african masksKwanzaa
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Kwanzaa celebration begins today

Christmas and Hanukkah have been around for nearly 2,000 years, and both holidays are steeped in tradition and lore.

Kwanzaa, which begins today, hasn't even seen its 40th anniversary, but its roots can be traced back to the time of the Pharaohs.


26 december 2003 By ELAINE ROSE, (609) 272-7215

Kwanzaa, Swahili for "first fruits," was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga to restore African Americans' connection to their cultural roots and values. It is held every year from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, the time of the first harvest in Africa.

The center of the celebration is the kinara, a seven-branched candelabrum with black, red and green candles - black for the people, red for the struggles they have endured and green for hope. The kinara is placed on a mat and surrounded with fruits and vegetables, corn to represent the children and a chalice that symbolizes unity. African art objects, woven cloths and other things to beautify the holiday are added.

Mostly a family celebration, Kwanzaa is a time to be thankful for bounty, to study black history and to recommit to the best of African culture and practice. Children receive gifts, but they usually consist of books and other items that honor African culture.

Each night of Kwanzaa, family and friends gather to light the kinara -
starting with the black one in the center and adding a new flame every
night - and discuss seven basic principles: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia
(self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa
(cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani
(faith). Celebrants also pour out a libation from the unity cup to honor the
ancestors who came before them.

Some communities hold public celebrations with performances of traditional African song and dance.

Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday, and not related to any religious tradition.
African Americans of any faith can join in the celebration.

To e-mail Elaine Rose at The Press:  ERose*
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