For more than decade the African Cultural & Development Association (ACDA) has celebrated Kwanzaa in Guyana with joyful exuberance. On 26th December every year, ACDA holds a very elaborate ‘African Harvest’ at its Thomas Lands headquarters that is attended by Guyanese from all parts of the country and by visiting diasporians.
Amply described by Guyanese born Robin Williams who lives in the USA, “Kwanzaa was born out of a struggle by African Americans to, among other things, develop and project an identity in contrast to the racist stereotypes manufactured by the majority population, and perpetuate a set of positive values that best served the interest of the African American population and ultimately operate for the betterment of their nation as a whole”. Kwanzaa has seven principles and is celebrated on seven days from 26th December to 1st January. The seven principles are
Umoja (Unity) To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
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.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics) To build and maintain our own stores, shops and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose) To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
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.
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.
At ACDA, the 26th December event held from 11 am until 4 pm, incorporates all the traditional USA celebrated elements but is also uniquely Guyanese.
Kwanzaa Festival begins with a welcome from the Chairperson of the event, usually Sister Clementine Marshall or Sister Penda Guyan, who speaks about the importance of the occasion as a time for family and national reflection. This is followed by libations by Brother Andrew Irving who calls on the Ancestors to be present and asks also for their blessings on the occasion. Seeds are then distributed to the audience to plant until next years’ harvest. Drumming is an integral part of this activity.
This is followed by the main event which is the lighting of three green, three red and a single black candle, each signifying one of the seven days and principles of Kwanzaa. As Brother Irving lights each candle on the Kinara and describes the meaning of the Kwanzaa principle it represents, 7 individuals: oldest, youngest, male, female, visitors, are asked to light a corresponding candle at the table they are sitting at. This is done with the help of the other members at the table.
Eric Phillips then does a Kwanzaa message and speaks about sharing, community development, self-determination , self-esteem, self-respect and collective values for sustainable upliftment.
This is followed by Aisha Jean-Baptiste who speaks about the symbols and symbolism of Kwanzaa. Here the audience is introduced to Kwanzaa terms, the history of Kwanzaa and its importance to Africans in Guyana and elsewhere. Those who are uninitiated in terms of Kwanzaa are given a real knowledge treat.
The floor is then open for Kwanzaa messages from African groups who have sent representatives and for visitors or anyone so inclined
Drumming follows this section and then there is time for a meal.
All attendees, including visitors and guests, are treated to a wide variety of African vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes and beverages, accompanied by African music and drumming.
After the harvest meal, ACDA adds its own unique activity to the annual Kwanzaa event. For the last 18 years, ACDA has been providing scholarships and book prizes to the highest scoring African student at the most recently held CXC exams. This is an elaborate affair which is chaired by ACDA’s Education and Management Committee (EMA) which has Board responsibility for ACDA’s Centre of Learning and Afro Centric Orientation (Collaco) school which has children aged 2 years 6 months to 7 years and which will evolve to a school that will have its students take Grade 6 exams. The winners have their accomplishments written in a beautiful programme which has the names of previous winners and are then asked to make a speech to the audience.
Finally ACDA’s Kwanzaa event is made complete with drumming, dancing and the singing of folk songs.
Hampers with fruits, vegetables, flour, rice, sugar, corn, plantains, oil, milk and other staples are then given to each family that attends.
ACDA is hoping Kwanzaa grows in Guyana as it is a very viable educational and celebratory event compared to the many ‘limes’ that have now become customary on Boxing Day.