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December 29, 2004

Karenga, Copernicus & Kung Fu

I've been thinking briefly about what Spence mentioned yesterday about Kwanzaa. He said that nothing particular about the slandar against it warms him to the celebration although he is sympathetic in principle. But if there were to be a more real Kwanzaa, we know what it was that West Africans celebrate and we could ligitimately assimilate real African traditions into modern celebrations. I can dig that.

However on second thought it occured to me that in 1966 when this party started, that body of research didn't exist. There weren't even Black Student Unions on campuses, much less Afro-American Studies departments. Who was going to provide that research? It's as if people believing the Earth was the center of the universe upon reviewing Galileo 30 years hence was chiding him for not thinking about ellipses instead of circles. My history of science is sketchy, but you get the point. What Karenga has set in motion will inevitably be refined and changed over time.

As one commenter has pointed out, St. Patrick's Day was a holiday invented for political reasons. Today it's just an excuse to drink green beer, and among GenX, get a green dye job. But Spence's idea of incorporating some actual West African traditions into Kwanzaa might not be such a bad one after all.

In 1991 at BAM, I learned to dance the Sounou and the Koteba. It was easy. I just walked in and the instructors were patient. It was a great experience and every bit as deep as learning a martial arts form. I don't expect that West African dance studios will begin cropping up in every strip mall, but it would be a great addition to the American cultural scene.

I wonder if American students of Karate and other Eastern disciplines consider their schools to be authentic. Here too is a practice that only began taking shape in the 60s. Nobody who watches Batman really thought any of them could beat Kato, and every Western bar fight on TV now looks completely staged. In the light of Jennifer Garner of Alias, there has never been a real female superhero. And now Batman is being reloaded, centering him on Eastern martial discipline.

We evolve, apparently.

Posted by mbowen at December 29, 2004 11:09 AM

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I'm working on a much longer piece for publication about black nationalism. Trying to make an academic argument for an old school nationalism centered strictly in black american norms and values. what struck me about your comments was that for YOU kwanzaa is what Karenga intended. It isn't a "replacement" for xmas. It IS xmas. If Vince G. had a Charlie Brown Kwanzaa CD, you wouldn't just be on it, it would resonate with you the way that the original CB resonates with me.

The Ancients divided the year into 36 10-day weeks. Each week was dedicated to a specific neter (loosely translated as "spirit"), and each day also dedicated to a specific neter. Five days were added outside of the year, or between years, and those days were considered holy days. If I were to reclaim it, it would be easy. Folks are already doing it. But still this wouldn't evoke in me what Xmas does. And it still wouldn't be american...like I would suppose Kwanzaa now is.

Posted by: Lester Spence at December 29, 2004 04:33 PM


Posted by: P6 at December 30, 2004 04:16 PM

...just as I was starting to feel a little guilty about our unorthodox, mish-mash Kwanzaa observance. Yes, evolution is good (necessary, even). It'll be interesting to see what my kids do with the celebration when they get older.

Posted by: YvetteP at December 30, 2004 06:00 PM

Well, there were certainly Anthropology departments, and persons who knew and loved the cultures of Africa....I believe there was a BSU at Berkeley and Stanford by 1965...I started Stanford in the fall of 68 and the BSU was well organized. I also learned a lot of African dance 1963-1968, mostly from Berkely African exchange students but then again I went to that hippy school. Well, we wanted to dance....

So Kwanzaa is a synthetic holiday? How about Mother's Day? How about Veteran's Day? How about Armistice Day? All synthetic. Christmas has changed in my lifetime, and I"m only 54. I can remember my grandfather saying they didn't have a Christmas tree at all until after the turn of the century (he was born in 1884 I think)....the subject came up because Grammy had purchased (gasp) an entirely fake tree.

And go read up on some modern Jews who are say, creating a vegan Seder WITH gender neutral liturgy. Or bat mitzvahs.

Oh, and Kwanzaa? Just think about the Mormons and the Angel Moroni and the tablets of gold. Kwanzaa is rock solid steady.

At any rate, my very best wishes to you and yours in this auspicious season.

Posted by: Liz Ditz at January 1, 2005 12:42 AM