Kwanza is essentially an African American holiday that was created with the specific purpose of helping the African American community in the United States to re-connect with its original culture, heritage and history in their native land of Africa.
To fulfill this goal of creating a bridge with the African culture, Kwanza has taken inspiration from several old African traditions and belief systems and integrated them with modern celebrations. Traditionally, African people have always celebrated the first harvests of the season. The roots of this celebration can be traced back to the agriculture dominated past of the African continent. For most people in rural Africa, agriculture was, and still remains, the basic means of earning their livelihood. Therefore, many traditions, beliefs, customs and festivals in Africa are centered around agriculture only.
Kwanza draws its inspiration from the Swahili phrase: "Matunda ya Kwanza", referring to the "first fruits" of the season. The tradition of first fruit celebrations in Africa can be traced back to the ancient Egyptian civilization and other ancient African cultures and societies as well.
To celebrate the spirit of this tradition, the modern Kwanza celebrations include cooking of special Kwanza feasts that are based on the fresh vegetables and fruit of the season. At the same time, the Kwanza meals also include the most traditional dishes of Africa so that the entire family and friends can enjoy a delicious meal that in a way connects them with their native African motherland.
The Kwanza tradition in modern times also includes engaging in some old, traditional African art or craft. This may include any simple crafts or activities such as weaving a mat or making a basket with cane or bamboo. Such activities are fun and at the same they keep the old arts and traditions of Africa alive in the hearts and minds of the new generations, particularly those who are living far away amidst the western culture of America.
Another Kwanza tradition is to remind all the participants about the seven sacred Kwanza principles upon which the entire Kwanza concept is founded. Kwanza's week-long celebrations are a good opportunity to remind everyone about the basic tenets of Kwanza, and this tradition is followed year after year to reinforce the spirit of the participants.
Kwanza follows the belief system that all Africans are brothers and one community. Therefore, the tradition of community get-togethers during the festivities helps to promote the spirit of brotherhood among the Black community. Kwanza rituals build upon the five fundamental activities expected of an African, which are:
. Gathering together of friends, family and community and reaffirming their bonding with each other.
. Offering thanks to the Creator for His blessings, bounties and the beauty of his creation.
. Commemorating the African ancestors who made sacrifices for the benefit of the present and future generations of Africans.
. Recommitting oneself to the highest ideals, both personal as well as communal, of African culture.
. Celebrating the fact of life and enjoying the fruit of our hard work and success.
SUMMARY: Kwanza is a holiday to commemorate the African culture and heritage, especially among the African American community. Therefore, it incorporates the traditional practices and beliefs of the original African culture in order to maintain a sentimental connection with the motherland and its past.