Kwanzaa: Ushering in a week of African culture

Kwanzaa: Ushering in a week of African culture
Published: Dec. 26, 2022 at 7:14 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Dec. 26 represents the first day of Kwanzaa — a week spent celebrating African concepts, values, and practices.

This seven-day celebration, observed by millions of African Americans and Pan-Africans, was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor who taught in multiple California universities.

The idea and concept of Kwanzaa come from Dr. Karenga’s studies of different African harvest celebrations. Dr. Karenga combined various aspects of his findings to create Kwanzaa — he brought together the celebration practices of the Ashanti and Zulu culture to form the basis of the holiday.

The name Kwanzaa is Swahili, derived from a phrase meaning “first fruits,” and a lot of the language used during Kwanzaa is expressed in the Swahili language. According to Mohagani Magnetek, Swahili is one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa.

“Kiswahili is a trade language historically, culturally, between central Africa, west, south, north — everyone was in the same area together,” Magnetek said. “So this trade language developed, so it’s like one of those primary languages.”

Dr. Karenga originally began the holiday in 1966 to help bring African Americans together as a community, allowing them to celebrate a culture taken away from them years before the holiday began.

“He created this because many people know that our culture was prohibited to be practiced in America, and we lost a lot of it,” Edward Wesley, chair of Shiloh Community Housing Inc, said.

Dr. Karenga’s research led him to the name of this holiday and its seven principles that are celebrated daily. Umoja, the first day, concentrates on striving for and maintaining unity in the family, community, and nation.

“We are all brought to this earth individually, but it is designed for us to work collectively,” Wesley said. “And if you don’t do that, then the earth is unbalanced.”

While there are six more days with different meanings, including Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith). The holiday involves principles that are not just to be acknowledged one week a year but every day throughout the year.

“I celebrate all the principles all year, because I think that’s important,” President and CEO of Shiloh Community Housing, Inc., Shenee Williams said.

Williams said that faith is her favorite day because of her faith in Christ, and added that she believes that accomplishing all the principles takes faith. According to the official Kwanzaa website, faith and unity are the last and first principles, respectively, for a definite reason. Without unity, the most important work cannot begin, and without faith, it cannot be sustained.

Kwanzaa — rooted in culture — was never created to replace other holidays. People who observe a particular religion can still celebrate Kwanzaa; it’s meant to be an addition, not to replace any religious observance.

“Those of the Christian faith would celebrate Christmas. I celebrate both,” Williams said. “My family … I’m new at celebrating Kwanzaa. I’ve known about it. This will be the first year that we’ve taken a formal celebration of the event and culture, but it’s not a religious celebration. Those of us that are Christian will celebrate Christmas.”

While Kwanzaa may seem to be a holiday that African Americans only celebrate, the principles of Kwanzaa and the message are universal, and anyone who shares the values of the holiday is welcome to observe.

“It’s a week for the Black community, but the themes are universal,” Jasmin Smith said. “So it’s something that everybody can learn from.”

There are many ways to learn about Kwanzaa, and this week there will be events that people may attend to help participate in the holiday festivities and learn more about Kwanzaa. On Dec. 29, from 6-9 p.m., the Umoja Coworking and Incubator will host a Ujamaafest.

The full-length interview with Alaska’s News Source can be found below:

Kwanzaa begins on Dec. 26. We sit down with four Alaskans who celebrate the holiday.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited to include an updated quote from Jasmin Smith.