What should Kwanzaa mean to Africans?


by Nelima Kerré
‘Habari Gani?’ Happy Kwanzaa peoples. On my list of things to do today was a quick stop at the Midtown Global Market (more info here) to check out the beginning of the Kwanzaa celebrations. I had (still having) a busy day and was contemplating where on my priority list to place this ‘quick stop’. Because the celebrations run through the 31st I thought that I could probably reschedule for a longer visit another day. However it hit me, ” Of what importance is Kwanzaa to me as an African anyways?” . Of course I want to get to know more about the tradition, but as an African should I feel obligated to be a part of this celebration?

According to the Wikipedia definition;

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrated primarily in the United States honoring African heritage, marked by participants lighting a kinara (candle holder). It is observed from December 26 to January 1 each year.

An African-American scholar and social activist, Ron Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 as the first African-American holiday. Karenga said his goal was to “…give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.”

Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s, and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of “African traditions” and “common humanist principles.”

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called “The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa,” or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba – “The Seven Principles of Blackness”), which Karenga said “is a communitarian African philosophy” consisting of what Karenga called “the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world.”

A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the “African Pledge” and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (Karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is “Habari Gani,” which is Swahili for “What’s the News?”

I haven’t been to a Kwanzaa celebration, but I have always thought that a better way for African Americans to connect with African cultural and historical heritage is by actually associating with their African peers instead of creating a holiday and an interpretation of African culture. This is how I have learnt more about the traditions and culture of other African and Caribbean peers here. But then again, I have not been to a Kwanzaa ceremony to know what it entails. Anyone with an answer out there? Should Kwanzaa mean anything to Africans?

originally published 12/26/08