By Dorothy Winbush Riley
For many African Americans and others of African descent, the holiday period between December 26th and January 1st has taken on a new meaning with the observance of Kwanzaa. Created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a tribute to the rich cultural heritage of the African Diaspora, Kwanzaa synthesizes elements from many African harvest festivals and is now celebrated by more than 18 million people. Based on the Nguzo Saba, or seven core principles of Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith), Kwanzaa's primary focus is African culture and the reinforcement of a value system that dates back for centuries.
In The Complete Kwanzaa: Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest, Dorothy Winbush Riley offers a comprehensive guide to the cultural foundations of Kwanzaa. Filled with inspirational poetry, quotations, folk tales, proverbs, parables and profiles of famous African Americans such as Bill and Camille Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, and Marian Wright Edelman who embody the principles of Kwanzaa, The Complete Kwanzaa also contains tips for gift giving and delectable recipes for the Karamu Feast which is eaten on the sixth day of the festival. "Kwanzaa unites nuclear and extended families and reaffirms that we must live in reciprocal dependence while seeking dignity, justice, and equality," Riley says. "This modern holiday allows Africa's children, scattered on every continent, a way to preserve the details of the motherland and to enjoy prosperity by using ancient wisdom to solve today's problems."
Riley notes that because Kwanzaa is an outgrowth of many customs, joined with ancient African tribal practices, it assists people of African descent in applying the universal principles—grow and change, live and love, create and build, honor and respect -- in everyday life. "Kwanzaa builds on the power of culture and roots to plant the seeds today for the harvest of tomorrow, gathering families to recommit themselves to more purposeful lives under the sacred seven principles," Riley says. "Although we celebrate Kwanzaa the last week of the year, we must live the teachings each moment of every day, physically, morally, and spiritually."
In addition to the sacred seven principles, the mystical number seven reverberates throughout Kwanzaa with seven days of celebration and seven symbols of the festival. The symbols are the mazao, the fruits and vegetables of the harvest that are a part of the celebration table; the mkeka, the place mat upon which they are arranged; and the kinara, the seven-branched candlestick that holds the red, black, and green candles, or mishumaa saba, that are lighted each evening. There is also the vibunzi, the ear of corn that is representative of each child in the family; the kikombe cha umoja, the communal chalice from which the ceremonial libation is poured; and the zawadi, or gifts that are given at Kwanzaa.
Riley points out that the beauty of Kwanzaa is its holistic approach in honoring the spiritual, economic, and cultural development of the descendants of Africans. "Applying the values of Kwanzaa with our innate spiritual powers produces prosperity," she says. "The universal promise is an abundant life harvested by all who seek it."
The Complete Kwanzaa:
Celebrating Our Cultural Harvest
by Dorothy Winbush Riley
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This page created December 1998; modified November 2006
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