Note from BW of Brazil: For millions of people around the world, today is celebrated as Christmas Day. And although I partake in family-oriented events, in recent years I have tended to look at the day more for what it really is: the Winter Solstice. Coming from a background in which Christmas usually has anywhere from 3-7 inches of snow on the ground, I must admit, Natal (Christmas in Portuguese) is a little strange. How strange?
Well, right now in New York it’s 39 degrees fahrenheit while in São Paulo on December 23rd it was about 35 degrees…celsius! In other words, about 95 degrees fahrenheit!! For any American living in Brazil, particularly those from northern states, seeing men parading the streets and in shopping malls in the typical red and white Papa Noel (Santa Claus) suit in such scorching heat is perhaps the pinnacle of superficiality of a holiday that has reached such extreme displays of materialism. Is there any way to make Christm….err Natal, more Brazilian, or at least Latin American than just a copy of a celebration adapted from colder environments? Oh well….
One thing that has been quite intriguing over the past few years has been the rise of the recognition of Kwanzaa among some Afro-Brazilian social groups. I’ve seen celebrations spring up in a number of Brazilian cities in the past years and I expect that it will probably continue to grow in coming years. I personally have some problems with this holiday due to the controversial history of the man associated with it, Maulana Karenga. But the focus of today’s piece is not to delve into that complex history, but to simply share news on trends in Brazil’s black community.
Below are a few articles covering Kwanzaa events in Salvador, Bahia, and São Paulo last year.
Do you celebrate Christmas? But have you heard of Kwanzaa?
Courtesy of Correio Nagô
Kwanzaa is a seven-day, inter-religious festa that is very common in the African-American community and among blacks in the diaspora. In Brazil, the celebration is still unknown and still boils down to a small cycle of pan-African militants conscious of the historic role of African people and the need to rebuild this memory.
The name “Kwanzaa” derives from the expression “matunda ya kwanza”, which means “first fruits” in Swahili, the original most spoken language among the hundreds that exist in Africa.
According to the website Somos Todos dos Um (We are all from one), the feast of “primeiros frutos” (first fruits) is typical of ancestral peoples, the origin of Christian Christmas would be a celebration of this kind, “the feast of the victory of life against death, of light against darkness, a bountiful harvest that guaranteed the continuity of the tribe against the threat of famine and extermination.”
It’s no small thing. In Africa the rituals associated with the harvest have existed in the past and still exist today: “These celebrations were common in ancient times, but they also exist today, cultivated by immense social groups such as the Zulus, as well as by small groups such as the Matabelos, the Thonga and Lovedus, all from the southeast region of the African continent.”
The idea of creating a “pan-African” holiday is attributed to a professor of African studies at the University of California, Maulana Karenga, at a difficult time known as the “o movimento pelos direitos civis Americanos” (American Civil Rights Movement), but which lasted more than a decade, provoked a sort of civil war and turned the racist society of the United States literally upside down.
Kwanzaa was celebrated for the first time from December 26, 1966 to January 1, 1967, Martin Luther King would be assassinated a year later and black Americans fought for the right to vote.
For Makini Olouchi, one of the organizers of the festival in Salvador, “Celebrating Kwanzaa in Brazil means living our Africanness in a pan-Africanist perspective. It is to keep connected with all African ancestry of the world and to keep the spirit of celebration alive because of the good harvests that have been made, despite the adversities.”
The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa
The Kwanzaa is centered on the seven principles, Nguzo Saba, which represents the values of family, community and culture for Africans and the descendants of Africans. The principles were developed by the founder of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, based on the ideals of the first fruits harvests.
The principles of Kwanzaa are:
Umoja: unity – Being united as family, community and race
Kujichagulia: self-determination – Responsibility for your own future
Ujima: collective work and responsibility – Building community together and solving any problems as a group;
Ujamaa: cooperative economy – the construction and gains of the community through activities themselves;
Nia: purpose – The goal of group work to construct community and expand African culture;
Kuumba: creativity – Using new ideas to create a more beautiful and more successful community;
Imani: Faith – Honoring African ancestors, traditions and leaders and celebrating the triumphs of the past over adversity.
The seven days of Kwanzaa
On the first day of Kwanzaa, December 26, the leader or minister invites everyone to come together and greets them with the official question: “Habari gani?” (What is happening?), to which they respond with the name of the first principle : “Umoja”.
The ritual is repeated every day of Kwanzaa celebration, but the answer changes to reflect the principle associated with that day. On the second day, for example, the answer is “Kujichagulia”. Then the family says a prayer. Then they recite a call of unity, Harambee (Vamos nos Unir or Let’s Unite).
The libation is then performed by one of the older adults, and one person (usually the youngest) lights a candle from Kinara. The group discusses the meaning of the principle of the day and the participants can tell a story or sing a song related to that principle. Gifts are offered for each day or can all be exchanged on the last day of Kwanzaa.
The Kwanzaa banquet is on 31 December. It includes not only food, it is also a time to sing, pray and celebrate African history and culture.
January 1st, the last day of Kwanzaa, is a moment of reflection for each one and for the whole group. People ask themselves, “quem sou eu?” (Who am I?) “sou realmente quem digo que sou?” (am I really who I say I am?) and “sou tudo o que possoser?” (Am I all that I can be?) The last candle of Kinara is lit and then all the candles are put out signaling the end of the holiday.
* With information from HowStuffWorks and Pele Negra
Kwanzaa Brasil discusses blackness and creativity
By Silvia Nascimento
Black people from the perspective of economics, entrepreneurship, creativity, media, spirituality and corporeality were among the many subjects discussed during the fifth Kwanzaa – São Paulo get together, held on Saturday (December 26th, 2015).
By Silvia Nascimento
At the same time that workshops for children and the afro fair took place, black intellectuals from various areas led the public to reflect on relevant issues and some controversial ones, such as the issue of cultural appropriation.
“I (black woman) will not go out in the street wearing a headdress. I know I could offend the indigenous woman with this attitude, just as I’m offended by seeing a white woman wearing a turban, not that I’ll go up to her to take off her turban, but I feel extremely uncomfortable, “says Daniela Gomes, a journalist and PhD student in African Studies from the University of Texas.
Speaking about creativity in the perspective of spirituality, Ama Mizani, who studies African holistic health and is a member of Afrocentricity International, has redeemed the importance of valuing the historic contribution of black people history to humanity, especially in the matter of scientific knowledge. “The first doctor in the history of mankind was black and he discovered the cure for hundreds of diseases,” explained the student who sfurther argued that creativity and spirituality go together and that moments of inspiration are divine.
The president of the Feira Preta Institute, Adriana Barbosa, spoke about challenges in managing the Feira Preta, the largest black cultural event in Latin America. “There is a lot of difficulty in getting financing, because the bank doesn’t believe that I won’t have a way to pay for it and help from the public sector help is also complicated because they often send us to secretaries without funds to help us,” said the businesswoman who still believes that there is a lot of emotional attachment of black entrepreneurs working with this segment.
An overview of Afro-business in Brazil and the USA was the theme addressed by Rodrigo Faustino, founding partner of Ebony English, the only English language school in Brazil that works with black culture in the classroom. “In Brazil, there was an attempt to integrate slaves recently freed by abolition. In the United States, those who used slave labor didn’t want to know these people any more, and that meant they had to create their own structure, such as schools, health posts and even banks, all founded and run by blacks.”
Professor Fabiano Maranhão, with a Master’s of Education at the Federal University of São Carlos, spoke about how some games practiced by Brazilian children have an explicitly racist content. “When I played polícia e ladrão (cops and robbers) with my friends in my childhood, I was always the thief,” said the teacher who still remembered the “boi da cara preta” (black-faced ox) and other songs with racist lyrics.
The event also had the Kwanzaa Kids space with workshops and story- telling for children. The writer Durval Arantes, was also present selling and autographing his work O último negro (The last black).
Kwanzaa Brasil is headed by business administrator Luiz de Jesus and has its next edition scheduled for November 20. More information about the event is available through the official website on Facebook.