Monday, December 27, 2010

Happy Kwanzaa, everyone!

Today is the second day of Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is a modern African American festival that runs December 26th-January 1st each year.

While I am not African American and the holiday was not designed for me, I love the seven principles of Kwanzaa and feel that they should be celebrated and venerated to bring out the best in individuals and their respective communities (be they of race, religion, or some other community).

What are the seven principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa
(and what do they mean to a Witch who is "white", you ask)?

1. Umoja: Unity (To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.)

Without others to with which to collaborate, we create very little. While the prevailing myth in this country is that a lone hero saves the day or creates something new, that is simply not true. Leaders and inventors have the ability to create because of others in their lives and the people that did the work before them. Unity is all about us as social creatures- we are pack or flock animals (all intelligent beings on this planet are). Without the pack, we are less than what we can be.

2. Kujicagulia: Self-Determination (To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.)

I feel that in the United States especially, the overculture perverts this value into what we call "rugged individualism". The cult of the individual reins supreme in the US- but it is telling that, in Kwanzaa, Umoja was placed FIRST as a principle. It is only in relation to others that we are human- only when we can see our reflection in others' eyes that we can determine what is Self and what is not. And only after that can we determine what our Will is. We cannot do the Great Work of alchemy alone. And it is only after we embark on the Great Work that we can define, name, and create ourselves.

That said, all people, and this is especially important for marginalized people-  be they of color, of size, queer, a religious minority, or something else- have a right to define themselves for themselves (and others).

3. Ujima: Collective Work and Responsibility (To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers' and sisters' problems our problems, and to solve them together.)

We humans have so much problem with this one- building stable organizations, religions, workplaces that allow us to share and shine. So few of us really trust one another- and for good reason. We are all taught that we, as individuals, are better and more important than the group. So much so that we make horrible decisions, betray one another, and structures come crumbling down. Any organization, if it is to function in a healthy way, needs a structure- all living things (cells, for example) have a structure. The healthy anarchist organizations that I have been a part of also had a structure. Only after we achieve a stable foundation of how we communicate and make decisions is there room to do joint work- together.

4. Ujamaa: Cooperative Economics (To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.)

This lesson from Black Nationalism is one that so few political minorities have been able to do for any sustained period under capitalism. It's one that I have craved and worked toward most of my adult life: I have worked in non-profits, anarchist bookstores, worker-owned cooperatives, and more- all looking for community, mixed with maintaining a just livelihood. It's one I continue to look for and will teach Rowan to look for as well. Working together towards a common good and goal helps us all.
5. Nia: Purpose (To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.)

This Nia is from a Black Nationalist perspective, and is one that is sorely needed in many communities. For me, I would say my Nia is also building and developing community so that it can serve as many as possible. No one should want for clothing, shelter, food and a sense of purpose.

6. Kuumba: Creativity (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.)

I am so glad that this principle is included- beauty and aesthetics are truly important- most people that I know who are passionate about sustainable communities are also sensualists and artists themselves. It makes sense- they seek to create a world that sustains not just survival, but a place to thrive. Not just bread for all- but roses, too.

7. Imani: Faith (To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.)

It is this kind of faith that I can believe in. My religion does not require faith in the Christian sense (the definition most people are familiar with) from me- I get to speak to my gods and they interact with me- they are not aloof or coy as in other traditions that invoke this word (which usually means "believe when you have no proof"). But faith, when applied to humankind finally waking up and getting it? That's a faith I will gladly have. I have seen it work- I know that it is possible, when we agree to do the work of building together.

I see raising Rowan to understand these principles and live by them as well. Do you celebrate Kwanzaa? Which principle speaks to you the most this year?

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