The south branch of the Berkeley Public Library overflowed with holiday cheer on Saturday as around 50 celebrants came to mark Ujamaa, the fourth day of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa – Swahili for “first fruits” – is not a religious holiday but rather a cultural one that celebrates Pan-African culture. It was first celebrated in 1966, and is practiced by millions today.
The holiday was invented by Dr. Maulana Karenga, an academic, during the great period of social change in the 1960s.
“Some people look at that – that it’s an invented holiday – as implying something that’s not true,” said Paris Williams, the master of ceremonies at Saturday’s event.
So much was lost when Africans were brought to the Americas, Williams said – religion, family names and history. Critics of Kwanzaa sometimes suspect that because the holiday is invented, everything it celebrates is also made up.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Williams said.
“Kwanzaa is not a reinvention but a reaffirmation of our history,” she said.
Williams lit the red, black and green candles on the kinara, the ceremonial candleholder – one for each day of Kwanzaa leading up to Ujamaa.
Young Samora Piderhughes explained the symbolism of the candle-lighting ceremony, and later led the room in singing the Black National Anthem — “Lift Every Voice,” by James Weldon Johnson.
Later, storyteller Marijo entertained and educated children and adults alike with a spirited tale that illustrated the theme of the day – Ujamaa, or cooperative economics.
A Ghanaian youth, bored by pastoral life in his small, hardworking village, sets off for Accra – a shining city full of great wealth where he hopes to make his fortune.
The boy suffers a number of misadventures, and eventually realizes the error of his ways. He sees that his envy had blinded him to the values he learned in his village, and he returns to work together with his countrymen. Eventually, cooperative labor brings great wealth to their own village.
Today, New Year’s Eve, is also Kuumba, the sixth and last day of Kwanzaa. Kuumba means “creativity,” and Kwanzaa practitioners will spend the day reflecting on the legacy of African contributions to the arts and sciences.
As Kwanzaa is also a forward-looking holiday, though, they will also consider how to best use their own creativity to contribute to future generations.
Speaking of the first generations of Africans in America, whose suffering may seem so purposeless, Williams pointed out that it was their hard work, as well as their fight for freedom, that made everyone present possible.
“Who were they?” she asked. “They were the people who dreamed us, the lives we lead today.
“Now, it is our responsibility to dream the lives our children will lead tomorrow.”