Umoja: Kwanzaa celebration to focus on guiding principal of unity in the community

             Kwanzaa, which is observed Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, is an African-American and Pan-African celebration of family, community and culture. Kwanzaa’s foundation is rooted in its concern with values – values that we integrate in our lives to live meaningful lives. These values inherited by Kwanzaa came from an African philosophy, Kawaida. It is a community focused philosophy which takes the best of African thought and practice and serves as building blocks for community.

            The origins of Kwanzaa are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa, from which the celebration derives its name. The word Kwanzaa is taken from “matunda ya kwanzaa,” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language.

            First-fruits celebrations in Africa go back as far as ancient Egypt and Nubia and appear in ancient and modern times in such African civilizations as Ashantiland and Yorubaland. These celebrations are also found in societies as large as the Zulu empire and as small as the Matabele, Thonga, and Lovedu, all in southeastern Africa.

            Kwanzaa builds on the five fundamental activities of continental African first fruit celebrations: in-gathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment, and celebration. It is a celebration of the good – the good of life and existence, the good of family, community, culture, the good of the awesome and ordinary; in short, a celebration of the good of the divine, natural, and social.

            Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor of African Studies at California State University, Long Beach.  Kwanzaa was initially created to reinforce and introduce seven basic values of African culture.  These values are called the “Nguzo Saba” which in Swahili (a Pan-African language) means Seven Principles. 

            The Seven Principles are: Umoja, unity; Kujichagula, self-determination; Ujima, collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; Kuumba, creativity; and Imani, faith.

            This year the Office of Intercultural Ministry, in collaboration with Ss. Monica and Luke Parish, will have a Kwanzaa Celebration.  The principle that will be this year’s focus is Umoja – unity, to strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.  The celebration is on Sunday, Jan. 3 at Ss. Monica and Luke Church, 645 Rhode Island in Gary.  The celebration begins with Mass at 10 a.m. with Divine Word Father Chester Smith and followed by entertainment and a shared meal.

            Come and learn more about Kwanzaa and celebrate with our Ministry of Black Catholics.  All are welcomed.  For more information call the office of Intercultural Ministry at 397-2125.

            Adeline Torres is director of the Office of Intercultural Ministries for the Diocese of Gary.