Severn students learn about Kwanza

December 23, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

While preparations for Christmas and Hanukkah have dominated the headlines, students at Van Bokkelen Elementary School in Severn have been preparing for a different kind of celebration.

The second-grade students spent a week learning about Kwanza, a seven-day African-American celebration that takes place the week after Christmas.

"What does Kwanza mean?" social studies teacher Louise Taybron asked her students.

"First fruits," they yelled back.

"And what did we learn this morning?" Mrs. Taybron asked.

"Umoja," they shouted.

"And what does that mean?"


"And where does unity begin?"

"With the family!"

Kwanza, which began in the United States in 1966 as an expression of cultural pride, does in fact mean first fruits of the harvest in Swahili.

In many countries, harvest time is a time for rededication.

The seven principles

The Kwanza celebration is a rededication to the seven principles that have sustained blacks throughout history.

For each of the seven days, a different principle is designated as the focus.

They are: Umoja, which means unity; Kujichagulia, which means self-determination; Ujima, which means collective work and responsibility; Ujamma, which means cooperative economics; Nia, which means purpose; Kuumba, which means creativity; and Imani, which means faith.

Students -- black and white, Korean and Puerto Rican -- learned about the celebration of Kwanza as part of their social studies lessons, having their own Kwanza celebration by participating in different activities each day.

Mkeka, or replicas of straw mats, were made out of red, black and green construction paper.

"The green is for the future, the red is for the struggle, and the black is for black people," said 7-year-old Corey Medley.

Kinara, or candle holders, also were made by the students, each taking half of a cardboard egg carton, painting and inverting it. They finished by gluing seven paper candles to the carton, with one black candle in the center.

"This is for the seven principles," said Kelly Bahr, also 7. "We put the black one in the middle because you light that one last."

A hallway in the school has been decorated with pictures and words symbolizing Kwanza, for those students not directly involved in the weeklong celebration. There's also a detailed history of the celebration's beginnings and its creator, Dr. Maulana Karenga.

The mkeka and the kinara, as well as jewelry made from noodle shells and beads, all were used for the students' culminating NTC celebration, the Kwanza Karamu, or main feast.

Principal Charles Owens, as well as many parents, teachers and students, came dressed in traditional African clothing for the finale yesterday.

Traditional clothing

Students performed the Kwanza song, in which they sang the words for each of the seven principles.

African-inspired drummers and dancers also performed for the students as well as Maryland's official griot, or storyteller, Mary Carter Smith.

And even though Kwanza is traditionally an African-American celebration, the school gave the holiday a bit of a multicultural feel.

A teacher of German descent taught some students a song in German to sing.

And another teacher, of Greek descent, taught her students a traditional Greek dance.

The multicultural feel became even more evident when parents brought food to represent their culture.

Most prevalent, of course, was United States culture: there was quite a bit of macaroni and cheese and fried chicken.

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