Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, on Thursday made his annual pilgrimage to Buffalo to share his message of remembrance, reflection and recommitment.
The former professor of Africana studies at California State University, Long Beach, joined by his wife of 42 years, Tiamoyo, attracted a crowd of a few hundred Thursday in the Buffalo Museum of Science. The gathering marked and celebrated the second day of Kwanzaa, a 46-year-old African-American and Pan-African celebration.
“It’s a time for remembrance, reflection and recommitment,” Karenga said of Kwanzaa, the seven-day celebration he invented in 1966. “It’s appreciative remembrance of our ancestors, what they achieved, what they taught, the models of excellence and achievement they left and the obligation we have to them to continue their legacy.”
Karenga’s message, which can be found on the official Kwanzaa website at www.officialkwanzaawebsite.org, was titled “Kwanzaa, Us and the Well-being of the World: A Courageous Questioning.”
What is Kwanzaa about?
“It’s also a reflection on what it means to be an African person, a sustained reflection [on] what it means to be descendants of the fathers and mothers of human civilization,” Karenga said.
Kwanzaa was modeled after harvest celebrations held on the African continent since antiquity. When Karenga first thought up the idea for the celebration nearly a half-century ago, he organized it around seven days, with each day representing a principle, observed by lighting a candle each day. Thursday was dedicated to the principle of Kujichagulia, or self-determination.
The final day of the celebration, Karenga said, is a day of meditation and an apt one for African-Americans to reflect upon who they are in a cultural and historical context.
“Are you culturally grounded? Are you informed about history so that you can honor it, because our statement here is that our ancestors asked us: ‘What is our duty?’ The answer must be: ‘To know our past and honor it, to engage our present and improve it and to honor a whole new future and to forge it in the most ethical, effective and expansive ways,’” Karenga said.
Oppressed people, he said, sometimes misrepresent themselves and engage in what he called “self-erasure conversations.”
“What we need is not post-racial, if we mean ‘post people.’ I want to make a distinction between race and people. … Race is something you are introduced to as way to establish human worth and social status, using whites as the model. When we talk about people, people have the right to exist. They not only have a right to exist, they have a responsibility, because there is a history there,” Karenga said.
He added that the celebration is also about a recommitment by African-Americans “to live up to the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense.”
“I saw an article the other day … [that said] Kwanzaa is diminishing because it’s in competition with Hanukkah and Christmas. Who thought of that?” Karenga said. “When they talk about Kwanzaa, they talk pathology. They don’t talk about the values. I’m talking about the values, the ideas that motivate us as a people.”