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Kwanzaa Is About Respect, Heritage
By Melissa Plata
Kwanzaa was established 40 years ago during the civil revolution of the Black Freedom Movement and is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits" in Swahili - a language widely spoken in Africa.
The first fruits celebrations can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia. More than 4 million people in America observe this tribute to "family, community and culture" Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.
Kwanzaa, founded on five fundamental activities: ingathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration, was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor in the Department of Black Studies at California State University.
He is also an accomplished author and an activist whose focus is on the essential need to "preserve, continually revitalize and promote African American culture"
"Let us move forward, then, confident in our right and responsibility to challenge and expand the social and moral imagination of society and the world" said Karenga, "and let us keep the good faith of our forefathers and mothers, steadfastly devoted to justice, self-consciously open to sharing and profoundly committed to that ancient and ongoing ethical mandate to constantly strive and struggle to make good ever more present and powerful in the world".
Kwanzaa is a time for people to unite in an effort to endorse the connection between them as well as a week of personal consideration and spirituality. It is "a time of special reverence for the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation" according to the holiday's official Web site, officialkwanzaawebsite.org. It is also a time to reflect on the past and reaffirm the lessons that only trial and error can teach and "a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice".
Kwanzaa is the newest African American holiday to join the traditional celebrations that have been recognized for hundreds of years in the United States, and received a commemorative U.S. stamp in 1997. It is a time to rejoice in the good of life and everything that makes it precious. Unlike most holidays during the dark days of winter, Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday - not a religious one - where Africans of all religious faiths come together based on the history of their ancestors and the diverse common ground that they share.
Like most end-of-year holidays there is a decorating scheme to keep in mind that boasts the colors of Kwanzaa which are black, red and green. To keep with the traditional theme, African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects and harvest symbols are a few of the signs that Kwanzaa is quickly approaching. As people feast on an array of specially prepared meals, activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations, which is usually wine or olive oil, are customary.
Gifts are given primarily to children and are required to always include a book and a heritage symbol. The books are to emphasize the African value and tradition and the heritage symbol is to highlight and emphasize the African commitment to tradition and history.
The last day of Kwanzaa intentionally lands on the first day of the New Year when the three Kawaida questions: Who am I; am I really who I say I am; and am I all I ought to be? should be respectfully addressed.
This is a time for followers to recommit themselves to the highest morals coupled with what it means to be both African and soulful in the fullest sense. This week-long celebration that overemphasizes high standards and righteousness supports "family, community and culture" as the essential purpose to living a fulfilling and productive life.