African-Americans rejoice in their heritage during a special holiday called Kwanzaa. The word Kwanzaa comes from the Swahili phrase, "matunda ya kwanza," meaning "first fruits." Kwanzaa is a time where friends and family get together to honor their heritage, traditional values and cultural strengths through remembering, singing, dancing and sharing traditional foods.
Author: Kari Giles
Grade Level: Early Elementary
1. Students will create a mkeka (place mat).
2. Students will create explain how this particular symbol and associated colors are used to focus attention to the meaning of an African American celebration called Kwanzaa.
1. Ask students questions about why we have Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's as well as some of the things people do to celebrate these holidays.
2. Explain that there is another neat holiday that is part of the African American culture. Give some background about Kwanzaa. Tell students that Kwanzaa is like Thanksgiving because they have a huge feast, it is like Christmas because homemade gifts are exchanged and it is like New Year's because they make vows, or set goals for the new year.
3. Ask students if they know some words in Spanish, German, etc. Tell them that there is another language called "Swahili" that comes from Africa. Let them know that there are Swahili words that we will be learni ng as we talk about the holiday.
4. We will be making a place mat called a mkeka (em-kay-kah) which is one of the symbols of Kwanzaa. Have students echo the word back to you. A mkeka can be made from straw, ribbon, cloth or paper. We will be making them out of red, green, and black paper. Explain how the place mats stand for tradition and for the past. The black strip is used for the color of the people. A red strip is used for their struggle. A green strip represents the future. Hold up the colored strip while explaining the meaning. The Kwanzaa flag called the "bendera ya taifa" incorporates these three colors
5. Students will make a mkeka:
6. Laminate the completed mkeka. Students can use these as gifts for their friends or loved ones.
7. Have students make a quartile by folding a piece of paper in half (hamburger style) and in half again. On the first square, have them write their name and the date. On the second square, have them write how Kwanzaa is like one of the three holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. On the third square, have them write the Swahili word for the place mat they made. In the last square, they will write what one of the three colors of red, black or green represents.
8. Evaluate their mkeka and their quartile for accuracy.
Everyone celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way depending on their own background experiences. This uniqueness of the holiday activities and crafts helps remind African Americans of who they are and where they came from so they know where they are going.
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The information came from: Walter, Mildred Pitts, Kwanzaa A Family Affair. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1995.