Through Kwanzaa, Iqaluit’s black community celebrates culture
“They’re things that anybody can apply to themselves and their lives”
Those passing by Iqaluit’s Qajuqturvik Food Centre at a certain point on Sunday night were likely to hear the loud but muffled sounds of pan-African music, joined by the synchronous thudding of the Danz’Afro folk dancers performing inside.
The festivities were part of a Kwanzaa celebration organized by the Nunavut Black History Society.
Unlike Christmas or Chanukah, Kwanzaa isn’t a religious holiday but, rather, a celebration of culture.
“You can celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chanukah and any other holiday,” said Soriah Greaves, one of the event organizers.
“It just takes an open mindset to want to be a part of something else.”
Also unlike many of the other holidays in December, Kwanzaa is relatively new, created by Maulana Karenga in 1965, during the midst of the African-American civil rights movement, to introduce Nguzo Saba, which in Swahili means the Seven Principles.
These seven values of Kwanzaa are intended to contribute to building and reinforcing family, community and culture among African-American people, as well as Africans throughout the world African community:
- Unity: To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation and race.
- Self-determination: To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves and speak for ourselves.
- Collective work and responsibility: To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together.
- Cooperative economics: To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
- Purpose: To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
- 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.
- Faith: To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
Every year Kwanzaa is celebrated over the course of seven nights, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, with a new candle, each representing one of the Nguzo Saba, being lit each night on the kinara, Swahili for candle holder.
In Iqaluit, there were three nights of public celebrations, a screening of the Kwanzaa documentary “Black Candle,” a night of storytelling and then the final night, a feast that included traditional African and Afro-Caribbean dishes like curried goat and oxtail.
When asked if there were any unique challenges when celebrating Kwanzaa in the north, Greaves said with a laugh, “Everybody leaves at Christmas!”
For Greaves, the biggest challenge is finding who’s here and who would come out and celebrate.
She also admits that the concept of Kwanzaa is still new, even for people in Africa, so for her celebrating is as much about the teaching opportunity as it is about enjoying and sharing it with the community.
Greaves also stressed that one common misconception about Kwanzaa is that it’s only for those with African heritage.
“If you read through the principles, you can see that they’re things that anybody can apply to themselves and their lives, to improve their lives and their communities around them.”