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Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: Kwanzaa Gains Momentum Among Caribbean Blacks by Karla D. Shores

Kwanzaa, which traditionally showcases the inner strength, struggles and accomplishments of African-Americans, is quickly becoming a popular holiday for black Caribbean people, as well.

As they began dabbling in the celebration, they found they shared similar roots.

"We're all Africans. We've just been dropped off in different places," said Amanayea Abraham, a cultural consultant for the West Palm Beach-based African-American Cultural Arts Organization.

The word Kwanzaa is derived from Swahili words meaning "first fruits of the harvest," and the holiday includes many elements of traditional African harvest celebrations. African-American scholar Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966 to reacquaint black Americans with their African roots and encourage unity among families and communities.

"If black people just focus on their nationality, we are missing a big chunk of our history," said Janice Boursiquot of Fort Lauderdale, who joined the push to popularize Kwanzaa in the 1980s when very few South Floridians had even heard of it. "We had a connection with each othert and we had history before we became African-Americans, Haitians or Trinidadians. The national history separates us but when we go to cultural history, it can really unify us."

The holiday focuses on seven principles. Today (December 26th) observers will light the black candle on their seven-candle kinara and reflect on Umoja, or unity. The following six days will focus on Kujichagulia, or self determination; Ujima, or collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, cooperative economics; Nia, purpose; and Kuumba, creativity. The last celebration, Imani, focuses on faith. The black candle represents black people, the three red candles symbolize the struggle of black people, and the three green candles signify the future.

Abraham, a Jamaican from Royal Palm Beach whose favorite Kwanzaa principles are Ujamaa and Imani, said more black Caribbean people every holiday season ask her about the meaning of Kwanzaa. Abraham said she thinks more African-Americans and Caribbean people will switch to Kwanzaa over the next few years for economic reasons.

"Kwanzaa isn't about giving gifts. It's about giving oneself," said Abraham. "This is such an economically depressing time with the war and everything. Celebrating Kwanzaa would be more cohesive right now."

Tony Harrison, the Jamaican owner of The African Bookstore in Fort Lauderdale, has celebrated Kwanzaa for more than 20 years.

He said Kwanzaa appeals to Caribbean people who celebrate Emancipation Day and harvest festivals in their homelands.

"Once Caribbean blacks come here they find that American blacks don't really celebrate something really cultural because black Americans don't really know when they were emancipated. Then they hear about Kwanzaa," said Harrison. "They find Kwanzaa intriguing because now they have something in common to celebrate."

Jamaica-born Marguerita Gayle said she and her Bahamian husband, Ogbonfase Major, of Miramar, found the principles of Kwanzaa so interesting they decided to celebrate it instead of Christmas, which Gayle thinks has become "too commercial."

"In Jamaica, Christmas was that one day when we went to church in the morning, celebrated the birth of Christ and came home, and it was basically over," said Gayle, 39, a director of two African dance troupes. "When I came to America, Christmas became Santa Claus and gifts. Kwanzaa is about family, community culture and recognizing who we are, and that takes us closer to who we really are more so than Christmas."

Karla Shores can be reached at This article appears in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Karla Shores

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

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