Counting Kwanzaa: Thoughts on Voodoo Unity


Kinara in Oakland YMCA lobby by George Kelly licensed under CC by 2.0

Someone just posted on my Facebook wall that “Kwanzaa is crap.” So much for hopes of U-N-I-T-Y, in the community, in the world, even on my fracking wall. Okay, Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday. It’s not associated with any religion in particular and is designed to, in the words of it’s creator Dr. Maulana Karenga, “bring a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be African and Human in the fullest sense.” That sounds great, in theory. Kwanzaa starts today. It is a holiday about family and harvest. It is centered around seven principles, beginning with unity.

Voodoo Unity

There’s not much unity in the Voodoo and Vodou community. Actually it’s a bit of a war, and it pretty much always has been. There have always been drama filled rivalries between New Orleans Voodoo practitioners. You can read some of the folklore surrounding these in Mysterious Marie Laveau Voodoo Queen and Jambalaya by Luisah Teish. There is stiff competition for resources and not much love to go around.


Unity in the Afro-Diasporan Community

Kwanzaa begins with a celebration

of ourselves as African people, our families,

communities and culture. But in its ancient

African origins as a first-fruit harvest

celebration, it is also a celebration of life and

all the good in the world— fruit and flower,

beast and bird, field and forest, star and stone,

water, mountains and the mysteries and

magnificence of the earth and the heavens.”

-Celebrating and Living Kwanzaa 2013 Founder’s Message by Dr. Maulana Karenga 

All too often African and African-American culture is met with prejudice and fear, even within its own boundaries. Kwanzaa is a walk your damn talk holiday. True, it is a manufactured holiday. But it speaks of coming together, and these very nature inspired words that come from the founder this year give me hope that maybe simpler, better days are ahead.


Is it Okay for White People?

It’s 2013, and there is still the outmoded idea that assimilation and miscegenation mean eradication for both parties. One popular blog by Akilah Bolden-Monifa asks the question “Can White People Celebrate Kwanzaa?” The short answer is yes: the same way a non-Jewish person can attend a Seder meal or a muggle can go to an open Pagan circle. All signs of life began in Africa, and the values are something everyone could learn from. But alas, experience shapes existence, and probably not too many white people want to attend. For those of us in Voodoo, Vodou, or Santeria (Lukumi), we have our own traditions, and many see little reason to add another to an already full schedule.


Sowing and Harvesting Seeds of Good

This first night of Kwanzaa the custom is to light a black candle, representative of the faces of Kwanzaa. A black torch to light the way on the nights ahead, on the path to the future. The theme this year is “Sowing and Harvesting Seeds of Good.” This sentiment definitely seems to call us all back to our Pagan, simpler roots. It’s about moving forward with kindness, gentleness, and respect to reap the benefits of a new tomorrow. Let’s see what the future will hold.



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