Thursday, 31 December 2009


Barack Obama's official statement on Kwanzaa
December 28, 2009
LA Times

Statement by President Obama and Michelle
Obama on Kwanzaa

Michelle and I send warm wishes to all those celebrating
Kwanzaa this holiday season.

This is a joyous time of year when African Americans and
all Americans come together to celebrate our blessings and
the riDemocrat president barack Obama in Hawaii 12-09chness
of our cultural traditions. This is also a time of
reflection and renewal as we come to the end of one year
and the beginning of another.

The Kwanzaa message tells us that we should recall the
lessons of the past even as we seize the promise of

The seven principles of Kwanzaa - Unity, Self
Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility,
Cooperative Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith -
express the values that have inspired us as individuals and
families; communities and country.

These same principles have sustained us as a nation during
our darkest hours and provided hope for better days to
come. Michelle and I know the challenges facing many
African American families and families in all communities
at this time, but we also know the spirit of perseverance
and hope that is ever present in the community.

It is in this spirit that our family extends our prayers
and best wishes during this season and for the New Year to

We're dreaming of a black Christmas

Millions of African-Americans, including the Obamas,
will celebrate Kwanzaa next month. Will Britons join them?

The Independent
By Sophie Radice

When most of us will be slumped in front of the telly
eating leftovers or stuck on a motorway going to see those
relatives we didn't want to spend Christmas with,
increasing numbers of black British families will be making
Boxing Day the start of their celebrations. It's only been
around for forty-three years, but for millions (The
official festival website puts it at 40 Million) of black
westerners, the seven days of Kwanzaa is fast becoming a
more significant winter festival than Christmas.

Kwanzaa was established in 1966 by Dr Maulana Karenga, the
former chair of the black studies department at California
State University and a militant civil rights leader in the
1960s. A controversial figure, who led an LA-based militant
cultural organisation called US (United Slaves) and who
spent time in prison, Karenga's aim was to knit together
black communities pulled apart by racial injustice and
isolated from their African heritage. Karenga turned to
West Africa and the language of Swahili to coin the term
for a holiday celebration that means "first fruits of the

In North London, Marcia Laycy will be celebrating Kwanzaa
for the third year running, and named the youngest of her
three children Nia after the fifth Kwanzaa day ("and yes
she is very purposeful"). She sees it as "a lovely way for
the kids to calm down, turn off the telly and gather their
thoughts, particularly after all the activities, family
visits and overexcitement of Christmas. Kwanzaa gifts are
hand-made, so my kids think a lot about what they're going
to make for each other and for me. I always appreciate
these gifts so much more than presents from a shop, because
of the time and effort the kids put into them. They have a
lot of fun doing the presents, then decorating the house
with African cloth and statues, and streamers and balloons
in red, black and green. I want my kids to carry on with
Kwanzaa, celebrate it with their families and reflect with
pride on the values of family and community that are so
important for us all."

Those values are entrenched in Kwanzaa's seven principles.
The first day is dedicated to Umoja, unity in good times
and bad; the second day Kujichagulia, self determination;
followed by Ujima, collective work; next is Ujamaa,
cooperation; then Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; and the
last day is to practice Imani, faith. These are
collectively called Njuzo Sapa, and each day a coloured
candle is lit and a homage made by the whole family to each
principle and the memory of their ancestors with a pouring
of the libation from the unity cup. On the last day, a
feast is prepared and home-made gifts handed out.

The election of President Obama has got the US thinking and
talking about Kwanzaa. Although former Presidents Clinton
and Bush thought it important enough to offer a Kwanzaa
greeting from the White House, there has been lots of
discussion in the press and on the internet about how the
first black president will handle Kwanzaa, particularly as
the festival has critics among black Christians and
right-wingers. Ann Coulter, the commentator who is the
darling of the neo-cons, called it a "communist, made-up
holiday" while the Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson of the
Brotherhood Organisation of a New Destiny said: "Kwanzaa
was designed to separate blacks from Christmas and
Christianity. Kwanzaa is anti-white and anti-American.
Black Americans need to choose between the Prince of Peace
and the Marxist Karenga."

It's not only religious conservatives and the right that
are hostile. When I ask black American life-coach and agony
aunt Jenni Trent Hughes whether she celebrates it, she
laughs and says: "The only thing I can compare it to is if
you started saying how morris dancing was something you
were going to take up because it is part of your heritage.
It has great comedy potential - you only have to watch
Chris Rock's Kwanzaa episode on Everybody Hates Chris,
where his dad tries to save money by introducing Kwanzaa
and awful home-made gifts. Kwanzaa is so folksy and
cringe-making, and even Obama, one of the coolest men in
the world, can't change that."

M K Asante Junior is the director of The Black Candle
(2008), the first feature film on Kwanzaa, narrated by Maya
Angelou, which looks at how the festival developed from the
black power festival into an established celebration with
Hallmark greeting cards, special stamps and gift-shops.

He says: "It will be interesting to see what Obama does for
Kwanzaa. What makes Obama different is not just his skin
colour, but his cultural exposure to Kwanzaa and the
African-American community. While at Trinity United Church
of Christ in Chicago for 20 years, a church whose mission
statement begins with 'We are Unashamedly Black and
unapologetically Christian', the Obamas were undoubtedly
exposed to Kwanzaa. Chicago is a hotbed of Kwanzaa activity
and Trinity has hosted Kwanzaa celebrations. The
African-American community expects Obama to go beyond what
the previous two presidents have done."

In the UK, playwright Kwame Kwei Armah thinks otherwise.
"He and Michelle will probably be filmed attending a
Kwanzaa event and handle it in their usual elegant,
understated way. The Right are always looking for ways to
undermine him and there will be critical comments, but I'm
sure he'll take it in his stride.' Kwei-Armah has
celebrated Kwanzaa for 15 years and has stopped celebrating
Christmas, although his kids continue to celebrate with
their grandparents.

"I am person of faith who got tired of the
commercialisation of Christmas. Kwanzaa is not a religious
festival but a cultural one, so it fits any religion. I
understand why Kwanzaa is mocked, because people are
embarrassed and self-conscious about cultural events,
particularly when they are comparatively new. Kwanzaa is an
important part of my family life. My kids become very
creative and thoughtful and write about the principles.
It's a great time for us."

Sophia Macdonald from Birmingham will be celebrating with
her family for the fifth year, starting off the events at
her local community centre on boxing day. Although she was
sceptical when she first heard about Kwanzaa, she says
there are elements of it that bring her family together in
a more powerful way than Christmas.

"When I first heard about it I thought it was too American
and a bit too hippyish. I couldn't dress up in African
clothes like a lot of people do, but I take the family
values and the lighting of the candles seriously. What I
enjoy is the simplicity of it - in America it is really
commercialised and quite mainstream, so perhaps here in
England we are truer to the original ideals. When people
say it's made up, I answer that all celebrations and
rituals were made up at some point. Just because it's new
doesn't mean it's not relevant and important for the black

The symbols of Kwanzaa: What they mean

Mazao: fruits, nuts, vegetables

Mazao, the crops, symbolises work. It represents the
foundation for Kwanzaa, the gathering of the people
patterned after African harvest festivals. Celebrants place
nuts, fruit and vegetables, representing work, on the

Mkeka: place mat

The mkeka, made of straw or cloth, comes from Africa and
expresses history, culture, and tradition.

Vibunzi: ear of corn

Represents fertility and the family's hopes. If there are
no children, two ears are still set on the mkeka because
each person is responsible for the children of the

Mishumaa saba: seven candles

A single black candle symbolises umoja (unity), the basis
of success, and is lit on 26 December. Three green candles,
representing nia, ujima, and imani, are placed to the
right; three red candles, representing kujichagulia,
ujamaa, and kuumba, are placed to the left. During Kwanzaa,
a candle is lit each day.

Kinara: the candleholder

The centre of the Kwanzaa setting; many celebrants create
their own from natural materials.

Kikombe cha umoja: unity cup

A special cup used to perform the libation (tambiko) ritual
during the Karamu feast on the sixth day. Family members
and guests drink from it to promote unity.

Zawadi: gifts

Imani is celebrated on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, when
meaningful gifts are handed out to encourage growth,
self-determination, achievement, and success. Handmade
gifts are encouraged.

1 comment:

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