This week long ceremony of bountiful feasts, storytelling, music, dance and rich symbolism serves as a window to the African heritage – and provides us with an opportunity to samples some tasty African fare in the process.
The Kwanzza concept is actually relatively new. It was created in 1966 by Maulana Ron Karenga, a prominent activist in the Black Power Movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s who wanted to give Black Americans and opportunity to celebrate their common heritage in a non-religious tradition. Kwanzaa (the Swahili word for “first fruits of the harvest”) doesn’t represent any specific African holiday but instead incorporates elements of harvest festival celebrated throughout Africa, during which people renew and strengthen the bonds between them. This strengthening of relationships and community is the underlying theme of Kwanzaa-evident in its seven guiding principles: umoja (unity), kujichagulia (self-determination), ujima (collective work and responsibility), ujamaa (cooperative economics), nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity) and imani (faith).
The seven-day festival begins on December 26 and runs through New Year’s Day. On its sixth day, a karamu, or grand feast, typically features not only African cuisine but also foods from the lands of the African diaspora: the Caribbean, Central America, South America and the Deep South of the United States.
Ready to celebrate Kwanzaa? All you need is a piece of kente cloth, a straw place mat (mkeka), a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, an ear of corn for each child in the family, a cherished crystal or sliver goblet or chalice to use as the communal cup (kikombe chaumoja), a seven-branch candle-holder (kinara) and seven candles (mishumaa saba) – one black, three red and three green.
To set your Kwanzaa table, drape it with the kente fabric and place the straw mat in the center to represent the culture and history of Africa. Next, adorn the table with the corn (a symbol of procreation) and baskets of fruits and vegetables, which denote collective labor. Add the candle-holder to the display, and place the black candle with the red candles on the left and the green on the right. The candles give life and light to the seven principles of Kwanzaa: The black candle represents our people, the red candles commemorate our struggles and the green candles symbolize hope and the future.
On the first evening of Kwanzaa, gather your family around the table to light the black candle and discuss and reflect on umoja, the first principle of Kwanzaa. Next, fill the communal cup with wine and let each family member take a sip, then pour a drop or two of the remaining wine over the fruits and vegetables in honor of our ancestors. Over the six days that follow, light one candle nightly and discuss the remaining Kwanzaa principles, one each day, ending with imani.
All that’s left to do is to cook up some Africa-inspired cuisine for the karamu on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. So enjoy this great festive event.
For more information on cultural nutrition check out the Living Healthy website: www.livinghealthy1.org