Little Bits of History

Kwanzaa

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 26, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa

December 26, 1966: The first Kwanzaa celebration begins, lasting for seven days until January 1. Graduate student, Ron Karenga, was dismayed by the race riots in Watts the previous year and sought a way to unite Americans of African descent. He established this holiday season to reconnect African-Americans with their African past.

Karenga was leader of the United Slaves Organization, a group which had seven children in its membership. He used the Swahili term, “matunda ya kwanza” meaning “first fruits” and added an extra “a” to the word in order to get to seven letters. He felt the need for that number of letters so that each child in the US Organization would have a letter, and then there would be a letter for each day of the week-long celebration.

The “Seven Principles of Blackness” include: Umoga [Unity]. Kujichagulia [Self Determination], Ujima [Collective Works and Responsibility], Ujamaa [Cooperative Economics], Nia [Purpose], Kuumba [Creativity], and Imani [Faith]. These words are Swahili, an East African nation. Most of the Americans of African descent are from the West Coast of Africa. Each day of the season is dedicated to celebrating one of the concepts.

Karenga has never claimed that the holiday is an authentic African season, but rather that it is a construct of his own built to offer the community another venue for celebration of the African experience and it is based on African values. In 1967, Karenga stated, “Jesus was psychotic” and proclaimed that Christmas was the white man’s holiday. Thirty years later, in a book he authored about Kwanzaa he notes a shifted position saying that Kwanzaa was not meant to replace the religious holyday, but rather it was created to give the African-American experience a voice all its own.

“…it was chosen to give a Black 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.” – Ron Karenga

“Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday. And it is not an alternative to people’s religion or faith but a common ground of African culture…Kwanzaa is not a reaction or substitute for anything. In fact, it offers a clear and self-conscious option, opportunity and chance to make a proactive choice, a self-affirming and positive choice as distinct from a reactive one.” – Ron Karenga

“We have religious holidays and we have secular holidays. I see Kwanzaa as an opportunity for African-Americans to reaffirm ourselves if we choose to, a chance to rebuild and renew our focus. I see Kwanzaa as a holiday of the spirit.” – Jessica Harris

“Kwanzaa is neither political nor religious and, despite some misconceptions, it is not a substitute for Christmas.” – Randy Taylor

Also on this day, in 1986 Search for Tomorrow went off the air after the day’s show.

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