Kwanzaa Reconsidered by M. Pitter


My family and I have only celebrated Kwanzaa once. I wore a dark green dashiki and my parents and my sister had on their respective garbs. We lit the candles on the Kinara and discussed the significance of each and how it applied to our daily lives. On the Kinara, there are seven candles. From left to right three red candles, one black one and then three green ones, sit in a smooth wooden structure. The black candle in the middle represents the Black race, the red candles acknowledge the blood shed from our grim history (and even from the present time) and the green ones bring into focus the green lands of Mother Africa.

As both of my parents come from the Caribbean, they never really emphasized the celebration of Kwanzaa as an essential annual event. This was always an American tradition out of line of our own traditions. And then suddenly, one year, my father made it known to us that we would be celebrating Kwanzaa. I believe his actions came from the realization that maybe Kwanzaa could pertain to a wider group: the scattered descendants of African slaves in the Americas. The rituals preformed during the observance of Kwanzaa involve the acknowledgement of and the meditation over certain necessary principles bringing to light all that which needs to be aspired for in life, in essence, to remove the shackles of a grim past and to bring the prospect of a progressive future within reach.

Each candle burns for the sake of seven significant attributes for the self-empowerment of Black individuals. Starting in the black center and then moving from the leftmost red candle to the rightmost green candle, then to the middle red candle to the middle green candle and then back to the red and so on, fire brings to focus:

  1. Umoja meaning Unity
  2. Kujichagulia meaning Self-Determination
  3. Ujima meaning Collective Work and Responsibility
  4. Ujamaa meaning Collective Economics
  5. Nia meaning Purpose
  6. Kuumba meaning Creativity
  7. Imani meaning Faith.

The use of Swahili during the seven-day observance of Kwanzaa reminds us that the human beings termed as Black or Afro-American originated in lands east of the Atlantic and had their own various, complex identities that the Atlantic slave trade erased from the memory of generations. Celebrating Kwanzaa involves collective memory, contemplation and action. The advancement of Black peoples rests on these fundamentals and thus Kwanzaa is a holiday advocating for the absolute independence and social progress of this race.

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