While most Americans last week were storing away Christmas memories for another year, a growing number of blacks were opening giftsand affirming political principlesat parties and feasts observing a new festival named Kwanza. Drawing heavily on traditional African harvest festivals for inspiration, Kwanza (which means "first fruits" in Swahili) is a seven-day ceremony that winds up with a lavish celebration on New Year's Eve.
Kwanza came into existence about five years ago, spurred on by Maulana Ron Karenga,* head of the black nationalist organization called US. "He saw that black people here had no holidays of their own," says Imamu Clyde Halisi, national chairman of US, "and felt that holidays give a people a sense of identity and direction." Although many of the blacks who celebrate Kwanza no longer take part in Christmas festivities, they insist that the new holiday is not intended to be a replacement for Christmas. Instead, says Muminina Jaribu, a member of the Committee for a Unified Newark, it is a "time of making commitments to the liberation of our people."
The observance of Kwanza centers on intensive family discussions each evening of one of the seven "basic values" stressed during the holiday: unity, self-determination, cooperative economics, collective work and responsibility, faith, purpose and creativity.
Emphasis is upon the children, who receive most of the gifts and are asked to make a commitment of some sort improving their grades, for example. During the following year's celebration, if their marks are better, they are rewarded with extra gifts. Why hold the holiday at a time of year that is already crowded with festivities? "It begins December 26," says Halisi, "so we'll be in a position to benefit from the after-Christmas sales."
* Currently serving a one-to-ten-year prison sentence for torturing two women followers whom he suspected of plotting against him.