Kwanzaa celebration kicks off in Detroit

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Cheryl Polk came to the Charles H. Wright Museum on Monday with her two children and a niece to celebrate Kwanzaa.

Attendees of all ages sing the Black National Anthem at the first night of Kwanzaa celebration at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit  on Dec. 26, 2016. The first principle of Kwanzaa is unity, or "umoja."

The standing-room-only event launched a weeklong celebration, from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, to honor African heritage in African-American culture.

“I brought them here because I want them to learn more about the history of Kwanzaa, “ said Polk of Detroit, who was among about 400 people at the museum. “Nobody else is going to teach it.”

Ebiyemi Kweli, 25, of Detroit said she has been celebrating Kwanzaa her all her life.

“My mother became interested in African culture when she was 18, so I was born into it,” she said. “As an African-American, it is a way to connect to our roots, being brought here to this country, and being stripped of everything we had, we had to create new things, including this.”

Kwanzaa is based on African harvest festivals that celebrate seven principles such as family life and unity, according to and other websites. African-American activist and professor Maulana Karenga started the pan-African and and African-American holiday in 1966 to encourage people to learn about and celebrate their African roots.

The holiday’s name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits.” The seven principles are known as the Nguzo Saba: Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

Families celebrate with festive dinners, stories, clothing, songs and decorations inspired by traditional African culture.

The celebration includes the lighting of seven candles, one for each day of the holiday, which was held in partnership with the Shrine of the Black Madonna Church. Each candle represents one of the holiday’s seven principles.

The program included the symbolic pouring of libations to honor ancestors, drumming, singing and an explanation of the seven principles.

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