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African Burial Ground Observes Kwanzaa

National Parks of New York Harbor

National Park News

On Dec. 28, African Burial Ground National Monument hosted an observance of Kwanzaa, a seven day holiday that celebrates African heritage among African Americans. The event, attended by more than 100 people, was a way to honor the traditional values of this holiday -- Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).  

Each day of Kwanzaa honors a separate value, and the National Park Service’s celebration fell on the day dedicated to Ujima. The staff strove to interweave the theme of collective work and responsibility into every planned activity.  For example, during the wire doll workshop, participants were encouraged to help each other to make the traditional figurines, learning not only from the workshop leader, but from the person sitting next to them.

As part of the special talk  “Nguzo Saba: The Meaning and Principles of Kwanzaa,” people of all ages sat in the round and watched as the officiant spoke from the altar covered with the traditional elements of Kwanzaa -- fruits, nuts and plants.  He invited an elder and seven young children in the lighting of the kinara (the traditional candle holder), indicating that this was a way to insure that the “wisdom of age would meet the possibility of youth”.  He assigned each candle to each one of the children, demonstrating that they were responsible for that value.  A traditional libation was performed as part of the ceremony as well.        

The noontime performance of “The Black Nutcracker” by the Uptown Dance Academy was standing room only. The unique program retained elements of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet while seamlessly blending in more modern music and dance.  The performance was an ensemble piece, with both young children and older dancers in the principal roles.  Stage crew helped with costumes and music cues as well from the sidelines, further highlighting collective work.  

The afternoon discussion on the anthropological aspects of Kwanzaa, highlighting its meaning and symbols, was held in the multi-purpose room and served to balance the celebration with education.  For people looking to further understand the holiday, this segment allowed them to ask questions and deepen their understanding of Kwanzaa and its significance to the descendent community.


Shirley McKinney, superintendent of African Burial Ground National Monument, noted,  “This annual observance is a special way for our staff and volunteers to introduce Kwanzaa to new visitors to this unique NPS site. We are so pleased so many people attended.”

Many of day’s visitors were regulars to the African Burial Ground and showed their pride in the significance of the site through their participation. The warmth of the greetings amongst visitors, the sense of camaraderie, and the joy people took in celebrating together made this day an important one not only to the African Americans who live in New York City, but to the NPS employees who care for the site.


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