Day 4. Ujamaa, #CELEBRATE, Ch. 3

7 Days of Kwanzaa. 7 Excerpts from Chapter 3 of a forthcoming essay series, “#CELEBRATE: Meditations on a Black Festive Culture.”
Day 4. Ujamaa


/ We don’t borrow
from Africa,
we utilize
that which was ours
2 start with.
The culture
provides a basis
4 revolution
+ recovery. / -Maulana Karenga

(7 Days of Kwanzaa. 7 Excerpts from Chapter 3 of a forthcoming essay series, #CELEBRATE: Meditations on a Black Festive Culture)

Chapter 3. Reincarnation: “KWANZAA”

Day 4.  Ujamaa

This is an investigation of the black nostalgia. Within Kwnazaa is the re-imagining and performing of Africa, but not as an appropriation but as a way to overcome African-American’s tangled and confusing ethnic origins.

Let’s take it back. At the time of Emancipation Celebrations, Africa was respected as an ancient glory but also devalued through the colonial lens transposed upon them. Civilizationism pervaded black discourses, advocating for Christianizing and Westernizing of Mother Africa. There were hints of a Pan-Africanist light within the Negritude movement. The resulting increase in scholarship of black historians and black experience abroad began to shift this consciousness. Slowly African-Americans lifted the veiled so they could see the value of African contributions, but elitism and Communist fears of the early twentieth century covered their eyes again. These small murmurings of a pan-African glory were squashed until the grand independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s. This time, Africa re-emerged as a source of cultural knowledge for good.

Inspired by the African revolution and independence movements, Black Power advocates followed the lead of Malcolm X. They truly began to imagine a collective African diaspora that could inform and empower their own liberation from white American oppression. Africa was rising, which validated a black cultural liberation and gave them permission to connect to the Continent as their roots. A primary goal of the Black Power movement became reimagining blackness through the performance of “Africa.” Author Robert Mayes gives a useful insight, observing “that to think, act, talk, look and be black would mean to perform it, to display it, to visualize it, to manifest and actualize ‘blackness’ and ‘African-ness’ in some capacity.”

For Black Nationalists, Ahmed Sékou Touré’s 1959 work, Toward Full Re-Africanization became the blueprint for a process of Africanization. This process included Africanizing one’s speech with slang and African language terms, primarily Swahili as well as some hand gestures. Specifically, the US Organization employed Kiswahili terms to represent the organizations different components.
The paramilitary wing was called “Simba.” The School of Afro-American Culture was called “Mwalimu” and so on.
Taking on Swahili names was a way to identify your past experiences with the continent. “Kwanzaa” means “first fruits” of the harvest in Swahili.

There were also behavioral stipulations for Africanizing weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals. Members were required to wear Afros and African attire.
Within its strict doctrine, attempt to “re-Africanize” social relations based on “tradition and reason.” The organization drew in many young previous gang members who were politicized after the Watts riots, adding a level of violent rhetoric to the organization’s culture.
Further Some of the rules and adopted behaviors perpetuated chauvinist ideals and caused internal struggle. Beyond legal and external issues with polygamy, Kerenga’s exhaustive philosophy and his cult of personality became the source of repeated disagreements over the authenticity of African representation within the US Organization.
The same question plagues the holiday until today, some 50 years later.


All wax prints from post titles and Instagram are available for order from @HouseOfMamiWata African fabrics shop in Houston, TX.

Many blessings, fam &

Habari Gani until tomorrow,