What is the “Kwanzaa” festival?
Donald Trump wished a happy Kwanzaa to African Americans. This little-known celebration was invented in the 1960s in Los Angeles by Dr. Karenga a “black power” activist.
Donald Trump likes to surprise. He did not depart from this principle when he presented his wishes on Tuesday, December 26th, on the occasion of Kwanzaa.
“Today marks the first day of Kwanzaa, a week-long celebration of the cultural heritage of African Americans. Together, let us celebrate the richness of the past during these joyous times and look forward to a brighter future,” he said in a White House statement.
An Afro-centric celebration in reaction to the “White” calendar
The Kwanzaa festival was created from scratch in 1966 in Los Angeles, one year after the Watts race riots. Its initiator was none other than Maulana Karenga, a civil rights and pan-Africanist activist. The festival was conceived at a time when some black activists were trying to impose an alternative calendar, in reaction to the pervasiveness of “white” culture in American society. It honors the cultural heritage of the African-American community, inviting it to reconnect with its African roots.
According to the Guadeloupean academic and activist Ama Mazama, Kwanzaa is “a philosophical position urging Africans to understand the Black world according to their own experiences, their experiences, their perception deeply rooted in African culture and history. From this perspective, the “African man” must establish his own value system, based on his own references.
In the Swahili language, the word “Kwanzaa” evokes “the first fruits of the harvest”. After Hanukkah and Christmas, Kwanzaa is the ultimate holiday in the United States. Each year, from December 26 to January 1, families celebrating Kwanzaa light black, green, and red candles (the colors of pan-African nationalism) on a seven-branch candleholder, the Kinara. “As families and friends light the Kinara together, Melania and I extend our warmest wishes for a joyous holiday season and a prosperous year ahead,” the White House statement said.
A surprising gesture of rapprochement, to say the least
Kwanzaa remains a festival not very common in the southern hemisphere, more so in the United States and the Caribbean. This year, there has been some renewed interest in the festival in the U.S. media due to the tense climate in the U.S. since the election of Donald Trump. Trump, who is largely unpopular with African Americans, is accused of complacency with white supremacist movements and systematic denigration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States.
Indeed, some commentators have not failed to point out that Donald Trump had (wrongly) reproached him in 2011 for having celebrated Kwanzaa but not Christmas.
On Twitter, some have questioned whether the White House statement was actually issued with the consent of Trump, who is currently resting in his Mar-a-Lago home in West Palm Beach.
Before him, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama used to include Kwanzaa celebrations in their traditional year-end greetings.