Umoja Karamu- Embrace your Heritage

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Umoja Karamu (oo-MOH-jah kah-RAH-moo) is a celebration of unity within the African-American family, community, and nation. Umoja Karamu is a Swahili term meaning “unity feast.” Many African Americans celebrate this day as an alternative to the national Thanksgiving Day holiday. The unity feast may also be observed during Kwanzaa celebrations in late December.

The concept of African and African-American unity is centuries old. But during the 1960s and 1970s, it was a major focus of black nationalists. During the 1980s and 1990s, Afrocentric scholars such as Ishakamusa Barashango, lecturer, author, and founder of Philadelphia’s Temple of the Black Messiah, drew further attention to the theme.

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Barashango, who died in 2004, argued that African Americans and black people of the diaspora should reject such European-American holidays as Thanksgiving and concentrate instead on understanding Africa’s culture and values that are the distinctive heritage of black people.

In 1971 Brother Edward Simms Jr. of the Temple of the Black Messiah in Philadelphia developed Umoja Karamu to celebrate the African-American family and home. According to Barashango, Simms defined the purpose of Umoja Karamu as “an effort to inject new meaning and solidarity into the Black Family through ceremony and symbol.”

The date for the holiday, the fourth Sunday of November, was established by the Temple of the Black Messiah in Washington, D.C. African Americans in other cities, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Chicago, soon followed the example.

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The celebration is based on five periods of African-American life, each represented by a color.

  1. Prior to Slavery – the color black, represents black families before slavery
  2. In Slavery – the color white, symbolizes the scattering blacks families during slavery
  3. Upon Emancipation – the color red, marks blacks’ liberation from slavery
  4. Struggle for Liberation – the color green, significances the struggle for civil rights and equality
  5. Looking to the Future – the color gold, points celebrants to hope for the future

20 thoughts on “Umoja Karamu- Embrace your Heritage

  1. I remember across the Bridge in a Oakland Ca growing up, they would have this Arumba festival every year for Kwanzaa. I never felt so alive as a child. This was brilliant my man

    • Yeah they’re having a great time! They are having a blast! We need to have more festivities and celebrations like this. Celebrations that honor our culture and heritage. We have to stop celebrating these European holidays that are about death,genocide d slavery. I know must of us do it out of tradition and because our family does it. But has we get older and wiser we have to make our own choices. We have to decide to break the cycle of ignorance. You have to be brave to break these traditions though. You will be judged by family and friends. That’s the price you pay when your black consciousness grows to a higher spiritual level. But I think our ancestors will bless us for it.

  2. I’m w/ya Kush. Don’t celebrate pagan holidays. They have never been more than a day from school or work (if applicable). I’m thankful any and every time I’m in a loved one’s presence. As it should be.

    • I feel what you’re saying Nat. Just being with our family and friends is what is should be about. Most of these so-called holidays have nothing to do with our people. We have been so brainwashed being around these Europeans so damn long. They got us uplifting their heroes and holidays about genocide and murder. It shows our thinking process is really backwards. This is what we need to reverse.

  3. Great stuff. I believe that the African Americans should use these African-centred ‘unity feasts’ to regain their DIGNITY and RESPECT as human beings. Because the slave experiences forcibly took their language, culture, African perspective etc. Now, they’re a socially created people by another people(Europeans).

    Recognise that it also stole their community spirit. That’s why it’s difficult for Black Americans to come together and advance a UNIFIED agenda because they lack ‘RACIAL PRIDE’, a SURVIVAL instinct destroyed during the Transatlantic slave trade.

    I wish that we should learn African culture and languages not only as an intellectual exercise, but as a practical exercise. Learn to speak African languages, practice African culture such as initiation rites for boys/men; initiation rites for girls/women.

    • I agree with you Nkomo. We need more things like this in our community. They destroyed all of our culture and heritage through slavery and colonization. It’s now up to us to reclaim it. And the first thing we need to do is reject all these European holidays that have nothing to do with us. We you laid out is a great starting point. Thanks for the comment.

  4. @ Everybody:

    I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know the real background about this holiday tradition, but this video is very informative:

    Warning — this video contains some profanity. Enjoy! 😀

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