The Real History of Kwanzaa


Many believe that Maulana Karenga, professor of Africana Studies, scholar/activist and author is the creator of Kwanzaa. Mr. Karenga was able to codify the holiday with African references and influences but the spirit of the holiday originated with Julius Kambarage Nyerere. Though he was a suspicious of capitalism, his aim politically and culturally was to improve his country and all of Africa.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere (13 April 1922 – 14 October 1999) was a Tanzanian politician who served as the first President of Tanzania and previously Tanganyika, from the country’s founding in 1961 until his retirement in 1985.

Born in Tanganyika to Nyerere Burito (1860–1942), Chief of the Zanaki, Nyerere was known by the Swahili name Mwalimu or ‘teacher’, his profession prior to politics. He was also referred to as Baba wa Taifa (Father of the Nation). Nyerere received his higher education at Makerere University in Kampala and the University of Edinburgh. After he returned to Tanganyika, he worked as a teacher. In 1954, he helped form the Tanganyika African National Union.

In 1961, Nyerere was elected Tanganyika’s first Prime
Minister, and following independence, in 1962, the country’s first President. In 1964, Tanganyika became politically united with Zanzibar and was renamed to Tanzania. In 1965, a one-party election returned Nyerere to power. Two years later, he issued the Arusha Declaration, which outlined his socialist vision of ujamaa that came to dominate his policies.

Nyerere retired in 1985, while remaining the chairman of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi. He died of leukemia in London in 1999. In 2009, Nyerere was named “World Hero of Social Justice” by the president of the United Nations General Assembly.

Cultural Influence

Nyerere continued to influence the people of Tanzania in the years following his presidency. His broader ideas of socialism live on in the rap and hip hop artists of Tanzania. Nyerere believed socialism was an attitude of mind that barred discrimination and entailed equality of all human beings. Therefore, ujamaa can be said to have created the social environment for the development of hip hop culture. Like in other countries, hip hop emerged in post-colonial Tanzania when divisions among the population were prominent, whether by class, ethnicity or gender. Rappers’ broadcast messages of freedom, unity, and family, topics that are all reminiscent of the spirit Nyerere put forth in ujamaa. In addition, Nyerere supported the presence of foreign cultures in Tanzania saying, “a nation which refuses to learn from foreign cultures is nothing but a nation of idiots and lunatics…[but] to learn from other cultures does not mean we should abandon our own.” Under his leadership, the Ministry of National Culture and Youth was created in order to allow Tanzanian popular culture, in this case hip hop, to develop and flower. As a result of Nyerere’s presence in Tanzania, the genre of hip hop was welcomed from overseas in Tanzania and melded with the spirit of ujamaa.

To learn more about the Arusha Declaration, go to the Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arusha_Declaration

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9 thoughts on “The Real History of Kwanzaa

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