Kwanzaa gets a cool reception in S. Florida
Kwanzaa gets a cool reception in S. Florida
By Akilah Johnson
December 26, 2001
As Kwanzaa begins today, almost 20
million people around the globe will call out the Swahili greeting, Habari Gani,
or "what's the news?" But many in South Florida will ask a different question:
"What is Kwanzaa?"
Now an American institution, there are books, how-to
videos and workshops on Kwanzaa. The holiday has its own postage stamp and
collectors' coin. The essential hardware, including the kinara, a seven-candle
candelabra, can be bought in major retail stores throughout the
Those who commemorate the nonreligious holiday locally say many
South Floridians have yet to embrace Kwanzaa like those in major black
population centers such as Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis or Detroit.
reason is that myths and misinformation about the holiday flourish throughout
the area, among them the belief that it is an anti-religious, pagan Christmas
alternative or that it is a "too-black" radical political
South Florida's diverse black community contributes to many of
these Kwanzaa misunderstandings, said Dr. Carole Boyce Davies, director of the
African-New World Studies Program at Florida International University. South
Florida's black population includes a significant number of immigrants from the
Caribbean and Latin America, where Kwanzaa is a novel idea that is still gaining
"Kwanzaa celebrations haven't played a part of the Caribbean
experience," Davies said. "Caribbeans here in South Florida came with their own
set of traditions."
That may be changing. Although the context of Kwanzaa
is specific to the United States, the holiday has a growing Pan-African
"Black-power groups use Kwanzaa ideas and events to reaffirm the
African identity in the Caribbean," said Davies, a native of Trinidad.
American invention, Kwanzaa was born out of the whirlwind of social and
political movements of the '60s, created by the often-controversial Dr. Maulana
Karenga, chairman of the Department of Black Studies at California State
University, Long Beach. Karenga sought to foster a sense of black cultural
identity in an era when African-Americans struggled for civil
According to Davies, those with this Afrocentric consciousness
tend to embrace the holiday most.
Others still believe the myth that
Kwanzaa is anti-Christian, "Black Christmas."
"People are apprehensive,"
said James "Akbar" Watson, owner of Pyramid Books in Boynton Beach. "We are
trying to take the fear out of it."
In an effort to promote a better
understanding of Kwanzaa, Watson and members of his Sankofa study group are
offering to bring Kwanzaa into the home and help people with private
celebrations in conjunction with bigger community festivities.
private celebration is the essence of Kwanzaa, which means "first fruits of the
harvest" in Swahili, the most widely spoken language in Africa. Each night,
family and friends gather to light a single candle on the kinara and reflect on
one of the seven principles, or Nguzo Saba. Libations are poured from the unity
cup, the kikombe cha Umoja, and the group discusses how to improve their daily
The intimate celebration is "about bringing spirituality into the
family unit and building a stronger correlation with the immediate family,"
Watson said. "A lot of people are not sure how to bring this new concept to
their families. It can be a little intimidating."
The seven principles of
Kwanzaa are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility,
cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
Although there is a
tri-county push to familiarize black South Florida with Kwanzaa, there are still
those who don't want anything to do with it, said John Anderson, president of
the Kwanzaa Cultural Institute of Hollywood.
"There are those who don't
associate with [Afrocentric] things. They feel they could face repercussions,"
But he said he has faith that if the community continues to have
festivities, Kwanzaa will become more widely known and embraced.
public gathering usually is conducted in a community center. There is drumming,
dancing, singing, storytelling, poetry reading and a reflection and explanation
of the Nguzo Saba. These events generally take place between Dec. 26 and Jan.
"Knowledge travels through enlightened individuals," Anderson said.
"More individuals are becoming aware of the seven principals. In 2010 it'll be a
widely known celebration here."
Akilah Johnson can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5001.
Copyright © 2001, South Florida
Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel