Heri Za Kwanzaa

December 28, 2018

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Heri za Kwanzaa means Happy Kwanzaa. Since Kwanzaa began on December 26, and since I know so little about the holiday, I thought that today was the perfect opportunity to learn about it. Also, due to the fact that I know so little about it, I would be happy for anyone to correct anything that I have posted. This post intends simply to touch the surface of the holiday. Furthermore, I am very interested in literature that may include mention of Kwanzaa or other traditions related to Kwanzaa. Feel free to post comments for literature and/or corrections!

Maulana Ndabezitha Karenga founded Kwanzaa in 1966. It is an African-American and pan-African holiday which celebrates community, family, and culture. It begins on December 26 and continues until January 1. The first symbol of Kwanzaa is the mkeka, a placemat which demonstrates African traditions. Kwanzaa is based upon seven principles called the Nguzo Saba. Karenga explains: “As we said in the ‘60s, the Nguzo Saba are a Black value system, a set of communitarian African values which aid us in grounding ourselves righteously and rightly, directing our lives toward good and expansive ends, and toward conceiving and bringing into being the good communities, societies and world we all want and work and struggle so hard to bring into being.” Kwanzaa is celebrated with feasts, music, dance, poetry and narratives. The holiday is concluded with a day of reflection upon the commitments of the seven principles. Karenga continues, “The holiday, then will of necessity, be engaged as an ancient and living cultural tradition which reflects the best of African thought and practice in its reaffirmation of the dignity of the human person in community and culture, the well-being of family and community, the integrity of the environment and our kinship with it, and the rich resource and meaning of a people's culture.” I thought that this sentiment is consistent with the foundations of other religions. I am interested in Kwanzaa’s inclusion of metaphor, symbol, and history. Due to the foundational nature of the seven principles, I have listed them below. I find these ideas consistent with the season.

The seven principles of Kwanzaa include:

Umoja: Unity, the willingness to help one another

Kujichagulia: Self-determination, that we make our own decisions

Ujima: Collective work and responsibility, that working together creates a better life for all

Ujamaa: Cooperative economics, that we support our community

Nia: Purpose, that we have a reason for living

Kuumba: Creativity, that we use our hands and minds to make things

Imani: Faith, that we believe in ourselves, our ancestors, and our future.

All information for this blog is taken from the Official Kwanzaa website.

Whatever your faith, whatever your community, we hope that you celebrate with peace and love. Happy holidays from Harrison Middleton University!

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October Quarterly Discussion Review

October 16, 2015

October's Quarterly discussion focused on Michel de Montaigne's “Of Cannibals” and Sir James George Frazer's chapter on “Magic and Religion” from The Golden Bough. As always, we had great comments and curiosity from all participants. Both pieces discuss cultures and belief systems far-removed from the authors. Written in very different styles, both portray elements of primitive societies that they feel might enlighten contemporary society. Montaigne's essay lends itself to a freer flow, nearly conversational in tone. Frazer's, on the other hand, sounds more authoritative, as if a lecture. Montaigne's essay format imparts skepticism which then becomes the reader's. The groups found that, while Frazer's arguments sound authoritative in tone, they actually often lack foundations.

Both pieces end with a clear example of this difference. First, Montaigne finishes his essay with an anecdote of primitive men visiting a large French city for the first time. After seeing the city and culture, the men have two questions: 1] why does everyone follow a childish ruler and 2] why the poor and hungry don't destroy the city? In other words, these 'primitive' men question how a world that ignores poverty and obeys ignorance can be called civilized. Frazer also ends his chapter with an anecdote in which “the practical savage, with his conservative instincts, might well turn a deaf ear to the subtleties of the theoretical doubter, the philosophical radical, who presumed to hint that sunrise and spring might not, after all, be direct consequences of the punctual performance of certain daily or yearly ceremonies.” He clearly believes the modern, moral, rational man superior to one who believes in ritual and magic. Frazer's ideal world seems to align with the ideas found in Plato's Republic, whereas Montaigne says, “How much would he [Plato] find his imaginary Republic short of his perfection?”

Montaigne's tongue-in-cheek style connects well with readers, who never quite know what to make of his comments. For example, he claims that all of his information comes from a second hand source, “a plain ignorant fellow, and therefore more likely to tell the truth.” Even here, he inserts a dichotomy between the simple man and the “better-bred sort of men” who are overly curious and loquacious. If only two types of men exist, then, which type is Montaigne? Is the reader to trust his account, or does he embellish? Perhaps the dichotomy of savage versus educated is part of Montaigne's point – that the skeptical mind is often the most free. He leads the reader to see that what often appears whole is actually not the whole truth.

Frazer, on the other hand, wants the reader to believe his theory, and therefore, presents it as fact. Frazer wants to prove that the foundations of religion rest in magic. He offers examples from various cultures where magical ceremonies seemed to form into religious rites, and this simultaneous to (or as a result of) man's intellectual growth. He claims that religion is an elevated form of spirituality, whereas magic is nearly instinctual. As one discussion participant noted, however, Frazer conveniently grounds his essay in a Westernized comprehension of spirit and faith. And, while we did not get to an answer, it brings us to the question of the point of Frazer's essay. What was he trying to prove by asserting a link between magic and faith? Is it simply to establish a hierarchy of thought as linked to culture? This is difficult to argue and more difficult to prove.

Both Frazer's and Montaigne's writing styles often impress the reader. They are enjoyable reads, and it is fun to spend a bit of time among peers trying to puzzle through complex sociological issues. Again, our appreciation to all who dedicated time to read these texts and add their wonderful questions and comments to our Quarterly Discussion.

The next Quarterly Discussion will be held in January and will focus on Natural Science. For more information, please contact

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