|Joyous First Day of Kwanzaa from Shanna!|
There's always the running theme that no one knows what the hell Kwanzaa is, or that it's not a "real" holiday because it came into fruition in recent history. Bull to the shit. We live in a world where you can Google who that actress who died after voicing that animated movie back in 19881 and people are celebrating Patriot Day on September 11th which hasn't been around long enough to drink. So no. Stop being a brat and learn you a thing.
Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration from December 26th to January 1st among the African diaspora, in particular among African-Americans in the US. It celebrates family, culture, community, and ties back to African culture and its continued influence on black people in a world that tried to stamp the culture out of us with every method possible. The name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits of the harvest;" Swahili was one of the major African Languages that got latched on in the 60s for black people since it is very African in a way many languages aren't. I tend to do my first fruits celebration on Lammas, but it made for a nice name for the festival. The holiday was developed by Maulana Karenga as an alternative holiday to Christmas, and first celebrated in 1966-1967 in the rising wake of Black consciousness, the rejection of whiteness and European supremacy, and part of the reaffirmation of blackness as beautiful and worthy of celebration. Many black people, rather than having the festival as a total Giftmas replacement, append it onto the holiday. Part of the purpose of and drive behind this festival is because most of the African diaspora cannot trace their heritage before slavery or the Slave Trade--a nice way to say "that part of history where Europe was full of a bunch of lazy motherfuckers who barged into North America, decided that since it was too hard to enslave the Native Americans to work like fucking animals because they either kept dying or running off and hiding, and thus decided they would just import Africans for the job and keep them enslaved for hundreds of years." Ahem. That's the femmenoir enrageous I have.
I have never really actively celebrated Kwanzaa. My mother would give us small gifts every day of Kwanzaa--things like earrings, nail polish, black heritage books, or my first wine cooler when I was fifteen--and we'd discuss the Nguzu Saba or the seven principles of African Heritage. But we were pretty private about it. (When I was younger, my family and I went to a First Day of Kwanzaa festival, but it was a poorly planned hot mess with no actual community so much as it was "watch the people of our organization talk and do things without integrating anyone else," and my mother doesn't like that, and so we never went back to another one.) We never owned a kinara and I still don't own a functional one, though that will change soon. As I said yesterday, several aspects of pan-Africanism--especially as misinterpreted to result in misogynoir and stereotypes--rubbed me the wrong way for years. I'm a little ashamed to say that several years ago, I was actively against Kwanzaa celebration. Partially due to this being pushed on me as the "Black Hanukkah" or the Black substitute to Christmas or people making fun of me for wanting to do so. And I was told that either I wasn't really black for not giving my all to every aspect of Kwanzaa, including the sexist, abusive, and homophobic aspects--and at the same time I was being "too" black by wanting to do any aspects of it.2 But I want to change that and start to celebrate Kwanzaa--I will probably be adding pagan aspects to the celebration--and so I'm starting that this year. Today's principle is Umoja, or Unity: wanting to do one's best to maintain and hold on to unity and connections among family, communities, and the diaspora. So I'm starting that unity with my AG Kwanzaa set. We all gotta pick it back up somewhere.
In 1996 AG, realizing that maybe a ballet outfit was not an exemplary holiday outfit for a modern historical unless we were all going to be writing stories about ten-year-olds dancing in the school performance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, released three outfits that actually were more holiday focused: the Hanukkah Outfit (also called the Winter Festival Outfit and thus maintaining some neutrality for non-Jewish people), the Chinese New Year Outfit, and the Kwanzaa Outfit. Each had its own set of accessories and thus the Kwanzaa Outfit had the Kwanzaa Decorations. The Kwanzaa Outfit consisted of a headwrap, West African kaftan dress, beaded necklace, and leather thong sandals for a cost of $22; the accessories consisted of the kinara (candle holder), seven candles, two ears of corn, a mat, the unity cup, three pieces of fruit, a woven basket, and a doll sized book for $20. Both were retired in 1999 and since then AG has not done anything cultural for Kwanzaa since. (As for Chinese New Year, there's Ivy's set and...that's it. [sarcasm]Wow.[/sarcasm])
My set was gifted to me by a buddy in 2007 with both the outfit and all the items except the kinara and candles at a good time as I was seriously trying to reconnect to the celebration even though I wasn't quite there yet; she found it on eBay and asked if I was okay not having a kinara and I told her I'd make one--which I did out of Sculpy and wire. At the time my nine girl gang only had Addy and Otters as my black girls--Otters having a white grandmother. So Addy chose to wear the set the first time as she agreed that it looks like what her great-grandmother from Nigeria would wear and here she is into pan-Africanism and the celebration of black culture. Edith joined Addy in 2008 but her historical period is literally just shy of the first Kwanzaa--her first book is set late summer 19643 --and so she didn't quite work to wear it, and by the time Mellie came along I was still in that wobbly period of not sure about celebrating Kwanzaa. But this year, Shanna and I decided to celebrate our heritage and I think this will be her set from now on.
Because people who list things on eBay can often be morons or don't research what they list--a good thing and a bad thing--this often gets labeled as "Addy's Kwanzaa Set" because Addy is the most recognized Black AG.4 The outfit generally shows up on eBay near retail with just the kaftan and headwrap, pretty frequently with the shoes and necklace, and often several of the accessories have been stuffed in as well with nearly no change in price or less than the original $42 a full set would have been--but almost never the kinara and candles, and if I didn't have images of it I'd swear it was a fantasy that they ever existed. It doesn't show up a lot because most of the AG collecting community is white or really bad about black things, and I'm actually not too irritated about it. I really hackles up about white people fucking up or messing around in Kwanzaa and being appropriative. It's our celebration. Not everything is for y'all. Some things white people need to just let us have, gods damn it. If we're willing to share with you, that's one thing, but stop looking in our bowl, you already have all the other jellybeans.
You can see white goop around the base of my kinara candles, which will be discussed and add a Crafting Creatively aspect to this post. This is because the kinara was made with non removable candles, I broke three, reglued them and reinforced the base with Tacky Glue, and at the time of my pictures the setting hadn't dried clear.
|Wrapping the hair up.|
|Laying mostly flat.|
And now, how to put on the headscarf--with photographs!
|Topknot, no glasses.|
|One handed job.|
|Tucking the narrow end.|
|Successful headwrap is successful.|
|Kaftan of drape.|
|It does have a shape. Rectangle is a shape.|
|Look close, there's velcro.|
|These sandals, man.|
|Beads on the toes.|
|Off the foot.|
|Kwanzaa decorations. Like an altar, there's meaning in everything.|
|The Unity Cup.|
|Handle. And now I say why I don't like it.|
And at the back is a handle, along with a line to resemble a hairline.
You have likely noticed that I didn't say anything about the features each line. That is because the cup is, frankly, not very pretty. Okay, I'll say it. It's ugly. It's ass out ugly. And not because they were attempting to reinterpret pan African decorative masks and design. I like those, they're beautiful. When done right. I don't like it because they attempted this and they wholly fucked it up. The features are off balance and offends my Libra sense of aesthetics, the features are in that uncanny valley between right and wrong that makes if unpleasant, and the whole thing feels like a quarter assed job. AG should have just done a standard decorative goblet, as they didn't do the features evenly and respectfully. D.
|A Pear. Well, just one. Hah! I'm punny.|
|This peach is a bum. And the butt of my jokes.6|
All the fruits have a little weight to them and feel nice to hold.
|Look at that weaving. LOOK.|
|Bottoms on the baskets.|
|Book! Get your read on.|
- Umoja, or Unity: We did this one earlier. Try to keep up. It's wanting to do one's best to maintain and hold on to unity and connections among family, communities, and the diaspora.
- Kujichagulia, or Self-Determination:8 Defining ourselves, naming ourselves, creating things for ourselves and speaking up for ourselves. Basically, being our own people, and not letting the definitions the overarching dominant culture wants to put on us define us.
- Ujima or Collective Work and Responsibility: Knitting and holding the community together, and realizing that the issues our our brothers and sisters face are as much ours as theirs so that we can come together and solve them.
- Ujamaa, or Cooperative Economics: Getting our own shit together. Running our own shops, our own businesses, and profiting together instead of apart. For Us, From Us, By Us, To Us.
- Nia, or Purpose: To move into the future together, to make something to light that little flame that makes us get up and go forward and move upward and onward and pull those up behind us into the light.
- Kuumba, or Creativity: to design and decorate and explore and leave a space more beautiful and shining than when we stepped inside.
- Imani, or Faith: To believe in the people, family, and community we've built and continue to build. To know that the struggle is not only real, but worth every time we fight.
|Inner page and contents.|
|Kinara and candles.|
Nguzo Saba. Most people do one black candle, three red candles, and three green ones. You light a candle each day--starting with the center black, and alternating sides--and discuss that principle with family and among your community. Since my set didn't come with, I made a set out of Sculpy. I am thinking that it's going to get touched up with paint. The candles don't come out of my set.
|The lines and dots.|
Overall Feel: Yes. Yes please. This set is so, so needed for black children, and this kind of representation really matters. The headscarf--once you figure out how easy they made it--looks wonderful when put on, the kaftan drapes nicely, and the print on both is wonderful. The necklace is so, so detailed. The shoes are kind of suck, but that's about the worst because AG was failing at sandals for about a decade. Wait, no the worst is that lopsided unity cup. I am displeased. A better cup is needed, and I'm going to try to sculpt up one. I'll also probably add a Bendera, or pan-African flag, and a poster of the Nguzo Saba to my set--but the rest of the set is great. The book could not be more perfect. And thinking about it and how irritated I am about another white GotY, I'm kind of pissed now that AG hasn't done anything like this since. They were doing it right, even if some parts were fucked up, and they should do it again. Get on this shit, AG.
Cost Value: Original costs were great. eBay Costs are still really great--likely because it's not something that's really popular in collections because it's unambiguously black culture. I didn't pay for mine, but given the time I got it, it means the world to me. I really wanted the set when I was a teen, to be honest--I would have probably put it on Addy or a #1 or 18 since I wanted them too. At the time I got the set I was really going through that rough period so many PoC and enlightened people do when their eyes have just started opening to the oppression of the world and how much it sucks for those who aren't on the easiest game setting in life, and they start questioning all the shit they used to say and absorb and now have the aching task of needing to unlearn that toxicity. So it means a lot to me.
Timeliness/Datedness: None. The outfit is based on traditional West African styles of outfits that have been around for decades, if not centuries. Kwanzaa has been around since 1966 so it doesn't work before then, and the book is 1995 published, but the rest of the is contemporary to the holidays and will carry forward.
Mix and Match Levels: Nope.While the accessories can be used with any Kwanzaa celebration and items replaced--I'm replacing the cup--this isn't a set to just slap up with anything. Same with the outfit.
Final Grade: A. It's beautiful, and meaningful, and rich with symbolism. It's for my people and for me.
And to bare my anger fangs again: Don't do stupid shit. I've yet to see it, thank the gods, but this outfit is for black dolls. If you ever put this outfit on a non-black doll, I sincerely wish to Sweet Goddess Yemaya, the Caretaker of the African Diaspora and one of my personal goddesses, that you utterly pay for it. I wish that your dreams forever go unfulfilled, your hopes find themselves speared mid-flight and impaled on jagged rocks, that every single one of your nightmares haunt you endlessly, and that all the bad things happen to you and only you. I openly and unashamedly wish the worst on you if you cross that line.
*beam* Joyous Kwanzaa to my People.
1 Judith Barsi. Google it and be sad.
2 That and, sad to say, nearly every black person in this racist world goes through a stage or two where they don't want to be "black", they just want to be an individual and actively fight back against blackness to try to be one of the good ones or special black people. I did it through a majority of college and the first years out. Some never get out of it, either.
3 I'm writing her books myself.
4 This also happens with any of the dolls that have Addy's look. You wouldn't believe how many #1 and #18s I see labeled as "Addy."
5 This had better be on a black doll.
6 AG has been fucking up terms since day one *coughEdwardiancough*
7 Harry Potter Jokes.
8 Okay, okay, I'll stop being an ass. >.>
9 I love this one so much that it's a character in a book I wrote. Along with Nia, Umoja, and Kuumba.