• Danica Johnson

Compositions & Coffee Presents: "Creative Soul Digest"





Mindful Movement Monday


Hello Family it’s a new morning, a new day, and a new week with so much to be grateful for. This weeks blog is dedicated to all things Kwanzaa since it’s right around the corner. The spirit of Kwanzaa is uniquely black in that we use this time to celebrate all the amazing, unique aspects of our culture. The week long celebration looks at where we’ve been and ahead to where we are going which is vital in such a turn in our society. For those of you who are not familiar with Kwanzaa you know I got you.


History of Kwanzaa



Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University Long Beach, introduced the festival to the United States in 1966 as a ritual to welcome the first harvest to the home. The festival was created for Afro-Americans as a response to the commercialism of Christmas. Dr. Karenga also had been in search for a way to bring the African American community together following the Watts riot. The word “kwanza” is a KiSwahili (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania) word meaning “first.” Dr. Karenga founded a cultural organization and researched African “first” fruit celebrations. Kwanzaa has been said to have similarities with Thanksgiving in the United States or the Yam Festival in Ghana and Nigeria. The festival itself is a combination of several different harvest celebrations such as those of the Ashanti and those of the Zulu to form the basis of Kwanzaa.


The Kwanzaa celebration is done by families in their own way but celebrations typically include songs and dancing, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a large traditional meal. The celebration is a week-long event to mirror the 7 principles of Kwanzaa (we will discuss shortly). Each of the seven nights the family will gather and typically a child lights one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder). Kwanzaa also has seven basic symbols which represent values and concepts reflective of African culture. An African feast, called Karamu is held on December 31st.


Seven Principles




The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili) are the values of African culture which contributes to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. Nguzo Saba or the seven principles set of ideals were also created by Dr. Karenga.

The candle-lighting ceremony each evening provides families the opportunity to gather and discuss the meaning of Kwanzaa. The first night, the black candle in the center is lit (and the principle of umoja/unity is discussed). One candle is lit each evening and the appropriate principle is discussed.


Umoja (Unity) (oo-MO-jah)

The first day and first principle is about striving for and maintaining unity in the family, community, nation, and race.


Kujichagulia (Self-determination) koo-gee-cha-goo-LEE-yah

To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.


Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility) oo-GEE-mah

To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.


Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) oo-JAH-mah

To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.


Nia (Purpose) nee-YAH

To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.


Kuumba (Creativity) koo-OOM-bah

To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.


Imani (Faith) ee-MAH-nee

To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.


Seven Symbols



Mazao, the crops (fruits, nuts, and vegetables)


Symbolizes work and the basis of the holiday. It represents the historical foundation for Kwanzaa, the gathering of the people, that is patterned after African harvest festivals in which joy, sharing, unity, and the thanksgiving are the fruits of collective planning and work. Since the family is the basic social and economic center of every civilization, the celebration bonded family members, and affirming their commitment and responsibility to each other. In Africa the family was a limb of a tribe that shared common customs, cultural traditions, and political unity and were supposedly descended from common ancestors. The tribe lived by traditions that provided continuity and identity. Tribal customs often determined the value system, laws, and customs encompassing birth, adolescence, marriage, parenthood, maturity, and death. Through personal sacrifice and hard work, the farmers sowed seeds that brought forth new plant life to feed the people and other animals of the earth. To demonstrate their Mazao, celebrants of Kwanzaa place nuts, fruit, and vegetables, representing work, on the mkeka.


Mkeka: Place Mat


The mkeka, made from straw or cloth, comes directly from Africa and expresses history, culture, and tradition. It symbolizes the historical and traditional foundation for us to stand on and build our lives because today stands on our yesterdays, just as the other symbols stand on the mkeka. In 1965, James Baldwin wrote: “For history is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the facts that we carry it within us, are consciously controlled by it in many ways, and history in literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities , and our aspirations.” During Kwanzaa, we study, recall, and reflect on our history and the role we are to play as a legacy to the future. We buy Mkeka that are made of Kente cloth, African mud cloth, and other textiles from various areas of the African continent. The mishumaa saba, the vibuzini, the mazao, the zawadi, the kikombe cha umoja, and the kinara are placed directly on the mkeka.


Vibunzi: Ear of Corn


The stalk of corn represents fertility and symbolizes that through the reproduction of children, the future hopes of the family are brought to life. One ear is called vibunzi, and two or more ears are called mihindi. Each ear symbolizes a child in the family, and thus one ear is placed on the mkeka for each child in the family. If there are no children in the home, two ears are still set on the mkeka because each person is responsible for children of the community. During Kwanzaa, we take the love and nurturance that was heaped on us as children and selflessly return it to all children, especially the helpless, homeless, loveless ones in our community. Thus, the Nigerian proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child” is realized in this symbol (vibunzi). Children are essential to Kwanzaa, for they are the future, the seed bearers that will carry cultural values and practices into the next generation.


Mishumaa Saba: The Seven Candles


Candles are ceremonial objects with two primary purposes: to re-create symbolically the sun’s power and to provide light. The celebration of fire through candle burning is not limited to one particular group or country; it occurs everywhere. Mishumaa saba are the seven candles: three red, three green, and one black. The black candle symbolizes Umoja (unity), the basis of success, and is lit on December 26. The three green candles, representing Nia, Ujuma, and the Imani, are placed to the right of the Umoja candle, while the three red candles, representing Kujichaguilia, Ujamaa, Kuumba, are placed to the left of it. During Kwanzaa, one candle, representing one principle is lit each day. The illuminating fire of the candles is a basic element of the universe, and every celebration and festival includes fire in some form. Fire’s mystique, like the sun, is irresistible and can destroy or create with its mesmerizing, frightening, mystifying power. Mishumaa’s saba’s symbolic colors are from the red, black, and green flag (bendara) created by Marcus Garvey. The colors also represent African gods. Red is the color of Shango, the Yoruba god of fire, thunder, and lightening, who lives in the clouds and sends down his thunderbolt whenever he is angry or offended. It also represents the struggle for self-determination and freedom by people of color. Black is the people, the earth the source of life, representing hope, creativity, faith, and denoting messages and the opening and closing of doors. Green represents the earth that sustains our lives and provides hope, divination, employment, and the fruits of the harvest.


Kinara: The Candleholder


The kinara is the center of the Kwanzaa setting the represents the original stalk from which we came: our ancestory. The kinara can be shape – straight lines, semicircles, or spirals – as long as the seven candles are separate and distinct, like canderlabra. Kinaras are made from all kinds of materials, and many celebrants create their own from fallen branches, wood, or other natural materials. The kinara symbolizes the ancestors, who were once earth bound; understand the problems of human life; and are willing to protect their progeny from danger, evil, and mistakes. In African festivals the ancestors are remembered and honored. The mishumaa saba are placed in the kinara.


Kikombe Cha Umoja: The Unity Cup


The kikombe cha umoja is a special cup that is used to perform the libation (tambiko) ritual during the Karamu feast on the sixth day of Kwanzaa. In many African societies libation are poured for the living dead whose souls stay with the earth they tilled. The Ibo of Nigeria believe that to drink the last portion of a libation is to invite the wrath of the spirits and the ancestors; consequently, the last part of the libation belongs to the ancestors. During the Karamu feast , the kikombe cha umoja is passed to family member and guests, who drink from it to promote unity. Then, the eldest person present pours the libation (tambiko), usually water, juice, or wine, in the direction of the four winds – north, south, east, and west – to honor the ancestors. The eldest asks the gods and ancestors to share in the festivities and, in return, to bless all the people who are not at the gathering. After asking for his blessing, the elder pours the libation on the ground and the group says “Amen.” The last few ounces of the libation are poured into the cup of the host or hostess, who sips it and then hands it to the oldest person in the group, who asks for the blessing.


Zawadi: Gifts

When we celebrate Imani on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, we give meaningful zawadi (gifts) to encourage growth, self-determination, achievement, and success. We exchange the gifts with members of our immediate family, especially the children, to promote or reward accomplishments and commitments kept, as well as with our guests. Handmade gifts are encouraged to promote self-determination, purpose, and creativity and to avoid the chaos of shopping conspicuous consumption during the December holiday season. A family may spend the year making kinaras or may create cards, dolls, or mkekas to give to their guests. Accepting a gift implies a moral obligation to fulfill the promise of the gift; it obliges the recipient to follow the training of the host. The gift cements social relationships, allowing the receiver to share the duties and the rights of family member. Accepting a gift makes the receiver part of the family and promotes Umoja.


I’ve found that the more I know the more I can appreciate and Kwanzaa has been no different. I’ll be honest we haven’t done a full formal Kwanzaa traditional celebration but we walk the seven principles every day. The desire and need to connect with each other in our black community and remember how strong and powerful we are together as a collective is crucial. The Black Lives Matter Movement has been on a mission since 2013 to unite us in the fight for our rights for equality and putting an end to police brutality. Here’s what you may not know about this movement and what you should know…


Black Lives Matter Movement



The Black Lives Matter Network was started by 3 radical black sisters Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi following the acquittal of Trayvon Martins killer George Zimmerman. The purpose behind BLM was to create a black- centered political movement where members organize and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on black communities by the state and vigilantes. “Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, our contributions to this society, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.” Since 2013 the movement has now become a member-led network with more than 40 chapters throughout the world. There has been confusion regarding the movement since it’s generally seen as a hashtag or slogan in the social media sphere. However, it is a call to action, a social movement, and a collective of multiple groups calling for racial justice. It is because of this is can be confusing as to the nature and root of the organization itself, however, the guiding principles remain the same. BLM also voices its support for movements and causes outside of police brutality such as feminism, immigration reform, LGBTQ+, and economic justice. The movement itself is all about awareness and peaceful protest. Using social media activism as its primary source of informing the masses, drawing attention, and calling for justice it has always used peaceful means to communicate a powerful message.



The reason BLM was highlighted in the discussion of Kwanzaa during this weeks Mindful Movement Monday is simple…


Kwanzaa came about after the Watts riot as a means to unite black communities and bring us together in our fight for equality and justice. The movement came after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin to unite the black community to stand together to fight the injustice of police killings.


The 7 principles of Kwanzaa are seen in the mission statement of BLM (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, faith). All throughout the world the 40 chapters and extended organizations are doing the work and bringing us together for a cause and purpose. The relationships formed and community created will continue to strengthen us and we will rise!


So my beautiful people join me this year in celebrating Kwanzaa and coming together (even virtually. Together we will remind ourselves, going into this New Year, WHO WE ARE and WHAT WE WILL BUILD AND CREATE TOGETHER. We are a beautiful force kissed by God why else would they want to suppress us? So let’s do it big and continue to support these powerful movements on the front lines. Per usual I have your recommendations below, make sure you jump on these. We are also looking forward to hosting Ms. Terri B Williams Find Your Fire next month all about groundbreakers and movement makers so join us for this exclusive one on one with the author. Looking forward to sharing tomorrow with you…

--Be Free

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