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Kwanzaa Celebrations Begin in the Territory

Dec. 26, 2005 — As the annual observance of the Festival of the First Fruits — or Kwanzaa — begins in the Virgin Islands, some of the people who have forged the local traditions are looking back.
On St. John, celebrations are set for Monday night, while some observers of Kwanzaa got an early start by holding a gathering on Christmas Day. Organizations taking part in the seven-day festival include sororities, cultural organizations and youth groups. Private citizens, like shopkeeper Mariel Blake, are opening the doors to the Ital Ashe catering company and wedding hall to families, visitors and anyone who wants to know more about Kwanzaa.
"We have the community come every day at 12 o'clock," Blake said. "We start off by drumming and singing. We have some drums and sometimes people bring their own instruments. We try to keep it light, and loose, and fun. Then we discuss all the items on the Kwanzaa table, all of the different items that are represented on the Kwanzaa table," Blake said.
Then comes a talk about the principles of the day. Some observers like to take them in order — unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
For the members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sigma Theta Omega Chapter, a couple of principles will share the focus of a one-night celebration they have planned for the Franklin Powell Sr. Park in Cruz Bay Monday night.
"It's our tenth anniversary of the Kwanzaa community celebration on St. John," said co-chairwoman Patricia Blake Simmonds. Their celebrations, starting at 6 p.m, include singing, a steel pan performance, dancing majorettes and a crafts fair, in addition to a public reading of the seven principals and the lighting of special candelabra called the kinara.
Simmonds said this year's event will celebrate an AKA principal, promoting culture and merit, as well as the Kwanzaa principal of cooperative economics. The economic emphasis is a result of the vendor's taking part in the crafts in the park surrounding the bandstand, where most of the celebrations are expected to take place.
The variety of participants is, for Mariel Blake, one of the things that keeps Kwanzaa an event to look forward to. Last year, she said, most of the people who showed up at the noontime gatherings were students, brining what they had learned from school and their families about the holiday and giving it their own interpretation. This year, the wedding hall moved to a new location, near the Havensight cruise ship dock. As a result, she said, curious travelers are starting to peek in.
"We did have a couple of new people yesterday and we also seem to have a lot of families come," she said Monday. "A lot of our family came this time. We do have people who stop by. They see our red, gold and green door and I think that kind of hips people to the fact that there's something interesting going on, in there."
On St. Thomas
She also pointed out that there are other celebrations taking place this week on St. Thomas, including one being organized by the Pan African Support Group. Educator Leba Ola-Niyi has been a member of that group and has taken part in Kwanzaa events dating back several years. He said that for him, gatherings that took place in the 1990s seemed to generate greater participation that those being held today. Nonetheless, the support group is ready to discuss the Nguzo Saba, an ancient text upon which the Kwanzaa ideals are loosely based, Tuesday night at the Charlotte Amalie High School, 6:30 p.m.
The African Diaspora Youth Development Foundation is also planning a celebration, to be held Monday night at the Wesley Moravian Educational Complex in Estate Tutu, starting at 6 p.m.
Also on St. Thomas Wednesday, the Enid Baa Library features storytelling and an arts and crafts display in honor of Kwanzaa, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Sunday the organizers of the different events plan to hold a beach party at Brewer's Bay Beach to close out the week. That event starts at 11 a.m. The public is invited.
On St. Croix
On St. Croix the Per Ankh House of Life is holding a community karamu, or feast, Monday in Frederiksted, starting at 6 p.m. An Afrakan Nu Year's Eve benefit is scheduled for Saturday night, 8:30 p.m., also in Frederiksted.

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