsibility) is lit. The candles are lit in this alternating pattern until the last green candle, representing Imani (faith) is lit on the last day of the Kwanzaa celebration. The seven principles can be our guide throughout the year and do not have to be relegated to the Kwanzaa celebration from December 26th to January 1st.

During the celebration of Kwanzaa it is important that we practice Ujamaa (cooperative economics) so that our money circulates in the community at least seven times. The decorations for the Kwanzaa table can be found in stores owned by members of our community. The place to buy a beautifully carved wooden kinara is at an African owned store. That is also the place to buy your mkeka, kikombe cha umoja and African fabrics e.g. kente cloth. An important part of the Kwanzaa celebration is the recognition of those who went before us. We must remember those who paved the way for us and be thankful that they never stopped striving for their freedom. Celebrating Kwanzaa encourages buying educational African centred gifts for our children. There are excellent books written for our children about the heroes and sheroes who can serve as inspiration and role models. The titles include: Mathieu Da Costa: First to Arrive, The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, Mary Ann Shadd, John Ware, Elijah of Buxton, To stand and fight together, My name is Henry Bibb.

On Thursday, December 31st, to celebrate Kuumba (Creativity), the sixth Kwanzaa principle there will be a Kwanzaa celebration at 100 Devonshire Place (across from the Varsity Stadium.) The community is invited to this free event. If you have not celebrated Kwanzaa, now is a good time to start. Kwanzaa yenu iwe na heri! May your Kwanzaa be happy!!

1 comment:

Synopsis said...

Do you know about The Black Candle? It's the first feature film about Kwanzaa and it's narrated by Maya Angelou. It's now available on DVD and is screening around the country. Check out the website: