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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Shallow Roots 

From Sharron Spann:

I frequently get questions about Kwanzaa and whether or not people in Africa celebrate it. Strictly speaking, Kwanzaa is not an African holiday. Generally, this time of year is when various rites of passage ceremonies take place - including circumcisions, and/or Christmas celebrations, and/or Family Day, and/or Ramadan (if it falls in December)....

Each day of the Kwanzaa celebration is dedicated to one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa: Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamma (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Imani (Faith). These words along with mkeka, muhindi, kinara, mishumaa saba, kikombe cha umoja, zawadi, and karamu and many others used in the Kwanzaa celebrations are Swahili words. Interestingly, the word Kwanzaa is not a Swahili word, kwanza is.

Interestingly, the majority of Africans who were enslaved in the United States came from the west coast, or French speaking coast, of Africa. The Swahili language is primarily spoken on the east coast of Africa (Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) and the Swahili people make their home in Kenya and Tanzania, thus Swahili (language or people) really has nothing to do with the west coast of Africa....

Of course, it's fair to note that a lot of the Christmas celebrations have nothing to do with Christianity. And Patrick S. Poole is fond of noting that St. Patrick was English.

But how about the alleged humanist, anti-Muslim aspect of Kwanzaa? Here's what skepticfiles.org says:

Many children in public schools now learn about Kwanzaa as one of the important celebrations of the December holiday season. Some Unitarian Universalist churches celebrate Kwanzaa on the first Sunday after Christmas, often making it a fun program with storytelling, African musicians, African foods, a talk on the meaning of Kwanzaa, and the like.

But some UUs and Humanists might wonder if Kwanzaa is as secular or "non-religious" as media coverage sometimes indicates. In truth, Kwanzaa has some Humanism in its history....

The Humanist connection comes from Karenga's incarceration at the Men's Colony at San Luis Obispo, and later when he was transferred to Vacaville -- both being medium-security prisons in California. Local Amrican Humanist Association chapter leaders in San Luis Obispo, and later in San Jose, helped form a Humanist Chapter at these institutions. And Karenga was the inmate head of the AHA "Humanist Chapter at Men's Colony" in the late 1960's and early 1970's.

During that era, the Nation of Islam was a big contender for the religious allegiance of progressive young Blacks. But Karenga opposed them, viewing Islam as the same sort of supernatural and superstitious "spookism" that had gotten Black people into their oppressed predicament. He was also aware that Muslims had sold Blacks to the White Christian slave traders who then brought them to America and elsewhere. So, it was in a Humanist context that Karenga more fully developed and promoted his new cultural religion. (Bruce Miller and Orloff Miller were the AHA contacts with Karenga in San Luis Obispo. Art Jackson was involved with the San Jose/Vacaville connection.)

Cobb notes that Kwanzaa was perceived as different from the Nation of Islam when it began, and also notes the original pan-African nature of the holiday (which explains why people descended from West Africans would speak an East African language):

i was there. i was about 6 or 7 years old and participated in the first kwanzaa. my family knew ron as well as the rest of the US collective....

as for kwanzaa's links to africa, they are simple and plain. we spoke swahili. we spoke swahili like parents who send their kids to french immersion private schools speak french. it wasn't like a phrase here or a phrase there. it was conversational. if you read 'japanese by spring' by ishmael reed, you can get an appreciation of what i mean by the centrality of language in culture. in that way, the originators (note the s) of kwanzaa were more afrocentric than those of the 90s afrocentricity movement. pan africanism was real at the time, members of my family regularly visited west africa, i had an uncle who was an economics professor at the university of ghana. most of the people involved in the early kwanzaas were progressive, as one might imagine. dr. ligon, proprietor of the first and largest black bookstore on the west coast (the aquarian center) was a father figure to most....

as i was going to say when i began speaking about progressives, those who would be black instead of negroes in the 60s were also likely to be outspoken critics of the contemporary black christian church. those who found the confrontational, and racist aspects of the nation of islam too strident were the type more likely to find kwanzaa more acceptable. our family declared christmas commercial, hypocritical and lacking in spiritual purity in a christian nation that would subject blacks to second class status. (what a unique insight) so we celebrated kwanzaa instead. later we changed back to christmas, because by the early 70s most of the black power intellectuals like those in my family were making their impact on college campuses instead of just the streets and communities. blackness was solidified and turning the mood in the country towards crossover....

Yet some people believe today that Kwaanza is just a secular front for Islam:

U.S. society is being "primed" for Islamic evangelism (rap, Kwaanza, etc.)...

The pillars Kwaanza look suspiciously like the pillars of Islam:

Collective work & responsibility
Cooperative economics

Prayer (no heirarchy in Islam & no priests) (self-determined)
Financial obligation (charity)

Kwanzaa is supposed to strengthen culture and community.
Islam is supposed to strengthen culture and community.

Note: The colors of Kwanzaa are red, black, and green. The colors on most Islamic and communist African national flags are red, black and green....

Interestingly enough, Dr. Karenga recently served as a member of the executive council of the National Organizing Committee of the Million Man March/Day of Atonement and authored the Mission Statement for this joint project. You remember atonement, don't you?

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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