Free Kwanzaa Celebration at George Carver Museum

Elizabeth Kahura explains the principles and food behind the holiday

Many elementary school children come home singing songs they’ve learned about holiday celebrations around the world, including Kwanzaa. The George Carver Museum will host Elizabeth Kahura, originally from Kenya, and founder of the teaching program African Safari, to lead festivities on Friday and educate the public at the same time.

We chatted with Kahura about the importance of community – and food – for this holiday.

The African American holiday (Dec. 26 - Jan. 1.), founded by Dr. Maulana Karenga, honors community through seven daily principles. Kahura says that one of the pillars of Kwanzaa – Swahili for “beginning” – celebrates the African harvest, and honors the first fruits. Karenga stresses the importance of sitting down to honor the harvest, and festivities often include dishes that represent produce from many regions – pineapples, oranges, bananas, corn, plantains, and more. It’s meant “to bring communities together as a way of reflecting,” Kahura explains. The first principle is unity (Umoja), and “we reflect on the community working together to be strong. The second principle is self-determination (Kujichagulia). To know who you are you have to choose your destiny," she says. There’s also purpose (Nia), creativity (Kuumba), and collective work and responsibility (Ujima). The fourth principle, cooperative economics (Ujamaa), will be a focus of Friday’s event.

Elizabeth Kahura

Kahura continues, “On the last day of Kwanzaa there is Imani, which means faith. We all come together and we wish each other good things for the coming year. We all have hope and faith that things will be better, for us as a community. It's really rich, and it has a good meaning.”

Kahura explains that anyone can celebrate the holiday. “Yes, it was meant for African Americans to be able to link themselves with their African roots, but [it’s about] the principles behind it… anybody can benefit from unity, from creativity, from having purpose, all those positive principles. Anybody can adapt them into their lives. That’s how I adapt them to my life, too.”

As with any holiday celebration, food is involved. Kahura says, “Every day is reflection and food, but in the last day itself, the seventh day, when we’re ushering in the New Year, and we have a feast called Karamu. It’s a day with a lot of food, because it's harvest time. There's music, food, drinks, and, of course, barbecue – African-style. Most of the people try to cook dishes that can resonate with African culture. Maybe it's plantains, or just something that links them, or reminds them, of their heritage.” Her favorite dish to share is chapati, similar to a tortilla, cooked alongside collard greens and meats to stuff inside. Though Austin does not have many restaurants dedicated to African cuisine (aside from Ethiopian food), she mentions that the Africarib Market on Rundberg is a good starting spot for acquiring some of the ingredients needed for recipes like chapati or simsim.

Whether new to Austin, or just generally searching for community, Kahura suggests that this event provides a place to get together, to learn and honor and celebrate, and to begin forming and strengthening communities. To explain just how pervasive this holiday celebration has become, Kahura sings a few lines from Lionel Ritchie’s song: “We're going to party. Karamu, fiesta, forever. Come on and sing along! All night long!

The George Washington Carver Museum will host a free, open to the public Kwanzaa celebration on Fri., Dec. 29, 6:30pm- 8pm at 1165 Angelina Street. To RSVP, please call 512/974-4926.

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