Boro celebrates Kwanzaa in August Martin festival

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The Afrikan Poetry Theatre held its annual Kwanzaa gala at the Baisley Boulevard high school Sunday, featuring an African marketplace, cultural performances and the lighting of the traditional Kwanzaa candles.

Kwanzaa, a seven-day cultural holiday based on African harvest celebrations, was established to promote pan-African tradition and values. It begins Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1.

"It's a celebration of Africa and African-American culture and history," said John Watusi Branch, executive director of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre. "It's a celebration of our people."

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, chairman of black studies at the University of California in Long Beach, who was looking for a way to unite people of African heritage and promote seven basic values of African culture. Karenga borrowed traditions from harvest celebrations from around Africa to form the basis of Kwanzaa.

"In Africa, the community works together to plant the seeds, till the soil and then reap the harvest," Watusi Branch said. "They would gather to celebrate the continued survival of the community."

The seven days of Kwanzaa represent the seven African principals, which are called the Nguzo Saba in Swahili. The principals are: Umoja, or unity; Kujichagulia, or self-determination; Ujima, of collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa, or cooperative economics; Nia, or purpose; Kuumba, or creativity; and Imani, or faith.

Families light black, red and green candles, starting with one the first night and adding a candle for each successive night of Kwanzaa, to symbolize the seven principals.

On the second to last night, Wednesday, an African feast, or Karamu is held.

Sunday's celebration included an African marketplace to promote the principal of cooperative economics, or Ujamaa, Watusi Branch said. Vendors filled their tables with traditional African clothing, art, music, books and videos on culture, and more.

"This represents the marketplace in an African village," Watusi Branch said. "The harvest wasn't celebrated in an isolated area. It was in the village. This is our village."

The celebration also included an explanation of Kwanzaa, the traditional lighting of candles and entertainment from local cultural groups.

"We really want to celebrate ourselves and our culture and we want to bring a variety of performances to you," said Louise Dente, director of programming at the Afrikan Poetry Theatre.

The performances, which tie into the sixth principal, Kuumba, or creativity as well as promote culture, included pieces by the August Martin High School Step Dance team, songs by Imani Scott, percussion rhythms from the Indoda Entsha Youth Performance, and more.

"Drums were the first telephones," Dente said. "They were our first method of communication. It's very important to keep it going from generation to generation."

While the festival was free to the public, the Afrikan Poetry Theatre did ask for donations to help renovate its building, at 176-03 Jamaica Ave. The building was damaged in a fire nearly two years ago, and since then the theater has been working to purchase it, a goal they were just recently able to accomplish, said Watusi Branch.

"We are now trying to renovate the building and really make it a state-of-the-art African cultural center," he said. "But we have to raise the money."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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