‘A Cel­e­bra­tion of Light’: Kwan­zaa at Sum­ner Hall

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By LEANN SCHENKE [email protected]­coun­tynews.com

CH­ESTER­TOWN — Though the cel­e­bra­tion of Kwan­zaa typ­i­cally be­gins Dec. 26 and runs through Jan. 1, Sum­ner Hall hosted an in­for­ma­tive pro­gram Dec. 29 to give the com­mu­nity the op­por­tu­nity to learn more about the his­tory of the cel­e­bra­tion.

“I think many peo­ple don’t re­ally know what Kwan­zaa means and how it came about and, in fact, when I started to do a lit­tle bit of re­search on this, I dis­cov­ered things that I did not know,” Ruth Shoge said.

Shoge had the idea to host a Kwan­zaa cel­e­bra­tion at Sum­ner Hall. She is a mem­ber of the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, which is a branch of the Kent County Lo­cal Man­age­ment Board-spon­sored So­cial Ac­tion Com­mit­tee.

The word Kwan­zaa means “first fruits” in Swahili, Shoge said.

“It’s not a re­li­gious hol­i­day. It’s a cul­tural cel­e­bra­tion,” Shoge said. “And it was not meant to re­place Christ­mas. It is in ad­di­tion to Christ­mas.”

Kwan­zaa was founded in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a na­tive of the East­ern Shore. Karenga grew up in Par­son­burg, which is near Sal­is­bury. Karenga is now a pro­fes­sor of African stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Shoge said.

The week-long cel­e­bra­tion is meant to honor African her­itage and cul­ture, Shoge said. She said, Karenga cre­ated the cel­e­bra­tion in re­sponse to “so­cial up­heaval and changes oc­cur­ring (in Amer­ica) in the 1960s.”

“He thought that African Amer­i­cans needed some­thing, some fo­cus to be able to move for­ward,” Shoge said. “He started to de­sign a cel­e­bra­tion that would honor the val­ues of the African cul­ture and in­spire African Amer­i­cans who were work­ing for progress.”

Shoge said Kwan­zaa has roots in an end-of-the-year har­vest cel­e­bra­tion. There are seven prin­ci­ples of Kwan­zaa: unity, self-de­ter­mi­na­tion, col­lec­tive work and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, co­op­er­a­tive eco­nomics, pur­pose, cre­ativ­ity and faith. Each is rep­re­sented by a can­dle, which is lit each day of Kwan­zaa. For Sum­ner Hall’s pur­poses, all seven can­dles were lit by au­di­ence mem­bers.

Shoge also ex­plained the mean­ing of items typ­i­cally placed on a ta­ble for Kwan­zaa. For ex­am­ple, the can­dle holder, Shoge said, is a “sym­bol of our

parent­age. It holds us all up un­der the seven prin­ci­ples, which each can­dle rep­re­sents.”

The unity cup is used to pour li­ba­tion in “rec­og­niz­ing and hon­or­ing the past,” Shoge said. The ta­ble also in­cluded crops, fruit to rep­re­sent agri­cul­ture while corn rep­re­sents chil­dren. The ta­ble also in­cludes gifts, which chil­dren re­ceive at the end of the sev­enth day. The ta­ble also in­cludes books and sym­bols from Africa along with art.

Evette Hyn­son, a board mem­ber with Sum­ner Hall, read the seven prin­ci­ples while the can­dles were lit.

Unity or umoja is to “strive for and main­tain unity in the fam­ily, com­mu­nity, na­tion and race.”

Self-de­ter­mi­na­tion or ujima is to “build and main­tain the com­mu­nity to­gether and make our brothers’ and sis­ters’ prob­lems our prob­lems and to solve them to­gether.”

Co­op­er­a­tive eco­nomics or uja­maa is to “build and main­tain our own stores, shops and other busi­nesses and to profit from them to­gether.”

Pur­pose or nia is to “make col­lec­tive vo­ca­tion the build­ings and de­vel­op­ment of the com­mu­nity in order to re­store our peo­ple to their tra­di­tions.”

Cre­ativ­ity or ku­umba is to “do al­ways as much as we can, in the ways we can, in order to leave our com­mu­nity more beau­ti­ful and ben­e­fi­cial than we in­her­ited.”

Faith or imani is to “be­lieve with all our heart in our peo­ple, our par­ents, our teach­ers, our lead­ers and the right­eous­ness and vic­tory of our strug­gle.”

At the end of the pro­gram, Simeon Shoge, Ruth Shoge’s hus­band, per­formed the li­ba­tion por­tion of the cel­e­bra­tion, which was meant to honor an­ces­tors. He per­formed the cer­e­mony in Yoruba, his na­tive lan­guage from Nige­ria.

“There’s an­ces­tral in­put into all of this and there’s God’s in­put,” Simeon Shoge said.

He said there are as­pects of the Holy Trin­ity with the Kwan­zaa li­ba­tion. Where as in Chris­tian tra­di­tions there is fa­ther, son and Holy Ghost — in Kwan­zaa, there are God, an­ces­tors and the willpower of the peo­ple in at­ten­dance.

“The bless­ings that con­nect us to­gether,” Simeon Shoge said of the peo­ple who gath­ered at Sum­ner Hall. “Just look around. It is a won­der­ful gath­er­ing. It’s di­verse and it’s all from the heart.”

For the li­ba­tion, he used palm wine from Africa say­ing “to God, to our an­ces­tors and to ev­ery be­ing hap­pi­ness, pros­per­ity and best of wishes now and for­ever, amen.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Gretchen Knowles pro­vided in­for­ma­tion about the process of re-cre­at­ing Har­riet Pow­ers’ Bible Quilt.

Knowles is from Kent County and is a re­tired psy­chi­atric nurse in Bal­ti­more. She is a quil­ter with the Olde Kent Quil­ters Guild.

She said she sug­gested the guild re-cre­ate the Bible Quilt af­ter the group said they wanted to make some­thing dif­fer­ent than the nor­mal quilt pat­terns.

Knowles said she was first in­tro­duced to the quilt when she saw a re­pro­duc­tion of it 25 years ago. The orig­i­nal is so faded and frag­ile, it is kept in stor­age in the Smith­so­nian.

The group was able to visit the mu­seum to see the orig­i­nal. Knowles said it took about a year and a half to re­search the quilt, col­lect fab­rics and draft the pat­terns.

Pow­ers was born in 1837 near Athens, Ga, Knowles said. She was born into slav­ery but later gained free­dom, Knowles said. She and her hus­banded lived on 4 acres af­ter be­ing eman­ci­pated.

Dur­ing a pe­riod when her fam­ily fell on hard times, Pow­ers sold the Bible Quilt, which some be­lieve she cre­ated to tell Bible sto­ries and spread the Gospel. There are 11 pan­els on the quilt de­pict­ing scenes from the Bible.

Knowles said Pow­ers is known as one of the most fa­mous African Amer­i­can folk artists for her quilts, though only two have sur­vived. She cre­ated the Bible Quilt and the Pic­to­rial Quilt, which are some­times called nar­ra­tive quilts.


Ruth Shoge shows what each item on the ta­ble rep­re­sents dur­ing an in­for­ma­tive pro­gram on the his­tory of Kwan­zaa. The event was held Dec. 29 at Sum­ner Hall. It was or­ga­nized by the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee within the So­cial Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, which Shoge is a mem­ber of.


Simeon Shoge led the au­di­ence through the li­ba­tion cer­e­mony dur­ing Sum­ner Hall’s Kwan­zaa cel­e­bra­tion Dec. 29.

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