"Kwanzaa does not substitute for Christmas," says Oba William King. An actor and poet, King has organized the third annual Poetic Kwanzaa Celebration, an evening of poetry, music, and dance. "We're not looking for replacements. It's an African American end-of-the-year, harvest celebration gathering family and reflecting on the year's accomplishments. It doesn't compete with Hanukkah or Chinese New Year or any other cultural end-of-the-year celebration."
Created in 1966 by black-studies professor Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili. It's observed in the U.S. from December 26 to January 1 by lighting a candle each day, reflecting on the principle each day represents, and giving presents that express these principles.
The Poetic Kwanzaa Celebration opens with a pouring of libation in remembrance of all ancestors. The lighting of the mishumaa saba, or seven candles, will be followed by seven poets reciting poems that reflect one of the nguzo saba or seven principles of Kwanzaa. There will also be dance and sign language interpretations of poems by such African American poets as Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. African dances and songs will round out the program. "We place a bit of kuumba [creativity] spirit in the way we do our traditional celebration," says King. "I had a desire to use my gift in celebration with other artists in the umoja [unity] spirit." A free karamu or African feast will be provided, along with a sale of African clothing, books, jewelry, dolls, and Kwanzaa supplies.
"There are several Kwanzaa celebrations throughout the city, but this has a creative spirit, it's not a lecture," says King, who believes the holiday reflects a need for community togetherness. "Each year, there are more people who want to learn about Kwanzaa. More people are interested in finding something to hold on to. It brings families and communities together."
The Poetic Kwanzaa Celebration takes place on Tuesday night, December 27, at DeJoie's Bistro, 230 W. Kinzie. Doors open at 5:30, with the program starting two hours later. Admission is free until 7:00, then it's $5. For more information, call DeJoie's at 755-1356 or William King at 761-6552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.