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This festive cookbook captures the true spirit of the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, providing more than 50 recipes in menus for each night of Kwanzaa, plus inspirational biographies of ancestors of the African-Atlantic world and special projects for each of the seven days. Illustrations.
The First Night: Umoja (Unity)
On the first night of the holiday, as on all nights of the holiday, the celebration begins with the asking of the question Habari gani? (What's the news?) The answer is the principle of the day. As this is the first day of the holiday, the response is Umoja. The lighting of one of the seven candles on the kinara and the pouring of libation from the kikombe cha umoja follow the asking of the question. On this, the first day of the holiday, the black candle at the center of the kinara is lighted. As the candle is lighted, the person lighting the candle should discuss what the principle of Umoja means. After the candle is lighted, tambiko (libation) is poured to the four cardinal points of the globe. (The pouring of the libation may accompany the saluting of the ancestors with a name called for each of the cardinal points of the compass.) Finally, the communal cup is passed around and the celebrants should sip from it. (If health concerns make sharing a cup inappropriate, then miming a sip is perfectly acceptable.) While tambiko is poured, or as the cup is passed, the ancestors are saluted.
Tonight is the night we celebrate the spirit of Umoja (unity).
Tonight and all nights of the year we celebrate the spirits of those who have gone before, who represent the values of Umoja.
We celebrate the spirits of:
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana
Mae Aninha of Ile Axe Opo Afonja in Brazil
Marcus Garvey of Jamaica
Mary McLeod Bethune of the United States
____________________________________(your family selection[s])
and the spirits of all otherty, in your own celebration.
Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana (1909-1972)
Born in Nkroful in the Western Province of the British Gold Coast (now Ghana), Kwame Nkrumah was the son of a goldsmith. In the traditions of his people, he was named Kwame because he was born on a Saturday. Nkrumah was educated in colonial schools and trained as a teacher at Achimota College. He taught for five years and then journeyed to the United States, where he enrolled at all-Black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He attended Lincoln for seven years, receiving Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Theology degrees. At the same time he also attended the University of Pennsylvania and received Master of Science and Master of Arts degrees. Nkrumah financed his schooling by working as an unskilled laborer.
Upon completion of his schooling, Nkrumah went to England and became active in anticolonialist Pan-African politics. He was invited to return to Ghana as the secretary of the Gold Coast Convention in 1947. For nine years, Nkrumah fought for the independence of his country. On March 6, 1957, Nkrumah became the prime minister of a state that was renamed Ghana in honor of the ancient African empire. Ghana was the first Black African country to gain its independence from colonial rule. In 1960, a republic was declared and Nkrumah became Ghana's first elected president. Political upheavals followed and Nkrumah was overthrown by a coup in 1966. He died in exile in 1972, yet was buried with full honors at his birthplace. We salute Kwame Nkrumah tonight because he was one of the founding fathers of contemporary Africa.
We salute the spirit of Kwame Nkrumah tonight because as one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism, he left us the task of attaining the unity of all peoples of African descent throughout the world.
Mae Aninha (Eugenia Anna dos Santos) of Brazil (1869-1938)
Born July 13, 1869, Eugenia Anna dos Santos lived in a Brazil where slavery was still legal. (It would only be abolished finally in that country in 1888.) The daughter of two Africans of the Grunci nation who had been brought to the city of Salvador da Bahia de Todos os Santos (Bahia), Brazil, she grew up knowing firsthand the poverty and the despair of slavery in the hemisphere. As a youngster, she was initiated into the religion of her ancestors, a religion that celebrated venerated ancestors and the African forces of nature called orixas in the Yoruba language spoken in Brazil. She was initiated as a votary of the orixa Xango Ogodo and Afonja. Her initiation name in the Yoruba of her ancestors was Oba Biyi, which signaled her devotion to Xango. She studied with her elders and was invited to become a part of the Candomblé of Engenho Velho, better known as Casa Branca. However, following a disagreement over ritual matters, Mae Aninha left the Candomblé and founded her own house.
Later she would purchase land in São Gonçalo do Retiro, then on the outskirts of town, where she would establish her own religious community under the name of Ile Axe Opo Afonja. This community, like Casa Branca from which it sprang and numerous others throughout Brazil, is a living witness to the continuity of African values in the hemisphere. Mae Aninha and others like her throughout the hemisphere maintained their unity with Africa in their praises, saluting the gods of their ancestors and the spirits of their forbears; these New World keepers of Mother Africa's spiritual flames are also links in our chain of unity. Neither politician nor Pan-Africanist, Mae Aninha of Brazil lived the virtues of unity.
We salute the spirit of Eugenia Anna dos Santos (Mae Aninha) tonight as one who was a link in the golden chain that binds us eternally to the continent of our ancestors. We salute her personal vision of the spiritual unity of Africa and the Americas, one that gives us a view to the future while remembering the past.
Marcus Garvey of Jamaica (1887-1940)
Born at Saint Ann's Bay, Jamaica, on August 17, 1887, Marcus Moziah Garvey spent his youth as an apprentice printer learning firsthand what it meant to be poor and black in colonial Jamaica. Later, while working as a printer, he crystallized the ideas that would lead him, in 1911, to found a small organization with a big name and an even bigger impact: The United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The organization was dedicated to the idea that political, military, and economic independence was the only way that the New World's peoples of African origin could uplift themselves. Garvey called for self-reliance for Africans, "at home and abroad."
By 1916, Jamaica had become too small a forum for his then radical ideas, and Garvey, after traveling in Central and South America, settled in New York's Harlem, where he founded another branch of the UNIA. He began to speak of a "Back to Africa" movement. The UNIA grew in size as discussion of repatriation to Africa became a watchword for many African-Americans. With contributions from interested people, Garvey established a newspaper, Negro World, opened branches of the UNIA throughout the country, and even formed the Black Star Line, a steamship company designed to transport descendants back to Africa. It was not to be. Garvey's negotiations with the state of Liberia fell through and legal and financial difficulties ensued, resulting in Garvey's being jailed for mail fraud in 1925. He was deported to Jamaica in 1927 and died in London in 1940.
We salute the spirit of Marcus Moziah Garvey tonight because he dared to dream self-reliance and the unity of all Africans at home and abroad. We salute him because he took steps to fulfill that dream and because he left us his dream to attain.
Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955)
Born near the cotton fields of Mayesville, South Carolina, to former slaves, Mary McLeod Bethune was one of seventeen children. Her parents instilled in her a lifelong love for education by selecting her as the only one of their children to be sent to school. It was felt that she would, in turn, teach her sisters and brothers. She attended local schools and then Scotia College in North Carolina and Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. She honored her promise and taught her siblings. She so took to teaching that, as a young woman, she moved to Daytona, Florida, and founded her own school for African-American women with $1.50 in cash, five students, and a rented cottage. She drilled her students in basic academics and religion and insisted on giving them skills that would enable them to find work once they left. By 1923 the school numbered a student body of 300 and had a staff of twenty-five. It would ultimately become Bethune-Cookman College.
Mary McLeod Bethune was an active clubwom an with a particular interest in giving African-American women a voice. To that end, she founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935 and served as the organization's president until 1949. An adviser to presidents, Bethune directed the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. As the first African-American woman to head a federal office, she was a force in F.D.R.'s Washington, working to remind leaders of the African-American political presence.
We salute the spirit of Mary McLeod Bethune tonight because she taught us the virtues of dreaming and of making those dreams become reality. We salute her tonight, for although she had much, she reached back in her family and beyond her family to her community and her race to bring people together under the banner of unity. We salute her tonight because she said, "Look at me. I am black. I am beautiful."
The menu celebrating Umoja is a multinational supper celebrating the union of all peoples of African descent throughout the world, from Texas to Tunis, Savannah to Salvador da Bahia, and New York to Nigeria.
Fresh Greens with Avocado and Raspberries
Light Soy/Sesame Dressing
Mechoui-Style Leg of Lamb with Cumin, Mint, and Chile
Mint Nectarine Chutney
Orzo with Slivered Almonds
Plain Cake with Drambuie Apricot Sauce
Classic Rum Punch
Serves 6 to 8
In Brazil, olives frequently appear on the table as appetizers to heighten the a ppetite before a meal. This is probably a part of the nation's Lusitanian heritage.
In North America, the olives are frequently the canned variety. They are given additional flavor and zest by adding herbs and spices to them and allowing them to take on new flavors. This is one variation; you can use your own favorite seasonings to create a variety that is all your own.
1 pound canned ripe olives, drained
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced fresh habanero or other hot chile, to taste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Drain the olives and prick each one several times with the point of a sharp knife or a fork.
Place all of the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix them together well with a wooden spoon, making sure that all of the seasonings are well distributed. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Serve chilled.
The olives will keep for a week or so in the refrigerator, if they last that long.
Driving into the Ourika Valley outside of Marrakesh, Morocco, one may be stopped along the way by small boys selling geodes. When these dull rocks are broken open, They reveal crystalline forms of amethyst and other brilliant delights. The same young boys also sell almonds, wonderful almonds that have a taste like those nowhere else on earth, The same almonds can be purchased, raw, roasted, or sugar-toasted, at the vendors' stalls in Marrakesh's Djema el Fna, the legendary square where jugglers and itinerant dentists, merchants, and magicians meet.
Almonds frequently turn up in the cooking of Morocco. Here, thou gh, they're just blanched and then pan-roasted to a golden brown for a before-dinner nibble.
2 cups shelled almonds
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
Salt to taste (optional)
Place 4 cups of water in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Plunge the almonds into the boiling water and allow them to boil for 2 minutes.
Drain the almonds and, when slightly cooled, slip the brown skins from the almond kernels with your hands. Discard the skins and reserve the kernels.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy cast-iron skillet. Add half of the almonds to the skillet and toast them in the oil, stirring occasionally, until they are golden brown. Drain them on paper towels. Repeat the process with the remaining olive oil and the other half of the almonds. Salt the almonds to taste, if desired, by placing them in a plastic bag with some salt and shaking them until they are evenly coated. Serve warm.
The almonds will keep for a few weeks in the refrigerator, but they are better when prepared fresh, so make small batches.
Fresh Greens with Avocado and Raspberries
Serves 6 to 8
Many people of African descent are meat- and potato-eaters, preferring to get their vegetables in slow-cooked stews and soups. With today's concerns about healthy eating, though, salads are coming to the fore and we're using ingredients from around the world in testimony to the increasing internationality of the African diaspora.
This salad is a simple one of light fresh greens, tropical avocados, and the sweet surprise of forced winter raspberries. It's dressed with a light dressing prepared with a hint of sesame oil.
3 medium-sized heads Boston lettuce
2 ri pe Hass avocados
1 small sweet onion
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
Light Soy/Sesame Dressing
Wash and clean the lettuce. Discard the tough outside leaves, pick over each leaf to remove brown spots and dirt, and tear the lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces. Pat the leaves dry on paper towels and place them in a large glass salad bowl.
Peel and pit the avocados, cut them into 1-inch dice, and add them to the salad bowl.
Peel the onion and cut it crosswise into very thin slices. Separate the slices into rings and add them to the salad bowl as well.
Finally, wash the raspberries, picking over them to remove any spoiled ones, and add them to the salad bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and serve immediately.
Light Soy/Sesame Dressing
1/3 cup light low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup light rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons water
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place all of the ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk them until they are well mixed. (The sugar is to cut the tartness of the vinegar, and you may find that you want a bit more or less depending on the type of rice wine vinegar you use.) When the ingredients are well mixed, drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.
Mechoui-Style Leg of Lamb with Cumin, Mint, and Chile
Serves 6 to 8
In Senegal, West Africa, in a small restaurant in Les Almadies called Chez M'Baye M'Barrik, I first tasted the dish called Mechoui. This festive dish of spit-roasted lamb is traditional in much of the Magreb and has made its way down to Senegal. At the resta urant, diners are presented with a whole roasted baby lamb and they pick off succulent bits to eat with their fingers. I've had variations of this wonderful dish in Senegal, in Tunisia, and in Morocco. In each place, the dish is slightly differently seasoned, as the tastes of the region and indeed of the country influence the taste of the Mechoui.
This is a variation on the Mechoui theme that I've come up with. It uses a leg of lamb and a dry marinade combining the North African tastes of mint and cumin with the sub-Saharan African taste of chile. Leftovers can be used to make a quick dish of curried lamb.
1 (4- to 5-pound) shank end half leg of lamb
3 cloves garlic, slivered
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon powdered cumin
2 tablespoons dried mint
1/8 teaspoon powdered habanero chile or other hot chile powder, or to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim all excess fat and the fell from the lamb, then pierce the lamb skin with 15 or so small incisions. Insert the garlic slivers into the slits. Slather the olive oil over the lamb and rub it in with your hands. Place the salt, black pepper, cumin, mint, and chile in a spice grinder and pulse until they are well mixed. Then pat them over the lamb, covering the entire leg well. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan.
Place the lamb in the oven and allow it to roast at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350 degrees and continue to roast the lamb for an additional hour, or until the internal temperature registers 140 degrees for rare, 150 degrees for medium, or 160 degrees for well done on a meat thermometer. (Cooki ng times will vary according to the shape of the lamb and the heat of your oven.)
Allow the meat to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, then carve and serve. You'll be eating your mechoui-style leg of lamb with a knife and fork, but it will be tastier and more tender if you carve it parallel to the bone in long thin slices.
Mint Nectarine Chutney
Makes About 2 Cups
When I was a child, roast lamb was never served without the accompanying mint jelly. The combination of the coolness of the mint and the taste of the lamb was just perfect.
Today the habit of eating spicy condiments with roasted meats is growing in the African-Atlantic world. The mint jelly of my childhood has given way to numerous condiments, some hot, some fiery, some spicy. This chutney is one that I have been playing around with since 1985, when I wrote a book about peppers and chiles around the world called Hot Stuff. In this version the freshness of the mint is highlighted with the taste of nectarines and given a bit of kick with hot chile.
1 bunch fresh mint leaves (approximately ten 3-inch-long sprigs)
3 large, firm nectarines, peeled, pitted, and coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh habanero or other hot chile, or to taste
1 piece fresh ginger (1 inch), scraped
2 cloves garlic
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
Wash the mint, pull the leaves from the tough stems, and place the leaves in the bowl of a food processor, discarding stems. Add the nectarines, chile, ginger, garlic, and onion and pulse until you have a thick paste. (You may have to drizzle in a bit of the vinegar to get the mixture going.) Continu e to pulse until all of the ingredients are pulverized.
Place the paste in a medium-sized nonreactive saucepan and add the remaining vinegar and the sugar, stirring them in well to make sure that they are evenly mixed. Place the saucepan on the heat and bring it slowly to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the chutney has thickened and taken on a jamlike consistency. Be careful not to let the bottom of the chutney burn or stick to the saucepan during the final minutes of cooking.
When the chutney is ready, spoon it into scalded glass jars, allow it to cool, and refrigerate it until it is to be served. The chutney is particularly good with lamb, but will go well with any roasted or grilled meat. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
Orzo with Slivered Almonds
Serves 6 to 8
Cooking rice is a fine art. While it would seem simple to many, it is all too easy to transform the delicate disk into a coagulated glob of white paste. With this in mind, I sometimes cheat by using orzo, the rice-shaped pasta, for white rice. In this case, I jazz up the orzo with the addition of some slivers of almonds and a dash of orange-flower water. (You can keep a few pan-roasted almonds back from the hungry hordes after you've prepared the appetizer.)
5 quarts water
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 (1-pound) box orzo
1/4 cup Pan-Roasted Almonds, slivered
1/2 teaspoon orange-flower water (optional)
Orange segments, for garnish
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Bring the water and olive oil to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. Then add the slivered almonds and continue to cook for 3 minutes, or until the orzo is completely cooked. Drain the orzo and, if you choose, sprinkle it with the orange-flower water. Serve hot, garnished with orange segments and parsley.
Drambuie Apricot Sauce
Makes About 2 Cups
I am not a dessert eater by nature. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I noticed that visitors to my home were not terribly happy when at the end of the meal I happily presented them with a good cup of coffee and a fresh fruit salad. I've learned my lesson and have been truly humbled.
The African-American way with sweets is serious, and folks want dessert! I'm still not a dessert fan, but I've learned a whole bagful of tricks that will produce a dessert to make any sugar freak smile with delight. This thick apricot-based sauce redolent of Drambuie is one of them. It's excellent when served with a plain yellow cake. You can make your cake from scratch or from a doctored-up mix, or you can buy one from the local bakery.
1 cup dried apricots
2 tablespoons apricot nectar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons Drambuie liqueur, or to taste
Place the dried apricots in a saucepan, add water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Then lower the heat and allow the apricots to simmer for 10 minutes, or until they are plumped. Drain the apricots and snip them into small pieces with kitchen shears, and set them aside.
Place the apricot nectar, lemon juice, apricot preserves, and Drambuie in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until you have a thick syrup.
Remove the syrup to a bowl, add the snipped apricots, and stir them in so that each piece is well coated with the li quid.
The sauce can be refrigerated for half an hour and served chilled, or it can be placed in a saucepan and warmed. Either way, it transforms plain cake into something special.
Classic Rum Punch
Rum is the classical beverage of the Caribbean. No self-respecting Guyanese, Haitian, Jamaican, or Trinidadian party would ever think of beginning without at least one bottle of rum on the table. Rum is a part of those of us who were brought to those shores; They were brought to work the cane and the cane produced the rum. It is only fitting that on the first night of Kwanzaa, those who partake of alcohol celebrate unity with those from the Caribbean region with a glass of rum.
In much of the Caribbean area, the first rum out of the bottle is traditionaliy poured on the ground for the ancestors. A Caribbean friend of mine tells tales of how her mother despaired of ever having a living room rug because her father insisted that the area around his chair be free from encumbrances so that he could pour his rum onto the floor. You may use the first pouring of your bottle tonight in the kikombe cha umoja to salute the spirits of all of those who went before, whether from the Caribbean region or not. With the rest, why not prepare a classic rum punch? The popular saying goes:One of sour
Two of sweet
Three of strong
Four of weak
The sour is freshly squeezed lime juice. The sweet is sugar or sugar syrup. The strong is the rum. (Purchase the best you can afford; yes, there is a difference!) The weak is water to round it off. Whether for a single drink or a vat, the one, two, three, four system will keep you on the ri ght track. Drink moderately: it goes down easy but it packs a true kick!
One of the aims of Kwanzaa is to bring together families and friends in productive ways. To this end, each night will conclude with a project. The project can be done on the night or it can be done at any time during the holiday or the year to culminate in a Kwanzaa gift for the following year.
On the first night of Kwanzaa Umoja, family unity, is saluted with the creation of a cookbook of family favorites. Most of us know only too well that we never ask for the recipe for something until it is too late. When grandma's gone, we wish we knew how to make her beaten biscuits. When Aunt Dorcas moves away, we wish we had watched exactly how she fluted the edges of her pies.
Begin this first night of Kwanzaa by making a conscious effort to write down the favorite recipes of your family. Have each family member select a favorite recipe to work on. Start by using the blank pages in this book. Then, collect the recipes on sheets of paper to be kept in a file folder or a blank book. Add to the collection throughout the year as holidays and birthdays and special family times bring new recipes to mind. At the end of the year, make copies and present them to other family members: a child going away to college, those leaving for another town. Keep the project growing and developing. It will help to keep the family together and it will preserve your traditions for another generation.
Copyright © 1995 by Jessica B. Harris
|What Is Kwanzaa?||13|
|Preparing for Kwanzaa||19|
|The First Night: Umoja (Unity)||29|
|The Second Night: Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)||49|
|The Third Night: Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility)||69|
|The Fourth Night: Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics)||87|
|The Fifth Night: Nia (Purpose)||107|
|The Sixth Night: Kuumba (Creativity)||127|
|The Seventh Night: Imani (Faith)||153|
What Is Kwanzaa?
Those who think that holidays are days steeped in centuries-old tradition are always surprised to hear that the African-American feast of Kwanzaa was established in 1966. That was the year Maulana Karenga decided that African-Americans needed a time of cultural reaffirmation. He looked east to Africa, East Africa, and came up with a celebration that is a compilation of several harvest festivals and celebrations that are held throughout the continent. The name Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili word kwanza, meaning "first," as in the phrase matunda ya kwanza (first fruits). The second "a" distinguishes the African-American from the African kwanza. An apocryphal tale is told that during one of the early Kwanzaa celebrations, a children's pageant was held, with each child holding up a card with the letters of the word kwanza, which at that time was spelled with one "a." One child was left, letterless and weeping, at the end of the row. A second "a" was quickly produced, the day was saved, and the holiday was forever after known as Kwanzaa.
Occurring annually from December 26 to January 1, Kwanzaa is a time of fasting, of feasting, and of self-examination. It was at first celebrated mainly by cultural nationalists who wished to express their Pan-African solidarity. Yet, as word of the new holiday and its family-strengthening virtues spread, African-Americans from all walks of life began to celebrate the seven nights of reflection. Today, over 13 million people of all political leanings and in all walks of life celebrate the holiday, one of the fastest growing in the history of the world. The roots of Kwanzaa are in Africa, but the fruits of the tree are truly African-American. Ironically, some of its fruits are reaching back to the motherland from which it sprang as Kwanzaa is celebrated in more and more countries.
Although Kwanzaa is celebrated at the end of the year at the same time as the Christian celebration of Christmas, the Hindu celebration of Divali, the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, and traditional New Year's celebrations, it is not designed as an alternative to or replacement for any of the holidays. Kwanzaa may be celebrated jointly with any or all of the year-end holidays. More importantly, it also offers a time for reflection and self-affirmation, in contrast with the rampant commercialization that has overtaken some of the other holidays.
The celebration of Kwanzaa is guided by the Nguzo Saba or Seven Principles. Each day of the week-long festival is devoted to the celebration of one of these building blocks of self-awareness.
Ujima Collective Work and Responsibility
Ujamaa Cooperative Economics
The mystical number seven is at the core of the celebration; there are seven days, seven principles, and even seven symbols of the festival. The symbols are the mazao, the fruits and vegetables of the harvest that are a part of the celebration table; the mkeka, the placemat on which they are arranged, and the kinara, the seven-branched candlestick that holds the red, black, and green candles, the mishumaa saba, that are lighted each evening. There are also the muhindi, the ears of corn that represent each child still remaining at home; the kikombe cha umoja, the communal chalice from which the ceremonial libation is poured; and the zawadi, the gifts.
Kwanzaa is essentially a family holiday, whether it be the nuclear family, the extended family, or the communal family. Each evening of the holiday, family members gather around the celebration table to read the Seven Principles and meditate on the principle of the day while the youngest child lights one of the candles. Visitors to the home are asked to participate as the brief nightly ceremony is held, the candles lighted, and libation poured from the communal cup.
There are as many different types of Kwanzaa as there are types of families in the African-American community. African-Americans are known for improvisation; our virtuoso turns have created musical forms that have made the entire world sing and dance. Our artistic endeavors have redefined western art forms. Wherever we have stepped, our transformational and improvisational skills have changed the country and the hemisphere in domains as wide-ranging as retail sales and cooking, music, and language. In our world, there's always room for improvisation; it would be impossible for us not to improvise on the themes of Kwanzaa.
So we ring in changes and create new riffs on our own holiday. There are single Kwanzaas, celebrated by individuals with friends and neighbors; nuclear family Kwanzaas with mommy, daddy, and the kids gathering each evening to light the candles. There are single-parent Kwanzaas, extended-family Kwanzaas, neighborhood Kwanzaas, and even community Kwanzaas. Each celebration brings something else to the kaleidoscope of possibilities that is the holiday.
While the basic Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) remain unchanged, celebrants are open to find the way to the holiday that best expresses their individuality. Some followers of Kwanzaa fast from sunrise to sunset during the seven days, as with the Muslim Ramadan. Needless to say, this makes the gathering for the evening meal more celebratory. Others invite different friends in to celebrate throughout the seven days, or have gatherings to remind the children of the family of the seven principles. Still others celebrate Kwanzaa without even knowing that they're doing it. All of those New Year's Eve gatherings and New Year's Day open houses fall right into the category of the Kwanzaa gatherings, whatever they're called. All that are missing are the mazao, and the mkeka, the kinara with the mishumaa saba, the muhindi, the kikombe cha umoja, and the zawadi.
The Kwanzaa that you will find between these pages is my personal Kwanzaa; an individual riff that can be embroidered at your whim. My aunt Clara always used to say, "You don't have a holiday, you have to make a holiday." In this she spoke the truth. The personal meaning of each and every holiday comes from the manner and commitment with which the celebrants choose to participate in it.
My Kwanzaa is informed by two main factors in my life: family and ritual. My family has always been the nucleus of my being. Pride in my parents, their accomplishments, their perseverence, their ability to survive in a world that was not always kind, and a desire to live up to their standards have been strong motivating factors.
I am also an individual steeped in a love of history and tradition. As a teacher, I believe it is important that we know about our past. As an internationalist, I believe it is important that we know about the cultures of peoples of African descent around the globe. As a spiritual being, I believe it is important that we honor those who went before so that we build on their deeds in creating our own future.
I am a newcomer to the holiday of Kwanzaa, but when I look at the holiday, I realize that I've been celebrating it all of my adult life in my own personal way. I've been out of sync, but I've been in the spirit. My personal celebration has taken place on only one of the days of the holiday: January 1. On that day, I open my home to friends old and new, to relatives, and to new acquaintances whose spirits speak to me. Over the eighteen or so years that it's been held, the gathering has grown from a few friends who were invited over to meet my parents to a gathering of fifty or more individuals from around the world.
At last year's celebration, Haitians, Brazilians, Senegalese, Guyanese, Ethiopians, and Americans of all hues gathered to start the year. A Moslem religious leader shared conversation with a Yoruba priestess, while a precocious eleven-year-old offered his views on polygamy to an astonished group of single over-forty women. My eighty-one-year-old mother danced a few vigorous steps to some Zairian soukouss music, while my Uncle Herbie, who's really not my uncle but has known me all of my life, guarded the door. There was a heaping plate of food on the floor in the kitchen for my ancestors, who were called by name in a small Yoruba ceremony just prior to the serving of the food. There was music, food, drink, good times, reflection, and communion. In short, there was Kwanzaa.
The menu has always been selected to salute my African-American ancestry and my international life. Each year there's Hoppin' John for luck and collard greens for folding money. There's also roast pork for sheer colored cussedness. A mixture of okra, corn, and tomatoes is served with hot chile to fire us up for the oncoming year and to remind us of our origins. For internationality, there's always a diaspora dish from the Caribbean, or the Motherland, that changes annually.
The gathering has become so much a part of my celebration of the first of the year that my budget and my life are planned around it. Up until recently, there have been none of the more traditional trappings of Kwanzaa, but the spirit of the celebration -- the physical and spiritual communion of friends, family, neighbors, and new acquaintances -- is exactly what the holiday is about.
As I look around at the African-American community, I find that I have unwittingly allowed myself some leeway because I do not have children. The responsibilities of Kwanzaa, though, extend beyond the family to the extended family and to the community, and there, we all have children. Our children need the sense of specialness that comes from participating in a known and loved ritual. They need the mastery of self-discipline that comes from order. They need the self-awareness that comes from a knowledge of their past. They need Kwanzaa as a tool for building their future and our own.