There are many festivals exclusive to African Americans that keep the whole year periodically festive. These festivities include Juneteenth, Loving Day, Black history month celebrations, and Martin Luther King Day. Among all these festivals I am going to discuss about the most awaited Kwanzaa festival.
During my visit to America, I got the chance to catch Kwanzaa festival with my host family. It is a festival that is celebrated for a whole week in U.S and other Western African Diaspora. Since it was my first acquaintance with Kwanzaa, I thought of it as a religious carnival or a festive dinner. But my guess was not true. Unlike Ramadan, Hanukkah or Christmas, this festival is totally unaffiliated with religion and more linked to the African heritage culture.
A brief Background of Kwanzaa
This exclusive African American festival was established in 1966 by Mualana Ron Karenga, who aimed to reconnect the African American natives to their African roots and recognize their survival efforts as heritage owned people by building a strong community. The festival infused racial pride and unity in African American community and recognized as mainstream status across U.S. Even the postal service launched its first Kwanzaa stamp in 1997.
The name is derived from the Swahili term that narrates “matunda ya kwanza” which means “the first fruits of the harvest.” The seven days are celebrated in order to fulfill the seven principles of Kawanzaa that are defined as;
- Umoja (Unity)
- Kujichagulia (autonomy)
- Ujima (communal effort and responsibility)
- Ujamaa (supportive economics)
- Nia (intention)
- Kuumba (originality)
- Imani (faith)
The celebration starts by placing a straw mat (mkeka) on a table that is covered by Kenta Cloth or any other African fabric. I saw my host’s wife who putting these things on the table and get lured to what next she will be going to do. On the top of the fabric she put a candle holder that contains seven candles. The color of Kwanzaa are red, black and green that abbreviates the struggle, future and hope accordingly as I was told by my host. He further told me that these candles are lightened daily in a particular manner.
His wife placed crops and the unity cup over it. Lastly she added African articrafts, books about African culture, life and people on the mat to symbolize the heritage and wisdom. The celebrations started off after the symbols are set. The family practiced greetings for the seven principles on respective days. I was greeted as “Joyous Kwanzaa” for whole seven days.
The Party Time
The celebrations are made with variations and multiple activities are followed throughout the week, the feast is saved for sixth day. What I enjoyed the most was the performances and musical selections, the party was awesome. Drummers gave exquisite performance which was appreciated by everyone.
Then there was a dance performance which was overwhelming and so colorful that kept us held till the end. The dancers performed wearing vibrant African costumes, the rhythm was brilliant.
The Feast (Karamu Ya Imani)
The 6th day of Kwanzaa celebrations is reveled with the feasts of the feasts. I found the African cuisine very scrumptious. The dinner was beautifully presented in African cuisine in American manner. I loved it. My host family honored me with the Kwanzaa greetings and adds me in their festivities. This was the last day of my tour to America, had to flew back to Singapore the same night.