As the end of the calendar year approaches, it is time to look forward to the celebration of Kwanzaa and to take part in the myriad of cultural activities that grow bigger and more meaningful each year.
Kwanzaa is the moment each year when culture is not associated with shock but instead it comes alive and is aligned with joyfulness and celebration. It is a time when all people can engage in close meaningful introspection.
It is always important to let the world know that the creator of Kwanzaa, unlike many of the traditional celebrations–is present and still walks among the people. He is Dr. Maulana Karenga, a world-renowned scholar, author, university professor and master teacher. He not only gave Kwanzaa to the world, but he is also here to enhance the gift and shed light on its meaning.
At the heart of Kwanzaa is a value system–the Nguzo Saba–which consists of seven principles, the cornerstone around which the cultural celebration revolves. According to Dr. Karenga, they are: UMOJA, (Unity); KUJICHAGULIA, (Self-determination); UJIMA, (Collective work and Responsibility); UJAMAA, (Cooperative Economics); NIA, (Purpose); KUUMBA, (Creativity); and IMANI, (Faith).
In order to get the true meaning of the status of Kwanzaa, it is important to let Dr. Karenga tell it like it is. Like many scholars, he is very careful about his words and discourages editing and/or revision to the written text. Here are Dr. Karenga's own words to questions put forth by the Sentinel.
SENTINEL: How has the celebration of Kwanzaa evolved thus far, worldwide?
DR. KARENGA: Kwanzaa represents a profound reorientation of how we, as African peoples, understand and assert ourselves in the world. One of the most impressive aspects of Kwanzaa is its phenomenal growth among Africans throughout the world and the interest it has gained among others around the world because of this growth and its central message of creating and celebrating good in the world. It is now practiced by over 28 million people throughout the African community on every continent in the world. And it is important to recognize why Kwanzaa is embraced and continues to grow among so many people. Kwanzaa is embraced and continues to grow worldwide among African people for several reasons. First, Kwanzaa is embraced and grows among African people because it speaks to our need and appreciation for its cultural vision and life-affirming values, values which celebrate and reinforce family, community and culture, and it challenges us to constantly bring forth the best of what it means to be African and human in the fullest sense. Second, it represents an important way we as Africans speak our own special cultural truth in a multicultural world. Third, it reaffirms a rich and most ancient tradition which teaches that the fundamental meaning and mission of human life is to "constantly increase good in the world and not let any good be lost." Fourth, it reinforces our rootedness in our own culture in a rich and meaningful way. Finally, Kwanzaa is embraced and grows because it brings us together from all countries, all religious traditions, all classes, all ages and generations, and all political persuasions on the common ground of our African-ness in all its historical and current diversity and unity, providing us with a unique and ongoing opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the African initiative in the world.
SENTINEL: Did Kwanzaa have an impact on the major political event of 2008–Obama's victory?
DR. KARENGA: Not specifically. But the lessons of Kwanzaa contained in the Seven Principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith were at the heart and center of the work to elect Obama and the victory that was achieved. Moreover, Obama's victory evolves out of the culture and struggle of our people, conscious of their role as a moral and social vanguard, and the demands of their history to constantly expand the realm of freedom, justice and opportunity, and bring good in the world.
SENTINEL: What is the significance of celebrating Kwanzaa as a way of life versus only seven days at the end of the year?
DR. KARENGA: Kwanzaa was created for three basic reasons: to reaffirm our rootedness in African culture and teach appreciation for it; to establish for us a special time as African people to come together all over the world, reaffirm the
bonds between us and meditate on the awesome meaning of being African in the world; and to introduce and reinforce communitarian African values, values that stress and strengthen family, community and culture, especially the Seven Principles, the Nguzo Saba, which are the hub and hinge on which the holiday turns. Thus, the point is not to celebrate Kwanzaa all year round, but to practice the principles every day all year round. And countless persons, family, organizations and institutions do just this throughout the world African community. They use the Seven Principles as value orientation, as cultural grounding and for program development in their work in and for the community. It is this daily and constant use and practice of the Seven Principles that not only gives life, value and meaning to Kwanzaa, but also gives us as a people the foundation and framework for living good, meaning and expansive lives.
Therefore, the essence of Kwanzaa is to inculcate it into "our daily lives and as conceptualized by Dr. Karenga, it is a cultural contribution to the world of immeasurably proportion inclusive of the Black experience.