celebration / Holiday Season

What should Kwanzaa mean to Africans?

by Nelima

‘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?


6 thoughts on “What should Kwanzaa mean to Africans?

  1. What you gave as your opinion or understanding of what you think of Kwanzaa, is nothing but mainstream media’s intentional misidentification, misrepresentation and misinformation of what Kwanzaa is, and you should know better than to fall for that, Nelima!
    Kwanzaa has in no way tried to offer “an interpretation of African culture”!
    When we ask of what importance Kwanzaa should be to Africans, I ask why it shouldn’t be important- You join the Americans to celebrate Thanksgiving Day, you join the Irish to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and we even get more drunk on that day than most of them when we don’t even know what the hell they’re celebrating in the first place. Heck we even celebrate freaking Columbus Day!! Why should there all of a sudden need to be an explanation only when it comes to celebrating or participating in a celebration that has black origins??

  2. By the way I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving Day or St. Patrick’s Day or even Colombus Day. I generally take advantage of the opportunity to get a free day off. However I must question your comparison of Kwanzaa to the above. The American holidays you mentioned celebrate a single event while Kwanzaa (as per my misinterpretation) is supposed to reconnect African Americans with their African culture. I think African Americans definitely need more than seven days for that (well you may think otherwise). Hence my argument that a seven-days holiday for that purpose is just as funny as the notion that February is Black History Month. Reconnecting with culture is something that should be taken seriously don’t you think?

  3. Africans in America have a more than legitimate reason to need to know about their history, roots and culture, now, because their ancestors were taken from many places on the continent, they can’t have one common culture to want to learn about. Does that mean they should throw their hands up in despair and be like “oh damn, we’re doomed”? That’s what the slaves masters and colonisers tried to force them to do, give up and stay lost. Any effort towards the positive, is positive in my book.

    You should watch the movie/ documentary “The Black Candle” directed by M.K Asante, narrated by Maya Angelou, featuring Maulana (Ron) Karanga, Chuck D. and Dead Prez! Here’s a link to the official site-

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