For many people the month of December signifies a time to celebrate. Jews have Hanukkah. Christians have Christmas. Blacks of all religions have Kwanzaa. But make no mistake, Kwanzaa is a holiday, not a holy day. Created in 1966 by California State University professor/activist Maulana Karenga, the seven-day observance, which begins December 26, is based on established African harvest festivities and is meant to promote unity among blacks and preserve their culture.
Rich with simple rituals and moments of reflection, each day of Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits of the harvest," commemorates one of seven principles. Much like Hanukkah observers, celebrants of Kwanzaa light a candle daily and place it on a candleholder known as a kinara. Umoja, the Swahili word for unity, is memorialized the first day. Other principles include nia (purpose), kuumba (creativity), and imani (faith). Black, red, and green are the holiday's official colors symbolizing the face of blacks, the blood they have shed, and the color of the motherland. A feast usually occurs on the last day of December and gifts that are handmade, educational, and artistic often are exchanged between parent and child on New Year's day.
As the masses swarm the mall to return gifts or take advantage of slashed prices the day after Christmas, 30-year-old theater troupe M Ensemble Company will present its Blessings of Kwanzaa Celebration. Singers, actors, drummers, dancers, and musicians will take part in the event, and a soul-food feast, art auction, and fashion show also will be featured. Playing ancestral and jazz-tinged world beat tunes will be local mbira (African thumb piano) player Jomo. The Roots and Culture Dance Ensemble will join him to perform reggae, African, and Afro-Caribbean dances. R&B act the Hush Brothers and Tallahassee-based musician and master storyteller Olusegun will appear as well.
"The best part about Kwanzaa is knowing that we have a common heritage that we can be proud of," says Doran Cooper, M Ensemble "member for life" and public-relations director. And the best reason to throw the big bash? "It's an opportunity to present the African-American heritage to the general community and also to contribute to South Florida's lusty mix of cultural offerings."