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OPINION: Matunda ya kwanzaa or first fruits

by Robert Box | January 5, 2022 at 5:25 a.m.

Christmas is over and a new year is beginning, but it also is a start of Kwanzaa. Most of us know about the Jewish celebration of Hanukah and the Christian celebration of Jesus' birthday, but many do not know nor understand Kwanzaa. It is the only non-religious holiday in December and is meant to honor African Americans' ancestral roots. It is a seven-day observance which ends on January 1. In deference to African Americans here and across our country, let me take this opportunity to enlighten us about its meaning.

Its name comes from the Swahili phrase "matunda ya kwanzaa," which means "first fruits," and was created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a Black nationalist and professor of Pan-American studies at California State University. It first became popular in conjunction with the Black Power movement of the 1980s, but has become better defined by "Nguzo Saba," or its seven principles. Each of the seven days is marked by lighting a new candle on the kinara, a seven-branched candelabra. Kwanzaa is not as widely celebrated today as it once was, but its principles are worth examining.

UMOJA means unity in Swahili. As the first principle, its adherents are to "strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race."

KUJICHAGULIA, the second principle means "self-determination." It refers to defining, naming, creating, and speaking for oneself.

UJIMA, the third principle, is best translated as "collective work and responsibility." It refers to uplifting your community, to "build and maintain our community together and make our brother's and sister's problems our problems and to solve them together."

UJAMAA, the fourth principle, talks about cooperative economics. It is similar to ujima, but refers to uplifting your community economically. "To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together."

NIA, the fifth principle, means "purpose." Karenga (the creator of Kwanzaa) says it is "to make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness."

KUUMBA, the sixth principle, means "creativity." It is "to do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than when we inherited it."

IMANI, the seventh principle, translates to "faith." Karenga defines this as faith in community, writing, "To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle."

Frankly, while I'm not too big on non-religious holidays during December and the use of strange words that I cannot pronounce, I like the sound of words like cooperation, purpose, creativity, and faith. Although I'm sure that Kwanzaa is not widely celebrated today among African Americans, it's easy to commend its organizers for the strength and dignity reflected in its seven principles; and I'm pleased to be able to provide this insight into Kwanzaa.

On the other hand, my wish and my prayer is for all people living in America to remember that while we each have our heritage and traditions, we are all a part of the human race and proud to be Americans. I resonate with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous sermon in which he says, "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal ... I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.

Print Headline: Matunda ya kwanzaa, or first fruits


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