December 25, 2013

FROM THE ARCHIVES: A HANUKKAH OF THEIR OWN:


Kwanzaa is made-up, but useful. (Melonyce McAfee, Dec. 26, 2011, Slate.com)

I don't know where we got a candelabrum. But there we were, lighting the candles in the kinara and reciting Swahili words like umoja, ujima, and kujichagulia while my brother poured water from an earthenware jug onto a half-dead plant. We placed whatever fruit we had (apples, oranges, bruised bananas) onto a table festooned with African objets d'art, the kinara, and a small jug of water. For seven nights, we lit a candle and recited one of the Nguzo Saba principles, like nia for faith. The Swahili didn't roll off our tongues, but we liked how it sounded. We performed a libation, pouring liquid from the kikombe cha umoja, or unity cup, into soil in remembrance of our ancestors.

It was Mom's idea, like the world-beat reggae concerts, Earth Day fairs, and Marcus Garvey coloring books. Kwanzaa was a way to bring our ragtag family together and nudge us away from the false idols and commercial trickery of the holiday season. We only celebrated Kwanzaa for a couple of years. That might sound like a fist-in-the-air dalliance into neo-black-holiday land. But the dismissal wouldn't be fair. Kwanzaa may be made-up, but for my family it was useful.

Kwanzaa was conjured up in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, former chair of the black studies department at California State University, Long Beach, to "reaffirm and restore our rootedness in African culture." For my mother, a black child of the cause-oriented 1960s and '70s raising three black children of the Cosby-fied '80s and '90s, that seemed perfect. Since the untimely departure of my father from the family (oh, he's still alive, mind you), my little brother had been in need of male guidance. He attended a mentorship program in which black men organized camping trips and kumbaya-ing for boys in need of a male role model. The program was Pan-African in its ideology--black role models, institutions, language, and, apparently, holidays for black people. This led us to Kwanzaa.

We also had a toe rooted in the Southern Baptist church. And going to the homes of my extended family on Christmas--with their pinned-up stockings and glinting trees--showed me the importance of the holiday to black Christians.


[originally posted : 12/26/11]
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at December 25, 2013 12:01 AM
  

blog comments powered by Disqus
« FROM THE ARCHIVES: NOT SO VANQUISHED: | Main | FROM THE ARCHIVES: MORE FAVES: »