Kwanzaa means ‘first fruits’

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

Another celebration of black culture that takes place this time of year is Kwanzaa.
The observance, which takes its name from a Swahili phrase meaning “first fruits,” traces its origins as far back as ancient Egypt. But the contemporary holiday of Kwanzaa grew out of the Black Power and civil rights movements in the 1960s, when many American blacks were rediscovering a deep sense of connection with their African heritage.
According to the Rev. James Hull, pastor of Mt. Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Taylor, Kwanzaa consists of reflecting upon principles that are esteemed throughout African society, including “umoja” or unity, “kuumba” or creativity, and “kujichagulia” or self-determination.
People observing Kwanzaa focus on one of the principles each day, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Celebrants light candles on a candelabrum that resembles a Jewish Hanukkah menorah, and use symbols, like water, and special recitations to help them enter more deeply into the experience.
Kawanzaa is a cultural holiday, not a religious one. As a former member of the Nation of Islam, Hull said the reason Kwanzaa seems foreign to some people has as much to do with the hesitancy of some blacks to embrace the Afro-centric aspects of their own culture as it does with the holiday’s seemingly exotic origins.
“There are still a lot of black people who aren’t really comfortable with concepts like Black Power or black consciousness,” said Hull. The point of Kwanzaa, he added, is to celebrate one’s heritage and to remind blacks of their duty to each other and to society as a whole.