Discovering different cultural traditions is always exciting. Such was the case when I heard about Kwanzaa and the Harriet Tubman Community Organization last year. Tubman was the escaped African slave who returned again and again to help other slaves flee to freedom in Canada in the 1800s. “Kwanzaa is a seven-day festival celebrating the African peoples in the Diaspora,” says Kwanzaa’s brochure. I had an opportunity to learn more about them late last year at its annual festival.
“It is not a religion,” said Sani-Abu Mohammed. “It is more like Thanksgiving, a celebration.” I remembered Sani-Abu’s Ijo Vudo Dance Group which thrilled audiences at AfroFest and Harbourfront. This dance group was among Kwanzaa’s partner organizations this year.
As we waited for the event to begin, Sani-Abu told us that each of the seven days emphasizes different themes like self-determination. “Do you make things happen or do things make you happen? Are you the driver or the passenger? We need to reclaim our own history,” he said. “Ours must not be colonial history.”
Each day a candle is lit in a special candle holder to highlight one of its principles. These include unity (within one’s self and with others), working together as a community, and a belief in the righteousness of the African-American struggle.
Different African cultures were very much apparent at the event. Sani-Abu was wearing a costume from his native Nigeria as he set candles into the group’s unique candle holder.
Several of the women wore their hair braided. Kyshel took six hours to braid her hair herself, she said. Braiding is an old African custom where different groups have different identifiable styles.
The celebration started with the “Opening Libation” which summoned the ancestors to join us by offering them a drink. They used a calabash gourd, here held by Brother Kofi Morris (Kamijic) whose heritage country is Ghana. .
Copyright ©2015 Ruth Lor Malloy
The music and drumming of course was African, and the youthfulness and enthusiasm of the Ubuntu Drum and Dance Theatre Ensemble gave promise that African culture will continue in Toronto.
It was wonderful to see older people join them.
Singer Jay Harmony sang with such confidence and enthusiasm that I am sure she inspired the hundred or so people at the event.
Nohsakhere from the Nile Valley Book Store was selling books about Africa and by Africans.
The food included king fish, curried goat and rice. It was an inspiring afternoon but unfortunately I had to leave before it was over.
Kwanzaa was started in America in 1966. It begins each year on December 26 and continues to New Years Day.
African culture itself is not homogeneous. It is multicultural and to find people from different parts of Africa and the Caribbean working together is inspiring. To learn more about this movement, contact the Harriet Tubman Community Organization at: www.tubmancommunity.org.
Non-Africans are welcome. I hope you can join this festival next year.