Thursday, December 26, 2013

Kwanzaa: A Holiday Ignoring Geography, History and Implying All Africans are the Same

Kwanzaa is a secular holiday created  in the United States by Dr. Maulana Karenga in order to promote pan-Africanism.  To do this, Kwanzaa stresses certain Swahili-titled principles.

Swahili is a pidgin language combining several East African languages and Arabic.  It was invented by Arab traders to communicate better with their East African customers (interestingly enough, the Arab slave trade was a key driver of the language's development).  Today Swahili is spoken by people mostly in Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, and Mozambique.

Map of where Swahili is  spoken. From Stanford University.
However, most African-Americans are descendants of those who were brought over in the Euro-American-African slave trade.  This slave trade targeted west Africans.

West Africans to the Americas and Europe.  East Africans to the Muslim homeland.  From Slave Voyages.
Kwanzaa ignores this cross-continental divide in peoples' cultures.  European regimes are rightly blamed for ignoring cultures when cutting apart African; yet this holiday does the same sin in principle.   This would be like me trying to promote the impact Irish-Americans have had in the United States by making a holiday using the Gagauz language.

The person who invented Kwanzaa was born Ronald McKinley Everett.  Everett changed his name to "Maulana Karenga" which in Swahili means "Master Teacher Keeper of Tradition". Dr. Karenga is an outsider who rebelled against the current system (both in America in general and specifically African-American society) and created the Kwanzaa myth to oppose the current system and promote himself, much like members of the American Indian Movement and those who support Siouxification.  These myths are harmful because they rob the rich diversity of the truth for an outsider who tries to use these myths for radical means.

3 comments:

M.L. Hayes said...

This is how I see it. With Blacks in the USA, I don't know a single Black person who celebrates Kwanzaa. Vast majority of Blacks I know, both from Africa and the USA celebrate Christmas. At the same time, there is something else to consider. Black people in the USA were basically extinguished of every bit of their original heritage from Africa. I would consider this. Africans who come to the USA know have a sense of themselves and know who they are. Africans will tell me they come from the Kikuyu people, the Akan, Ashanti, Fulani, Hausa, Ibo, Wolof, Luo, Hutu, etc. They have a sense of themselves, therefore, felt no need to create something like Kwanzaa. I think with Dr. Karenga, the idea under which Kwanzaa was created came as a result of not having a sense of one's self.

Alot of Black Americans don't have that sense of themselves because they don't even know which ethnic group their ancestors came from. White Americans often don't have to worry about that. It was never make sense to promote the impact of Irish Americans based on a holiday using the Gagauz language. At the same time, most White who have Irish ancestry often know it.

The way I see it, Kwanzaa was created because there were those who lacked a sense of themselves, of who they were, and looked for a way to reconcile this. Rather, it is important to understand the conditions of which such a holiday was created. Does Kwanzaa obscure the fact that Black Americans are descended from West African peoples? Yes it does, from that standard. It would not make sense for someone of West African descent to use an East African language to describe the impact on their culture, unless it actually had an impact on their culture. At the very same time, there should be things to consider. Why did some Black Americans feel the need to reference a culture they had no connection with to begin with? What kind of conditions would exist for such things to take place?

And one other thing. What did you mean by "outsider"?

Catholicgauze said...

M.L. Hayes,
Very good points. Cultural and self-awareness of historical background of African-Americans has been destroyed so much that there is a movement to grasp at anything.
By outsider I mean the following. Dr. Karenga was once described by a fellow academic as a "loser" in the pecking-order hierarchy in universities. After a quick rise as a student he had difficulty in obtaining leadership in the mainstream civil rights-arena and his research wasn't getting published.

He became more radical and sought out circles that would accept him. However, he "feel off the table" and wound up not changing racist laws but battling radical groups like the Black Panthers. The US Organization even killed some panthers.

M.L. Hayes said...

I didn't know anything about Dr. Karenga until now.

As for Kwanzaa, I never gave Kwanzaa much thought, being a Christian, and someone who celebrates Christmas. The cultural geography of all of this does put it into perspective. It would not make sense to attribute East African traditions into a holiday celebrating West African heritage, unless such influences were actually prevalent.

People will try to forge whatever identity they can if their original heritage has basically been ripped from them, to the point of oblivion. In this case, this was an attempt for Blacks to take the best of what African traditions had to offer, and make it their own.