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The season of Kwaanza is celebrated from December 26 to January 1. This festivity, which was founded by an African American, is usually celebrated in the United States and other parts of the African diaspora. The African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA) is the organisation in Guyana that spearheads the observation.
According the United States’ Cable News Network (CNN) Kwaanza was “created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a black nationalist and professor of Pan-African studies at California State University at Long Beach.” Kwaanza celebrates African heritage, culture and unity which is embodied by seven symbols (principles), representing each day of the seven-day duration of the festivity. Each symbol has specific meaning to African heritage and belief systems.
Day 1 celebrates “Umoja” (unity) which is “To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.” Day 2 celebrates “Kujichagulia,” the principle of defining, naming, creating, and speaking for oneself. Day 3 celebrates “Ujima” which is the belief of uplifting the community through collective work and responsibility. Day 4 is “Ujamaa” that deals with cooperative economics where the community creates commerce for their benefit.
Day 5 is “Nia” and according Karenga, it is “To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. Day 6 is “Kuumba” which deals with creativity. This requires Africans “To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.” Day 7 celebrates “Imani” which represents faith. This is faith “To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.”
Careful observation of the seven principles would recognise a belief system that sparked the Village Movement. This saw Africans in the immediate post slavery society pooling their resources together and purchasing plantations which they converted to villages. The acquisition saw the initiating of a system of governance that morphed into the Village Council.
Guyana’s Village Movement is second to none in British post slavery societies in the realm of acquisition, achievement, and self-determination. To this day it remains the envy of others and those whose ancestors have made this feat possible should seek to preserve the legacy.
In the post slavery society Africans were able to develop their own economy, albeit facing challenges from former white plantation owners who sought to sabotage efforts at self-determination by flooding their lands and undermining drainage and irrigation. Institutions such as church, schools and businesses were constructed. A cohesive and fledging economy was being built from the dust up by a people, who for centuries, were not only treated as subhuman but also forced to labour at no cost.
It was not until the amelioration or apprenticeship period (1834-1838) Africans were paid for their labour, though miserly. It was dint of determination and faith in the ability to not only survive but succeed that proved the value of the cooperative spirit. The success of cooperation is not applicable to Africans Guyanese but all. Should Guyanese cooperate in building Guyana and resolving to fight together for the betterment and development of the country we can succeed.
Kwaanza is celebrated in the White House with the lighting of the seven candles that symbolises the festivity and its meaning. And whilst Kwaanza emerged from the United States, Africans in the diaspora can identify and associate with its founding principles. In keeping with these seven principles Africans must continue to pursue self-determination, name their reality and speak out on issues that concern them and are impacting their lives. They must take pride in holding themselves accountable to these principles as they hold their leaders likewise, for evidently the application of these would serve the community well.