, Port Arthur, Texas

December 28, 2012

Port Arthur library offers Kwanzaa lesson

Brooke Crum
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Seated in a semicircle inside the Port Arthur Public Library’s Lucy Steifel Gallery, a group of Port Arthur residents — some old, some young — listened to Gail Pellum, president of the African American Cultural Society, discuss the purpose of Kwanzaa.

“Kwanzaa is something you do every single day,” she said.

The nonreligious, nonpolitical African American and Pan African holiday was established in 1966 as a way to celebrate family, community and culture. It is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 and traces its origins to the first harvest celebrations of Africa, which is where its name was derived.

Kwanzaa comes from the phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which means “first fruits” in Swahili, a Pan African language and the most widely spoken African language, according to the official Kwanzaa website.

These first fruits celebrations have been recorded in African history reaching as far back as ancient Egypt and Nubia, according to the website. Kwanzaa was built on the five founding elements of these traditional celebrations: ingathering, reverence, commemoration, recommitment and celebration.

Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies at California State University at Long Beach, created Kwanzaa in 1966 during the Black Freedom Movement as a way to reinforce the roots of African culture, according to the website. The Organization Us founded the holiday and maintains its traditions, partly through its website.

The seven-day celebration lasts a week long because the early first fruit celebrations lasted as long, but the seven days also emphasize the importance of the Nguzo Saba, the seven principles of Kwanzaa pronounced in Swahili. Each day represents one of the principles.

Friday’s word was “ujima,” which means collective work and responsibility in Swahili. At the library, guest speaker Johnny Hulin told an allegory to illustrate the value of ujima. That value translated to being a part of a community and sharing the responsibility for that community, but ujima could be implemented in many ways.

Val Tizeno, attorney for the city of Port Arthur, spoke next about how to practice ujima in daily life, such as offering to help an elderly neighbor cut the grass or take out the trash.

“It’s hard for one person to build a community,” she said, emphasizing the need to work together.

Tizeno asked the audience members how they thought they could practice ujima in their communities, and one attendee said that part of success was generosity because one could not succeed with a selfish attitude.

“Make your brothers and sisters problems your problems, and we can figure out how to solve them together,” Tizeno said.

Before speaking about ujima, Tizeno lit three of the candles placed in the kinara, the candle holder that is symbolic of African roots. The seven candles that sit in the kinara are called “mishumaa saba” and symbolize the seven principles of Kwanzaa.

The black candles that rest in the center of the kinara stand for the African American people. The next three red candles represent the struggle of the African American people, and the three green candles symbolize hope for the future. The candles are lit from left to right.

The Willie Carter Outreach Center will hold a family cultural event Saturday morning at 11 with a free lunch, free children’s gifts and a speaker to touch on the day’s principle of ujamaa, or cooperative economics. The Historic Israel Chapel AME will hold an event Sunday morning at 11, as well.

To learn more about the Kwanzaa tradition, visit or the Port Arthur Public Library.


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