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On the fifth day of Kwanzaa

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
December 30, 2004


We are responsible for the world in which we find ourselves, if only because we are the only sentient force which can change it. — James Baldwin

Habari Gani.

Traditionally, Kwanzaa is an African American/ Pan-African holiday celebratinng family, community and culture. Celebrated between December 26th and January 1st , its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa from which it takes its name. The name Kwanzaa is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first fruits" in Swahili. Kwanzaa holds to the fundamental activities of African "first fruit" celebrations: ingathering; reverence; commemoration; recommitment; and celebration.

How cool is that?

Like Hanukkah, Solstice and Christmas, Kwanzaa is a time of gathering people to reaffirm the bonds between them. Although including reverence for a creator and creation, out of respect for the blessings, bountifulness, and beauty of creation, Kwanzaa is not a religious celebration. A celebration of culture, "First fruits" is a time for commemorating the past in pursuit of its lessons, and honoring models of human excellence.

Kwanzaa celebrates the good in life and of existence itself. Kwanzaa celebrates the good of family, community, culture, the good found in the awesome and the ordinary, the natural and the divine. Kwanzaa is cool.

Nguzo Saba is the seven principles around which Kwanzaa is structured. Umoja is the principle of unity in the family, community, nation, and race. Kujichagulia is the principle of self-determination, Ujima, collective work and responsibility, Ujamaa, cooperative economics. Nia, the fifth principle, speaks to purpose, the collective vocation of building and developing community, and the restoration of traditional cultures. Kuumba is the principle of creativity and beauty, and Imani is the principle of having faith in our teachers, our leaders, the righteousness of struggle, and ultimate victory.

I realize I am not of African descent. In fact I know my ancestors did wrong by the people of Africa. As a Californian of Dutch heritage I understand fully the horrors and injustice done in the name of colonialism. Far darker than the heart of Africa, the avarice of the Dutch and a willingness to commit genocide in the name of Christian privilege, can never be excused. Caucasian as charged, this however does not prevent me from utilizing the principles of Nguzo Saba to better understand my place in the world.

This Kwanzaa column debuts on the day of Nia. And in keeping with the ritual of reflection and recommitment, I choose to reflect on the purpose of Observations from Edge, and my role in developing a culture of collective vision, where environmental restoration is seen as the only path to peace and ecological sustainability the key to survival. My purpose is not that of most mainstream journalists, as it is my intent to do more than just serve as information conduit.

My purpose is to instigate, provoke, and promote a shift in ecological considerations. Considerations which will allow humans to live in balance with the natural world, and the species that share it with us. Something that should be encouraged, the principle of Nia asks us all to reflect on our purpose for being on the planet. I know mine is to leave it better than I found it. One way to accomplish this is writing.

Another is planting as many native trees as possible.

Observations is about speaking a different truth. Observations is a forum for animal rights, a respect for nature, native landscaping, and a free California. Observations is about promoting peace, denouncing war, and demanding an open and honest government. My purpose is to challenge the status quo that holds destruction as currency, and greed as a virtue. Tomorrow I will reflect on Kuumba, and the creativity I employ to continue the conversation.

Far from Africa, California could easily benefit from the wisdom behind the principles of Nguzo Saba. Community and a commitment to culture, generations deep, is a good thing.

As this holiday season comes to a close I will light a candle in the spirit of Nia, knowing I have enjoyed a good year. True to purpose, 2005 holds promise. After all George W. Bush's last election is behind him, Wangari Mathai just won the Nobel peace prize, and there is still plenty to talk about.

Habari Gani.

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