Habari Gani? This is Swahilli for ‘What’s the news?’, a greeting that is used during the week long celebration of Kwanzaa (December 26-January 1) and is answered by stating the day’s principle. Kwanzaa celebrates, uplifts, supports, encourages, educates, and reminds us of our African heritage that sometimes gets hidden within the world we live.
My earliest memories of Kwanzaa
My earliest memory of Kwanzaa was going to this concert, and my mom needed to use the restroom so I went with her. After exiting the restroom, we ran into another mom with her son, who had also used the restroom and were waiting for an appropriate moment to re-enter the performance. My mom, being the social butterfly that she was, quickly struck up a conversation with this other mom, and I had started playing with her son. Needless to say, we had missed the rest of the performance. At that point, both my dad and the son’s dad came out and they joined the conversation. This family (The Allen-McDowells) later became best friends of ours, and each year we spent the Kwanzaa celebrations together.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa
Each of the seven days has a principle, or Nguzo Saba, that is to be observed and practiced throughout the day. Along with the Nguzo Saba, each household lays out a Mkeka (mat). On top of the mkeka is the Kinara (candle holder) and the seven candles. The middle candle is black and represents the body of our ancestors. To the right side of the black candle are the red candles that represent the blood of our ancestors, and on the left side of the black candle are the green candles that represent nature and the harvest that we must give thanks to.
Also placed on the mkeka are the number of Muhindi (corn) showing how many children you have. On the first night, you light the black candle, and on subsequent nights, you light the black candle first and use that to light, alternatively, the red and green candles. After the candle(s) are lit, you pass around the Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) and give thanks. Growing up in my house, this was when we, as a family, would talk about the Nguzo Saba and explain how we incorporated that principle into our day.
The first Nguzo Saba is Umoja or unity. This means: to strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. There is no one principle that is more important than the other, you need all seven to be a well-rounded person/community/nation/race, but I love that Umoja, or unity, is the first to be celebrated. I believe that everything starts and ends with family. It is the first thing I think of when I wake up, and the last thing when I close my eyes.
The second Nguzo Saba is Kujichagulia, or self-determination. This means: to define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.
The third Nguzo Saba is Ujima, or collective works and responsibility. This means: to build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems and to solve them together.
The forth Nguzo Saba is Ujamaa, or cooperative economics. This means: to build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
The fifth Nguzo Saba is Nia or purpose. This means: to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
The sixth Nguzo Saba is Kuumba, or creativity. This means: to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. My favourite memory of Kuumba is about the business my mom and her best friend Elise (the mom from the first story) created. These ladies had such a talent in crafting. They were mean with a sewing machine, and had such a love for the heritage that they shared and therefore Kuumba (the business) was formed.
They would go to local craft bazaars and sell their items, from children’s clothes, to potholders and oven mitts, to painted gourds. I always loved going to these with my mom, not only because I got to hang out with my best friends, but because I got to witness the passion, love, and pride that they had for what they made, and the community around it.
The seventh Nguzo Saba is Imani, or faith. This means: to believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
The celebration of Kwanzaa is more than just eating yummy foods, wearing colorful outfits, and lighting candles. It is a celebration of creating a whole you; family, community, nation, and race. I strongly urge anyone who is intrigued and wanting to know and learn more about it to check out the local activities that will be happening throughout the community during that week.
So, Harbari Gani?