'A celebration for our people:' Local residents gather to observe Kwanzaa - Albuquerque Journal

‘A celebration for our people:’ Local residents gather to observe Kwanzaa

Brian Eady, right, pours water from a “libation cup” into a live plant, while reciting the names of loved ones who have died. With him are, from left, his wife, Tryphenia Peele-Eady, Mable Orndorff-Plunkett, and her husband, Ed Plunkett. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

What’s happening?

Depends on which of the seven days of Kwanzaa the question is asked.

A cultural celebration within the African-American community, Kwanzaa begins the day after Christmas. Each day the question “habari gani?” or “what’s happening?” is asked in the Swahili language, and each day the response varies from “umoja” to “nia” to “imani,” which are among the seven core principles of the celebration.

A group of friends gathered at the Albuquerque home of Ed Plunkett and his wife, Mable Orndorff-Plunkett, to observe this melding of African heritage and African-American culture.

Kwanzaa, which means “first fruits,” was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a California author, educator and “cultural curator,” Orndorff-Plunkett said. “He felt that the descendants of the African diaspora needed something to focus on and make us feel that we had some heritage, because so many of us feel we don’t.”

Karenga, born Ronald McKinley Everett, was active in the black power movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Borrowing from images, symbols and the Swahili language, his notion of Kwanzaa evolved into a secular celebration of family, community and culture, rather than as an alternative to Christmas.

“Kwanzaa is about the past, present and future, so we look at where we have come from, what’s going on now, and the principles that will guide us into the future for the benefit of our children and those who haven’t yet been born,” Orndorff-Plunkett said.

Each of those principles, the Nguzo Saba, are represented by one of the seven branches on the candelabra, or the kinara, said Brian Eady, a project manager with the U.S. Forest Service. On the first day, one candle is lit; on the second day, two are lit; and so on.

Translated from the Swahili, the principles are unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith.

Symbols of Kwanzaa sit atop a table. Among them are the seven-branched candelabra with candles in black, red and green, gourds and a live plant to represent the harvest, ears of corn that represent children, and a “libation cup” to honor ancestors. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Like the Passover seder table, everything on the Kwanzaa table has meaning. The straw place mat is the “foundation of our tradition,” Eady said. On top of it is the candelabra, with candles of black, red and green, the colors of the pan-African flag, and representing the people, their blood and the fertile lands of Africa. An ear of corn is set for each member of a family. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, gourds or a live plant represent the harvest. A “libation cup” honors ancestors and is symbolic of unity. Educational gifts for children represent the labor and love of parents and the commitments made by children.

Ed Plunkett, a retired naval officer and software writer for the New Mexico Department of Health, said he and Mable began celebrating Kwanzaa 21 years ago when their son, then 8 years old, “asked us why we don’t have a celebration for our people.” Mable was more familiar with the celebration, and they began learning more and honoring it yearly, motivated by their son’s enthusiasm for it.

Brian’s wife, Tryphenia Peele-Eady, an associate professor in the University of New Mexico College of Education, said she has celebrated Kwanzaa since she was a child growing up in North Carolina.

“To me, it was about understanding the virtues of personhood, and what it meant to be a contributing member to my community and to my society. What has changed is now, as an adult, there is the responsibility to teach and pass it forward.”

Kwanzaa has become fairly mainstream, she said. Black churches have celebrations, stores have displays and sell Kwanzaa items, the U.S. Postal Service has stamps to honor it, and it has spread to Canada, France, Great Britain, Jamaica and Brazil.

Home » News » Albuquerque News » ‘A celebration for our people:’ Local residents gather to observe Kwanzaa

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