Understanding Kwanzaa

Meghan Parmentier

The Black Student Union and the Multicultural Events Committee hosted the Annual Kwanzaa Celebration on Thursday, Nov. 13 with esteemed guest speaker Dr. Maulana Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa.

The ceremony commenced with the Mistresses of Ceremony Carla Brown and Monique Martin, President and Vice President of the Black Student Union, introducing Dr. Karenga. He then performed a libation statement in which the audience interacted and repeated back to him in Swahili. He explained that Swahili is a Pan-African language and is used for greetings during Kwanzaa because it was chosen to reflect African-American’s commitment to African culture. The greetings are meant to reinforce awareness and commitment to the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Natalie Jean then performed the Black National Anthem.

In his presentation, which was entitled, “Kwanzaa and the Seven Principles: Repairing and Renewing the World,” Dr. Karenga used both the principles and his ideas of how to repair the world to address “where we fit into the world, our responsibility,” and to tell students to, ” celebrate the good of family, community, culture, loving, kindness, care, togetherness and working in the world.”

He spoke behind a long table draped with a red cloth, adorned with the Kwanzaa candle holder; called a Kinara or a “Unity Cup,” to symbolize global African unity. While he was speaking, behind him were PowerPoint slides of symbols of African culture and the Kwanzaa holiday. He used this setting to teach about tradition and culture.

“Culture is a foundation, not just sound and dance,” he said.

Throughout his lecture, Karenga listed the seven principles of Kwanzaa he developed; Umoja/Unity, Kujichagulia/Self-Determination, Ujima/Collective Work and Responsibility, Ujamaa/Collective Economics, Nia/Purpose, Kuumba/Creativity and Imani/Faith.

“Kwanzaa is a holiday and product of the ’60s,” Karenga said. “It stresses struggle and expressing ourselves in a way that leaves a legacy worthy of the history and the name African.”

At the conclusion of Karenga’s lecture, students were invited on stage for a “Lifting Up the Light that Lasts” ceremony, the lighting of the candles. Seven students each lit a candle to represent one of the seven principles while teaching the audience that the middle black candle is always lit first because it represents the people. Secondly, the candles are lit from left to right, red candles to green candles. This is to symbolize that the people come first and struggle with the red candles, and then hope of the future with the green candles.

The ceremony concluded with Karenga leading the audience in a chant of “Harambe,” which means pulling together. For this activity, the audience rose and repeated Harambe while pulling a fist raised in the air to their heart. This was repeated seven times for the seven principles of Kwanzaa, and on the last time Harambe was held out for as long as the audience could before taking a breath, and then applauded.

“I’m always remembering history,” Karenga said. “History is our memory. We lose our history, we lose our minds. We lose our minds, we lose ourselves.”