African celebration now in 35th year
LOS ANGELES – Black communities around the world began a celebration of their African heritage Wednesday by lighting candles for unity – the first of seven principles honored during the week-long Kwanzaa festival.
Dancers and drummers in suburban Inglewood performed traditional African music to kick off the 35th annual observance of the holiday, which celebrates family, community and culture. Female dancers swayed in beaded tops, while men walked beside them playing drums with their hands.
“I think unity has a lot of significance to the world today, particularly with nine-eleven and the terrorist events that are going on,” said Kenneth Moore, owner of Inglewood’s Howling Monk Coffee House, which hosted the opening ceremony performed by the group Kwanzaa People of Color.
“I think it has a very, very powerful significance this year, along with the other values of Kwanzaa that will be celebrated through these seven days.”
More observances were to follow, including weekend parades and festivals, and a Dec. 31 feast.
Kwanzaa is an African-American and pan-African holiday which derives from the first harvest celebrations of Africa and was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, chairman of the Department of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. The word Kwanzaa is taken from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits.”
The holiday is now believed to be celebrated by 28 million people around the world, said Tulivu Jadi, assistant director of the African-American Cultural Center in Los Angeles. He stressed it is a cultural holiday that can be observed by people of any faith.
“It speaks to the best of what it means to be African-American and human in the fullest sense,” Jadi said.
Each day of Kwanzaa, participants celebrate a new principle. After unity come self-determination; collective work and responsibility; cooperative economics; purpose; creativity; and faith.
A candle is lighted each day in a candleholder called a Kinara. The final day, Jan. 1, is reserved for meditation and reflection.
Observers of Kwanzaa say they appreciate the contrast with more commercialized celebrations of Christmas, where spiritual reflection often seems to take a back seat to gift-giving.
“I think Kwanzaa is one of those kinds of celebrations that makes you focus more on principles and coming together,” said Kinikia Gardner, 26, as she watched the opening festivities in Inglewood.
Along with the seven principles, participants concentrate on five activities central to continental African “first fruit” celebrations: gathering of people to reaffirm bonds between them; reverence for the creator; commemoration of the past; recommitment to cultural ideals; and celebration of the good of life and existence.
“Kwanzaa is a celebration of our reality and identity,” said Brother Akile, chairman of Kwanzaa People of Color.