Kwanzaa often misunderstood by local residents
SYMBOLS OF KWANZAA Mae Beth Dean lights the candles of the kinara (candle holder), a symbol of black Americans' roots and ancestors continental Africans. Photo by Paula Merritt/ The Meridian Star
By Ida Brown/The Meridian Star
Dec. 22, 2001
For several years, Jackie Cockfield and Arthur George have met with other Meridian residents to observe Kwanzaa, an African American and Pan-American holiday celebrating family, community and culture.
In addition to the rituals of songs, lighting the symbolic kinara (a candleholder) and drinking from the unity cup, the holiday also includes silent meditation, prayer, food and exchanging of gifts.
Kwanzaa (which is pronounced KWAHN-zah) is observed Dec. 26 to Jan 1 and has emerged as the most common harmonizing and unifying experience with the black community.
Now in its 35th year, it has gained popularity as a new, meaningful holiday tradition, with more than 18 million black Americans participating, according to a 2001 article on the "The Learning Network" Web site.
However, local emphasis of Kwanzaa has not increased. In fact, it has declined in recent years.
While many residents are familiar with the holiday and some of its principles, they haven't fully embraced it as a holiday tradition. Lack of knowledge, even fear, have been cited as reasons for the noninvolvement.
George, a retired police officer from New York, agrees that lack of knowledge is a prominent factor in the lack of participation. But he also believes people are afraid to do something out of the ordinary.
George said he believes many blacks still have a "Willie Lynch Syndrome," referring to Willie Lynch a West Indies plantation owner in the 1770s who delivered a speech to U.S. plantation owners about keeping blacks divided.
The New York native learned about Kwanzaa from friends.
In addition to private and group celebrations, George has also helped organize programs and make presentations at local schools and churches.
Developed in the United States in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, a professor of Pan-African studies and black cultural leader, Kwanzaa is based on traditional African harvest celebrations. The word "kwanzaa" comes from the Swahili phrase "matuda ya kwanza" (pronounced ma-TOON-dah yah KWAHN-zah), which means "the first fruits."
The harvest of the first fruits was cause for thanksgiving to Africans in order to ensure a good harvest for the next year. During the harvest celebration, there was feasting, drumming, dancing, storytelling and strengthening of family ties.
For black Americans, Kwanzaa is an opportunity for the family and community to unite, to reinforce beliefs in the unity of black people and to reaffirm the belief that elders should be respected.
Another hallmark of Kwanzaa is to reinforce the value framework for children. It also is a time to give thanks and enjoy the blessings of living and acting together for the family and the community.
During Kwanzaa, celebrants dedicate themselves to the Nguzo Saba (pronounced n-GOO-soh SAH-bah) the seven principles of the black-American value system.
These are: Umoja, unity; Kujichagulia, self-determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith.
The principles are to observed not only during the ceremony, but also in daily life.