Kwanzaa— the weeklong holiday celebrating African heritage—comes from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza “first fruits” and is a source of craft collectibles now.
The holiday was the creation in 1966 of Maulana Karenga, a professor of Africana Studies at California State University-Long Beach. It was a time of ever-increasing civil-rights and black-nationalist movements. The aim of Kwanzaa, Karenga explained in an essay, was “to give a Black alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and history.”
While the celebration coincides with the Christian holiday of Christmas and the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, Kwanzaa marks the first winter harvest in Africa and features activities such as candle-lighting and pouring of libations and culminates in a feast and gift giving.
Forty-two years after the first Kwanzaa, the holiday, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, is widely observed with large celebrations like Kwanzaa Fest 2008 held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the California African-American Museum in Los Angeles.
Kwanzaa is rich in symbol and ceremony, which has helped to create a raft of collectibles associated with the holiday.
The celebration is built around “Seven Principles”—umoja—unity, kujichangulia—self-determination, ujima—collective will and responsibility, ujamaa—cooperative economics, nia—purpose, kuumba—generosity and imani—faith.
In celebrating Kwanzaa, families decorate their homes with African art and handiwork and set out the holiday’s seven symbols. There is Mazao—the crops, which is usually represented by fruit. Mkeka—the mat—symbolizes tradition and history. Kinara—the candleholder —represents family and tradition. Along with Muhindi—the corn—and Mishumaa Saba—seven candles representing the Seven Principles. Finally there is Kikombe cha Umoja—the Unity Cup—and Zawadi—gifts for the children.
Kwanzaa has become a focal point for African artisanal carving, jewelry and cloth prints.
You can find candleholders with hand-carved themes in African red mahogany for about $200.
The Afrikan Djeli Import Warehouse, located in Atlanta, offers African fabric prints and jewelry at modest prices. A cowry-shell necklace is $10, and fabrics run $6 to $10 a yard.
The Kwanzaa Shop has an appealing range of holiday items.
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