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Nov 26th

The origins of Kwanzaa

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By Titilayo Bediako

African Americans are a mighty people. It is demonstrated time and again through endless contributions that people of African descent have made to the United States and the world. Kwanzaa is a time when we can express our greatness. Kwanzaa is based on two major premises: the celebration of culture, and of values.

Titilayo Bediako

Titilayo Bediako

African Americans are a mighty people. It is demonstrated time and again through endless contributions that people of African descent have made to the United States and the world. Kwanzaa is a time when we can express our greatness. Kwanzaa is based on two major premises: the celebration of culture, and of values.

In 1966 Dr. Maulana Karenga developed Kwanzaa to establish a value system that African people in American could live by. It was not based on religion, social status or any things which have divided us as a people. The value system was designed to bring African Americans together despite any differences.

After researching the values of various Africans throughout the continent of Africa, Karenga developed a seven-principle value system that applied to all African Americans and humanity. They are principles that are easy to understand and to adhere to. The seven principles of Kwanzaa are connected with the seven days of Kwanzaa, from December 26 through January 1. Each day one of the principles is highlighted and celebrated.

The principles of Kwanzaa are expressed in Swahili words, which is a Pan-African language. The principles are: Umoja (Ooh-moh jah) which means Unity; Kujichagulia (Koo-g-jah-goo-lee-ah), which means Self Determination; Ujima (Ooh-G-mah) which means Collective Work and Responsibility; Ujamaa (Ooh- Jah-mah) which means Cooperative Economics; Nia (Nee-ah) which means Purpose; Kuumba (Kah-Oom-Bah) which means Creativity; and Imani (E-mah-nee) which means Faith.

The cultural aspect of Kwanzaa is a synthesis of various cultural values and practices from different Continental African peoples. The values and practices of Kwanzaa are selected from people throughout Africa; south, north, west and east. It is truly an example of Pan-Africanism at its best. Pan-Africanism is the unity of all people of African descent, based on a common history, culture and struggle.

In his book, Kwanzaa, Karenga explains that Kwanzaa's origins on the African continent are in the agricultural celebrations called "the first fruits" celebrations. From these celebrations Kwanzaa gets its name, which comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza; matunda meaning fruits and ya kwanza meaning first. The extra "a" at the end of Kwanzaa developed when Karenga's organization first celebrated Kwanzaa and they had seven children who were performing and the word Kwanzaa only had six letters. They added an "a" at the end of the word Kwanzaa so that all the children could celebrate.

Karenga explains how Kwanzaa is recorded as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia and emerged in ancient and modern times in other classical African civilizations such as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. The first fruit celebrations are also found in such empires as the Zulus, kingdoms such as Swaziland and groups such as the Matabele, Thonga and Lovedu.

Karenga chose the end of year to celebrate Kwanzaa to match continental African celebrations and Kwanzaa. It also corresponds with celebrations in the United States, which allowed him to build on the holiday spirit that already existed. There were not only the Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, but there were also the New Year's celebrations, which constitutes a basic feature of the African first fruits celebrations.

The days of Kwanzaa also come at the time of year when there is pressure to buy more then most people can afford. Beginning Kwanzaa on December 26 took away all the commercialism associated with the holidays and allowed people to save and purchase gifts when the prices at the stores go down, which is after December 25, if celebrants chose not to make Kwanzaa gifts.

The celebration of Kwanzaa also was chosen to be held during the end of December to allow African Americans to celebrate a culturally specif
 

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