Kwanzaa Proudly Celebrates African-american Culture

December 27, 1991|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff writer

Seven-year-old Andre Turnish liked the celebration of Kwanzaa, an African-American festival of the first fruits, because of the new vocabulary he learned.

"It was very good," he said after celebrating the holiday Anne Arundel County Community College. "I liked all the words we had to say."

But the holiday, celebrated the week between Christmas and New Year's, is more than words. It is about cultural unity for people of African-American descent.

"There was no holiday to symbolize our culture," said Donald F. Wallace, a Columbia consultant who spoke to thechildren, most of whom were from Annapolis public housing, about thecelebration, its meanings and its symbols.

"Kwanzaa is not a religious holiday. It does not replace Christmas. It is not a black Christmas."

Wallace said the celebration is "very spiritual. It is a cultural expression."

The AACC celebration, held the week before Christmas, was sponsored by Anne Arundel County Community College's Black Student Association, which puts on an educational series every year. This was the first time members put on a Kwanzaa celebration.

"It is entertaining, but also educational," said association president Bonetta Crews. "I had a good time."

The celebration of Kwanzaa began in 1966. Kwanzaa is the Swahilian word for fruit, and the celebration as symbolizes working together to bring about a successful crop.

Each day of Kwanzaa, a different principle is emphasized -- from umoja, which means unity, to kujichagulia, which means self determination, to imani, which means faith.

There also are various symbols used, such as a mkeka, or straw mat, which means foundation; mazao, orcrops, which symbolizes the fruits of labor, and kikombe, a cup symbolizing unity.

During the presentation, Wallace and his wife, Adrienne D. Prior, talked to the children about the meanings of each symbol and why it is so important that they understand what they were being taught.

Prior told the children about the gifts given each day -- "not like you might get on Christmas," but ones that either are made by blacks or that relate to the African-American culture. And whensomebody asks a person during Kwanzaa, "What's the news?" the personis to respond with one of the principals for that day.

"It is important, because it helps to restore a person's value system," Wallacesaid. "It reinforces self-esteem."

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