Ottawa Kwanzaa

Imagine the green, black, and red of pan-Africanism in perfect harmony with the colours of the visible spectrum. Imagine the subtle dance of Caribbean music simultaneously cleansing the spatial distribution of energy. Imagine the aroma of island spices and seasoning before touching your ever-salivating palette. The clothes: kente cloth everything, the traditional imvuntano from Burundi, and heads pridefully wrapped above deliberately expressive outfits. Strangers, acquaintances, and long extended greetings. This is but a brief description of Ottawa’s Kwanzaa celebration that does not do the event complete justice.

The annual Jaku Konbit Kwanzaa event occurred last night in downtown Ottawa. Who are they? They are a non-profit grassroots organization based in the nation’s capital who task themselves with the conservation and continuity of what some might popularly refer to as “Black excellence”. Jaku Konbit caters to the needs of people of African and Caribbean descent in Ottawa so it is only fitting that they organize Kwanzaa celebrations every year. Look out for their community programs and upcoming events like Black History Month.

This year we were blessed with poetry readings from St. Lucia, traditional dances from Haiti (Esens Kreyol) and Burundi (Sama), a group of young black boys on the djembe drums (Heru Drummers), the moving rendition of Nina Simone’s “Young, Gifted, and Black”, the pouring of libations in ancestral exaltation, and of course the Kwanzaa lighting ceremony. Elders and children came out as representatives of our collective pasts and futures last night and it was beautiful.

I notice, however, that still too many people are unaware of the the existence of Kwanzaa.

What is Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa is a non-religious Afro-centric week-long celebration of family, community, and culture with ripe origins in 1960s America. Every day, a different principle is highlighted: unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith; each of which outlines the behavioural model for the upcoming new year. As a reminder of African and Caribbean distinctiveness, Kwanzaa celebrations often consists of important elements from home such as story telling, drumming, and large traditional feasts. Furthermore, it is a time of silent and vocal reflection of the Black collective consciousness. Kwanzaa is incorporated at year’s end instead of or in conjunction with religious holiday celebrations.

Kwanzaa is for the people. It is the ideal refresher to ring in the new year. This year has been arguably kind to the culture (Black culture, that is) and Kwanzaa is a wonderful reminder of the wheels that have been set in motion moving into 2018.

That we may continue to exude Afro-Caribbean excellence and stand firm in our cultural inheritance for generations upon generations to come.



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