Celebrating Kwanza instead of Christ mass

zamantungwa | November 30th, 2008 | essays | No Comments

So manje nay’ indaba… It is common knowledge the celebration of Christ mass came to Afrika with the missionaries. When the missionaries brought Christianity to Afrika they also brought the holiday (holy day) that were significant to the religion. While the missionaries believed that Afrikans were pagans – without belief – we all know that that wasn’t the truth. Many consciously celebrate Christ mass and many more just go through the motions because that is what society dictates – that is what the capitalist world demands.

Many people may wonder what this kwanza thing is. Where does it come from? Is it real or is it just a passing fad?

The truth is kwanza is a made up holiday, very young compared to others having been established in 1966 by one Dr Maulana Karenga. It is an adaptation of other similar Afrikan celebrations. Initially, Karenga intended it to be the alternative to Christ mass for Afrikan Americans to celebrate “rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society”. He has since said that kwanza is not a reaction or alternative to anything. Many have criticised this celebration as racist or as anti-Christ mass. Some even claim that the principles of kwanza go against the virtues of Christianity. Many are sceptical because of the founder’s checkered past. But I want you to make up your own mind. Make up your own mind whether you will celebrate it together with Christ mass (because you are Christian) or you will choose to celebrate only kwanza or you will do something else completely. Make up your own mind. Indeed, making up ones own mind is part of the second principle of kwanza: self-determination.

Let’s think about this a moment… Yes, kwanza is a made up holiday, but then aren’t all holidays made up? To some or other degree someone decided that a certain day should be made official to commemorate, celebrate or observe a particular occurrence be it the birth or death of someone significant or a day something big that happened like a massacre or a big win. Think about it, many South Afrikan holidays aren’t that old and they replaced other made up holidays. Even religious events are made up. The thing about all holidays (be they holy or not) is that they signify something that is important to a community and nation – they are often based on something real. Christ mass as we all know isn’t the exact day of the birth of Christ yet is accepted. So why would celebrating kwanza not be acceptable?

it is made up. Well, as already mentioned even the creator acknowledges that it is made up. If you look at the principles of Kwanza you’ll find that it has a lot of what when I sum up into one word I call ubuntu. Others are wary of kwanza because they say it has Marxist principles. Clearly these would be those that are pro-capitalism. The Afrikan way is the way of communal living while capitalist principles are biased towards the individual. Yes, that new English word that only South Afrikans know and all Afrikans understand. Some say that it goes against Christian virtues but I’d like to understand since when has Christianity been against unity, faith, purpose, self-determination, cooperative economics, collective work & responsibility and creativity. Ok, maybe not in those express terms but really is Christianity against community, family and culture? Think about that for a moment… and I hope the answer isn’t yes!

Maulana Karenga is a man with a rather shady background and that has dented his credibility and has inevitably cast a shadow over the beauty of kwanza. Overlook his shady past and focus solely on this concept – Kwanza. Kwanza comes from Kiswahili ‘matunda ya kwanza’ meaning the first fruits. Karenga added an extra ‘a’ making it Kwanzaa. First fruits are often celebrated in various Afrikan communities at the first harvest. Many Afrikan cultures like the Zulus and Swatis. The Zulu kingdom celebrates Umkhosi wokweshwama (the first fruits celebration) in early December. The Jews celebrate the first fruits in a celebration called Yom HaBikkurim on the last day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Hag HaMatzah). On this first fruits evening they take for example, the first fruit, the first born animal, the first sheath of barley to the Temple as a symbol for Jesus being the first of the First Fruits (1 Cor 15:23) – this is part of the Pesach.

When Karenga started the holiday he said that he wanted 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 culture.’ In 2005 he gave further reasons in a video that is available on You Tube

“…Reaffirm the rootedness in Afrikan culture: due to the holocaust and enslavement we were lifted out of our own history and made a footnote and forgotten casualty in European history. The struggle we are waging is to return to our history and to use it to enrich and expand our lives.

Give us a time when we as Afrikan people all over the world could come together and reaffirm the bonds between us and meditate on the meaning and responsibility or being an Afrikan in the world and certainly it has flowered because of that.

Introduce and reinforce the importance of Afrikan culture and Afrikan communitarian values – values that stress and strengthen family and community and culture. These are our strength and the hub and hinge on which the holiday turn the nguzo saba…”

Perhaps kwanza is the only thing of value that Karenga has given to society. Kwanza is about family, community and culture. These are universal values that can be found in most, if not all, cultures in the world.

It is up to you whether Kwanza is an addition to your festive season celebrations or an alternative. Certainly, with Christ mass being over commercialised and almost void of its original meaning kwanza offers a more meaningful experience. Kwanza is about the gathering of family – and not just traditional family ñ and community. It focuses on reaffirming bonds with those close to you. It is a time of thanksgiving as one year ends and another begins, a time to reflect on your history and look forward to your future. Kwanza celebration is a time of sharing, food is shared, inspiring thoughts and knowledge is shared. The gifts that are given during the celebration are not flashy, commercial, fashionable gifts but rather gifts that the giver has personally made – be it a card, a toy, inspirational words and stories. Kwanza is symbolical of a simple, cultured and meaningful life that we can all lead.

The principles of kwanza are about building community.

    1. Unity – be one and at peace with your family, community, nation and race.
    2. Self-determination – Afrikans need to write their own story, take charge of their own legacy.
    3. Collective Work and Responsibility – We are responsible for our each others being, for making our land a better place, ending the (ethnic, civil, political, economic) wars.
    4. Cooperative Economics – support black business so that we can build a strong Afrikan economy; the Jews, Koreans, Chinese Indians all offer great examples of what this principle means.
    5. Purpose – what legacy do you want to live behind?
    6. Creativity – something we all know best but it also means there’s more than one way to deal with challenges.
    7. Faith – whether you are religious or not this value is what will carry you through all highs and lows.

Now honestly, how can you say that this celebration, or rather the principles it espouses, are evil or racist or anti-religion. Anybody can take these principles to heart and set them in the context of their life.

The Kwanza principles can make a difference to our society. It makes no difference how many people observe the 7 days of Kwanza or even know what the principles are. What makes a difference is the positivity of the seven principles…

What do you think?

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