‘A time to reflect’ on values, heritage

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 28, 2013

SALISBURY — The table held candles and fruits of the harvest — corn and fresh greens
And the sound of drums and clapping filled the room for the Salisbury community celebration of the second night of Kwanzaa, Friday evening at City Park.
Kwanzaa, from the Swahili word for “first fruits,” began Thursday and continues through New Year’s Day.
Created by Maulana Karenga 47 years ago as an Afro-centric alternative to mainstream holidays, the focus of Kwanzaa is on seven core principles.
Robert Cooper, of Alpha and Omega Outreach Ministries, got the audience going by shouting “Habari gani?” – “What’s the news?” in Swahili.
“Kujichagulia!” the audience replied – the name of the guiding principle of the second night of Kwanzaa, which translates as Self-Determination.
Self-determination, Cooper said, means finding out the answer to the question, “Who am I?”
As a reflection, Cooper quoted from a poem: “If you want to win and think you can’t, I can guarantee you that you won’t … You’ve got to be sure of yourself before you can win the prize.”
The event was presented by Alpha and Omega Ministries, the Rowan Blues and Jazz Society and Salisbury Parks and Recreation.
Organizer Eleanor Qadirah, of the Rowan Blues and Jazz Society, said Kwanzaa to her is “a time to reflect, to get renewed.”
At this, the ninth Kwanzaa celebration she’s helped to organize, Qadirah said there were many things for the audience to benefit from.
Booths around the room showed homemade crafts, since gift-giving with handmade gifts is a Kwanzaa tradition.
The scents of cinnamon and other spices rose from a table filled with homemade soaps, while nearby area wood-carvers offered kinaras, the candleholders used for the seven candles symbolic of Kwanzaa.
Singing, praise dancing and talks were the order of the evening, all meant to enlighten the audience.
The seven principles of Kwanzaa are building-blocks of society, said Beverly Burnett, president of the NC Association of Black Storytellers.
“These principles are nothing to be afraid of,” Burnett said. “It’s kind of like home training, things that bring us loyalty and kindness … how to use your talents and live in a community in unity.”
And, Burnett said, Kwanzaa does not have to replace Christmas or other holidays. Kwanzaa, she said, “is more than faith in God, it’s faith in yourself. Faith in your father, your brother living next door to you.”
The other six principles of Kwanzaa are unity, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
“We want to put these principles in our lives so we live them every day,” Burnett said.
African drummer and storyteller Obakunle Akinlana called on those present to remember their ancestors, and to ask them to be present.
With a Yoruba prayer, he poured out a small amount of fresh water onto the floor as a libation – another Kwanzaa tradition.
Two of the candles in the kinara were lit. The Kwanzaa candles, Qadirah explained, are red for blood shed to gain freedom, green for the homeland of Africa and black for the natives of Africa whose memories are celebrated.
Akinlana then taught the audience how to say simple phrases, including a greeting in the Yoruba language.
He taught them about the numerous African exports and traditions we know today, from the kola nuts that flavor Coca-Cola and other beverages, to the cocoa beans that make chocolate, to the indigo dye that helped create blue jeans.
He then demonstrated items from African heritage: calabash bowls, baskets woven from palms and traditional African musical instruments.
Raising what looked like an enormous tambourine, filled with beads, Akinlana rolled it slowly to make the sound of waves crashing on the shore.
Then, using his voice, he made the sound of seabirds as the waves continued to crash.
Next came a drum covered in goat skin — “A talking drum,” Akinlana said. “If you are unhappy with your current calling plan, may I suggest talking drum? Free activation!” he joked.
Used for many generations, the talking drum was used to communicate information, compliments and insults.
With these, and more, Akinlana taught the audience about what he called ‘the heroes of Africa” whose culture lives on today.
“We need to stop placing the entertainers, the athletes so high up when we have people in our family who are heroes, and we need to acknowledge them,” Akinlana said.
Demarcus Wilkerson, of Alpha and Omega Ministries, said Kwanzaa is an educational opportunity, not just a spiritual one.
“It’s a good chance to get a lot of people to learn about the heritage of their own they don’t have a chance to learn,” Wilkerson said.
He also said Kwanzaa is more personal than Christmas and other holidays. “You get the meaning out of it that you put into it,” Wilkerson said.
Robert L. Bowers, a visitor from Mooresville, said he already knew a lot about Kwanzaa and wanted to experience the local celebration.
Bowers said it was the right time of year to celebrate, and that Kwanzaa, to him, represents a time to celebrate talents and fellowship, as well as African heritage.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.