Conversations for a while during Kwanzaa’s seven-day celebration has encompassed the principles that we all try to live by as we move into the next year (or as we express the next phase of our lives). Kwanzaa, derived from the Kiswahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza”, Kwanzaa means “first fruits of the harvest.” Kwanzaa’s purpose is a reaffirmation of peoples commitment to ourselves, our families, our community, and our fight for equality and justice.
Those on the outside (and I am including those Black people unaware of or refuse to participate in Kwanzaa as well) see this celebration as a Black Holiday or a protest against Christmas due to its parallel preachings of Self-Determination and the fight for justice. Any mention of those needs will always place fear in the minds of those whom see these actions as anarchist and or challenging the American way of life but Kwanzaa is actually more inline with the spirit of Christmas than it is as practiced today.
The whole experience of Kwanzaa is a re-booting of the spirit. By energizing the very core of the human condition. The holiday concentrates on; unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. This may sound like a massive laundry list of actions of accomplish within seven days or much more, within a year of one’s life but it can be accomplished and often is. I recently expressed that as people live out their lives with purpose, the forces that block our blessings can and often wear us down thus the seeds of apathy take root. Kwanzaa allows for those things needed to grow the fruits needed to nourish our body, our minds and our soul. It’s a holiday of focus, of thanks, commitment and love.
So on this day of Kuumba (Creativity) I am going to focus on a creative solution to the disconnection of Blacks in America and Blacks in Africa. Big challenges to say the least since there are cultural tensions that neither side wants to address. I decided to actively work on and concentrate on a formula to address this a little later in the New Year of 2008 but for now I want to tell how I came to this idea of personally looking at this as a creative project.
Two days ago I watched the National Geographic Channel’s show TABOO. Like all things National Geographic I find what other cultures and countries do a fascinating topic. Now I do not believe that National Geographic to be 100% fair and balanced, but for the most part, the reporting is accurate. On the day I watched there were several topics of taboo discussed; food, self-mutilation and coming of age rituals. The continents covered were Asia, Europe and Africa. When it came to Africa the country of focus was the West African coastal nation of Benin. There are groups of African people who practice a male coming of age ritual when the Men challenge each other by whipping each other to “test” their Manhood. The youth at the age just before adulthood are brought together in a ceremony for all to see and experience are stripped, made-up and displayed for their masculine beauty. At the center of the community its one man versus another man in an, "I whip you and you whip me competition". The whips are made of tree branches (the very same branched our mothers and fathers, grandparents and elders used on us when we were children) and made in such a way that they can cause the most pain and damage. The goal, to make the person inflected with the lash cry, scream or pass out due to the pain. To fail this test would bring shame to the family and not allowed to marry. For the women, it was a chance to see what eligible men would be available for marriage.
During the ritual I watched as man after man took turns whipping the other as they tried their best to break the other. They taunted each other, they laughed as the lashes cut deep into their ebon skin of the challenged. The other part of the ritual was to want the cuts to encourage the scarification. Each cut displayed the proof of survival, the journey of Manhood and most of all, the statement of being a Warrior. Ultimately the ritual was more about being both a Man and a Warrior. And as I looked in those faces going through this Mind Over Matter competition with the grand prize being a pick of any woman in the village for gratuitous sex, I could not dismiss that all of those faces looked exactly like mine.
National Geographic noted that this ritual had nothing to do with religion for based upon the culture you could assume that this particular group was part of an Islamic society; it did have more to do with the structure of cultural law dating back hundreds of years. Its bases was established for how men and women are to behave in this Benin society. Outside of the whipping, which I believe with that of the American use of the whip, this African practice may have also survived long enough to have influenced my ass beating in my youth, I said to myself, “… that could never be me, after that first strike, I’d scream like a girl, fuck those women.” As funny (or ignorant depending on your point of view) as that sound, I had to acknowledge that I was different than my Benin Brothers when it came to proving my Manhood, but had much more in common in many other ways.
We "are" different than our African Brothers and Sisters but this difference when you look at the big picture is small. We might think that the differences are as large as the Atlantic Ocean is wide but it really isn’t. When it comes to culture, it is just a matter of language, limits and freedoms and knowledge about community. I see Black men with Omegas and Sigmas branded into their skin, Black men with tattoos that cover their whole arms, chests, necks and backs, I see Black men with piercings in their ears, eye brows, lips, nose and sexual organs, circumcisions, Mohawks, dreds, capped teeth, plastic surgery and I know that in Africa, many of our beatifications or ritualized practices in America would be equally taboo to them. To be honest, these actions are taboo even to our own people here in the United States. Yet, take away all the social stigmas and social differences, when you look at a worldview, family and economics, we have more in common almost identical commonalities which displaces any African ritual that we as Blacks in American are disconnected from. We often find that in our disconnect, it is often based in our lack of understanding of our core being as Black people which is why Kwanzaa is so significant in our healing. At its core unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith is what facilitate that gap.
How is that for insight on New Year’s Eve?
"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."