Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kwanzaa – A celebration of culture

Kwanzaa is a week-long holiday celebrating African-American culture and history. Created in 1966 in the midst of the civil rights movement by Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26 through January 1. Each of the seven days focuses on one of the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles. These are:

Umoja (Unity),
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination),
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility),
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics),
Nia (Purpose),
Kuumba (Creativity), and
Imani (Faith).

Today the world stands divided and fragmented mainly due to enculturation without due respect for the eons of value that native cultures contribute both at the individual level as well as at the societal dimension. In the name of civilization, driven by purely materialistic approach, we have witnessed import of alien culture into societies which had enjoyed peace and happiness ever since their evolution in human society.
In this context, it is heartening to learn of concepts such as Kwanzaa. What I felt comfortable with, even though Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga’s background and authenticity has a murky record, is the deep thought given to cultural strengthening through the seven principles laid out and its religious pluralism.
Karenga writes in “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community, and Culture”, published in 1997 that
"Kwanzaa was not created to give people an alternative to their own religion or religious holiday,"

A culture is strengthened only through unity, which is bonded through collective work and shared responsibility. This process must ensure that every individual has the freedom of self determination. A thriving culture always ensures a clear purpose of societal well being based on collective economic freedom and achievement, leveraging local resources with minimum impact on the Eco-system. This requires an innovative and creative ambiance and faith in a local leadership and in an all pervading cosmic principle.

All native cultures of African tribes, American Indians, Inuit of Canada and Alaska have made rich cultural contribution which had resulted not only in healthy and happy living under extremely harsh environments but also were responsible for a very healthy Eco-system.

Today we are aping the cultures which are highly detrimental to our very survival. Let us move back to our roots.

Happy Kwanzaa to you!


  1. This reminded me of a play by Wole Soyinka,a Nigerian born Nobel Laureate's Death and the King's Horseman. There, he has defended the African cultural practice that the Horseman,(symbolic of guide) a generation of chieftain's aide, would die by committing suicide, a month or so after the king's death. During the intervening period, the Horseman would enjoy life to the fullest, and everything was granted by the society. This was stopped under the British Colonial rule as "barbaric". But the natives believed that the end of their custom would bring a complete annihilation of the universe (their world). There is a lot to be learned from the play about the significance and importance of a culture which, outwardly may appear as despicable.
    Bhaskar Banerjee

  2. Bhaskar,

    Thanks for the feedback and the interesting practice and its significance that you have highlighted.