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California State University

Umoja! Explaining Kwanzaa

Today is the first day of the pan African and African American holiday developed in 1966 by California State University professor and Chair of Africana Studies Dr. Maulana Karenga.

Kwanzaa means “First Fruits of Harvest” in Swahili, a language spoken in many East African nations. It is a seven-day holiday that celebrates seven values, collectively called the Nguzo Saba, a Swahili word for Seven Principles.

These seven communitarian African values are: Umoja (Unity), Kuji-chagulia (Self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Kwanzaa table setting traditionally includes seven candles, ears of corn, fruit, a cup and a cultural woven mat all symbolizing principles of the new holiday. Celebrants put a green tablecloth over a table they place in a central place in their home, and place a woven straw mat called a Mkeka on top of that table which symbolizes the historical foundation of African ancestry.

On top the mat is a Kinara (a candle holder) with seven candles. It holds three red candles on the left, three green candles on the right, and a black candle in the center. A candle is lit every day, as during Hanukkah. The black candle is lit first, the lighting then going back and forth between red and green, starting with the outermost candles and moving in to the center.

The table also should include Mazao, crops from the community including a bowl of fruit; Muhindi, an ear of corn for each child in the household;  Zawadi, gifts for the children; and Kikombe cha Umoja, a cup to represent family and community.

Celebrants also decorate their home in the pan African colors of red, green and black. They wear traditional clothes worn by Africans in various countries on that continent, including garments made of Kinte cloth, a material made of interwoven cloth strips worn by the Akan peoples of Ghana.

Starting on December 26, celebrants greet each other by saying “Habari Gani” which is a standard Swahili greeting that means “what is the news?”

The response is whatever day it is – Ujima, Nia, etc.

Kwanzaa table setting traditionally includes 7 candles, ears of corn, fruit, a cup and a cultural woven mat all symbolizing principles of the new holiday.

On the sixth day, or New Year’s Eve, those who celebrate this tradition have a reading or discussion, there is held a program that includes welcoming, remembering, reassessment, recommitment and rejoicing, concluding with a farewell statement and a call for greater unity.

Families exchange gifts on the seventh day.

The values are supposed to be building blocks for the African American community and to teach them of the pan-African connection between people of African descent now living all over the world.

Africans of all faiths can and do celebrate Kwanzaa, i.e., Muslims, Christians, Black Hebrews, Jews, Buddhists, Bahai and Hindus as well as those who follow the ancient traditions of Maat, Yoruba, Ashanti, Dogon, etc. Kwanzaa is not supposed to be an alternative to their religion or faith, but a common ground of African culture.

However, some people who reject the Christmas holiday season’s materialism elect to practice Kwanzaa as an alternative to interject meaning into their holiday season.

Those not from African descent can celebrate Kwanzaa, just as others celebrate Cinco de MayoChinese New Year and Native American pow wows.

The political part of the holiday is that it has been credited with helping African Americans stay bonded and for assisting young people to avoid the trappings and failings of vices and other negative issues that sometimes plague African American communities. Learning and practicing this tradition can help young people realize their potential and value beyond the here and now and connect them to their ancestral roots and to others today who share their collective African heritage worldwide

So, for example, rather than “what would Jesus do?” a Kwanzaa-based query might be, “what would your great ancestors who were once kings and queens of the greatest civilizations and cultures do if they saw you acting a fool and disrespecting their legacy and honor?”

Not bad a message at all.

If you are celebrating Kwanzaa with your children this year, enjoy and Happy Kwanza to you! Umoja!

Authors: Sorry to Rain on Your Twin Obsession Parade, But Twins Are Risky, Period

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Twins are always considered a blessing and lately, they’ve been getting even more glorification, especially with celebs like Beyonce and Amal Clooney making recent headlines for the fact they are carrying twins.

But as with any celebration, there are those who will swoop in to offer a reality check. Like one Daily Mail columnist, Jill Foster, herself a mom, who wrote about how twin pregnancies are high risk and come with a boat load of additional concerns, cautions and care that mom (and dad) must undertake.

“Multiple births are fraught with risk, no matter how rich you are,” Foster writes in a recent column. “Carrying my twin girls was the most arduous and terrifying thing I’ve done — and the professionals agree with me.”

She quotes consultant obstetrician and gynecologist Shazia Malik, a sub-specialist in reproductive medicine at London’s Portland Hospital, who said that “people underestimate the risks of a multiple pregnancy.”

There is a risk “of miscarriage, stillbirth or pre-term birth is around five times higher than a singleton pregnancy. Once premature babies are born, they may spend several weeks or even months in Special Care and may have growth restriction, brain damage, problems with vision and later have developmental delay,” Malik said.

She adds: “There’s a higher risk to the mother, too, of developing gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia, which could lead to death.”

Foster says her identical twin daughters were conceived without medical intervention but that she went thru her pregnancy in fear because her twins developed in the same sac, increasing the chances of dual death were something to go wrong.

“At 11 weeks’ pregnant, I’d learned that the babies were growing in the same amniotic sac. Called a mono-amniotic pregnancy, it meant their umbilical cords could easily become entwined and strangulated.

“Not even one baby would survive if this happened. They would live or die together, and death would be sudden or spontaneous. I lived my pregnancy on a knife edge. It seemed sensible to only tell my closest family and friends.”

She also thinks she suffered post partum depression which is common among moms of multiples.

According to the Twins and Multiple Birth Association (TAMBA), mothers of multiples have almost twice the average risk of postnatal depression and it tends to last longer and can still require treatment up to seven years after the birth.

Then there are the myths of twin pregnancies.  In a new book Twin Mythconceptions: False Beliefs, Fables, and Facts about TwinsDr. Nancy L. Segal attempts to bust over 70 myths regarding twin pregnancies.

Here are some of the top 10 Myths, (many of which we have blogged about before here on Bellyitch), Dr. Segal has identified:

the “Top 10” myths or beliefs about twins, which include:

  • Identical twins can communicate by extrasensory perception or ESP (False)

o   There is no scientific evidence that twins exchange thoughts or ideas by reading each other’s minds—identical twins’ social closeness is better explained by studies showing that their common genes underlie their within-pair communication skills.

  • Older mothers are more likely to conceive fraternal twins than younger mothers (True)

o   Since releasing two eggs at the same time is not typical, this is possibly a reflection of the aging process.

  • Identical twins have identical fingerprints (False)

o   These features, which develop between the 10th and 25th gestational week, are affected by factors such as temperature, intrauterine position and density of amniotic fluid near the fingers.

  • Your consumption of yams and other dietary choices increase the chances of conceiving fraternal twins (True)

o   It is thought that the white yam contains fertility-inducing properties that trick the female body into releasing hormones that promote ovulation–this may partly explain the high fraternal twinning rate among the Yorùbá of western Nigeria.

Dr. Segal is currently Professor of Psychology at California State University, Fullerton and Director of the Twin Studies Center. She has authored more than 200 scientific articles and book chapters, as well as four highly acclaimed books on twins.

The moral of the story is celebrate twin births. Admire them. Dote on moms carrying twins. Offer help and support to family and friends who deliver twins, especially afterwards, given the higher PPD risk. But certainly, be very aware that they are risky pregnancies and deserve extra care and consideration before venturing into IVF in hopes of carrying them if you cannot conceive a set without medical intervention. Don’t let these celebrities out here lull you into a fairy tale la la land.