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Kwanzaa Celebration Brings Together Food, Crafts and Families

Dec. 30, 2007 — Jahstarr Ko-Nya called the Bordeaux tennis courts a "reconstructed African village" Sunday, as he led a chant celebrating "Kwanzaa Ilah-bration," the annual weeklong observation of Kwanzaa.
Kwanzaa, an African-American and pan-African holiday celebrating family, community and culture, is celebrated from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1. The name is derived from the phrase "matunda ya kwanza," which means "first fruits" in Swahili.
Sunday honored the fifth principle: nia, or "purpose," encouraging African-Americans to look within themselves and to set personal goals beneficial to the community.
Those goals were evident everywhere Sunday in an abundance of food, fun and friendliness. The farming community of Bordeaux, We Grow Food, dedicated its monthly Sunday market to the celebration of the fifth day of the principal of nia.
From one end of the tennis court to the other, the miniature village was in full swing. Individual farmers displayed little clusters of bright red and yellow peppers, collard greens, spinach, cilantro and basil — almost anything green — as well as beaded jewelry and homemade food and drinks. At the far end of the village, plants for sale included fledgling pots of basil, thyme and lemon grass.
Across the way from the plants, three young men worked hard sweeping off an area for the toddlers to jump up in a plastic trampoline. However, most of the youngsters were already amusing themselves, exploring the nearby trees.
Between bagging up spinach, cilantro, collard greens and sugar apples, farmer Benita Martin-Samuel took time to reflect on the holiday and the coming new year.
"I want my farm to flourish, and good health for us for all our community," she said. "Once you have good health, all else is possible."
Martin-Samuel was the embodiment of the fifth principal of Kwanzaa being celebrated Sunday. The industrious farmer and teacher owns Green Thumb Farm with her husband Lucien "Jambie" Samuel. Earlier this year they constructed a greenhouse with the assistance of Fintrac, an international agribusiness company with local offices. They are at the heart of We Grow Food, which sponsors the Sunday markets.
Handling her produce as the precious gift that it is, Martin-Samuel stressed the importance of farming and sharing with the community.
"We need to find purpose in life," she said.
Every time she turns around, it seems, Martin-Samuel finds purpose. Take a nearby table full of youngsters busily occupied.
"I saw these beautiful Kwanzaa cards Bridgette Julius was selling at Miracle on Main Street, and I asked if she would come today and show our kids how to make the cards," she said. Julius teaches art at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High School.
Martin-Samuel's efforts paid off. At a table laden with colorful African fabrics, ribbons, jewels, paints, glue sticks and paper-edger scissors, Julius had set up a card-making assembly line with about 10 youngsters working happily.
"Give me back that trim," said one youngster. "It goes here!"
The kids were totally engrossed in their new project, observing the purpose principle. Julius said she was pleased to teach the kids.
"They are making their own creations," she said. "It's all their own work."
Martin-Samuel conducts a sort of after-school workshop under a nearby shed.
"The farm kids come here to learn on the computer," she said, emphasizing that it's an informal instruction. However, she said, they hold summer camp there, too.
It's the location where, later in the day, Addelita Cancryn Junior High School history and art teacher Ola-Niyi gave a PowerPoint presentation on V.I. history, with an emphasis on the arts.
The tennis court village abounded with activity as folks wandered here and there exchanging smiles, hugs and warm greetings. And appetites were in evidence, as almost all folks found their way to the seductive aroma coming from "Jambie" Samuel's cooking pots.
"I make the best pumpkin soup and cornbread," the farmer said. He ladled out the tempting brew from an enormous clay cauldron on a rock fire at the back of his stand. Each bowl of soup came with a generous chunk of the homemade cornbread.
Photographer Paul Deaton and a visiting friend, Ilyas Elomejdoub, were busily slurping up the soup, pausing just long enough to answer a few questions about new year's wishes.
"Well, I don't want to sound like Miss America, but I'd like to see more environmental concern, peace and openness toward others," Deaton said.
Elmejdoub, who is getting an advanced academic degree in Boston, agreed.
"I'm from Morocco," he said. "It's another culture. I want to see more understanding between cultures, more love. We have to get to know one another better."
Sunday was Elmejdoub's first day on St. Thomas.
"So far, I love it," he said with a wide smile, extending an invitation to visit Morocco: "You'd love it there."
The formal Kwanzaa observance was led by Ko-Nya, Akinyemi Blake and Ola-Niyi, with seven youngsters lined up behind the celebration table covered with the mkeka, a straw mat on which the Kwanzaa symbols sit, including the kinara, a candle holder filled with the seven candles symbolizing the seven days of the celebration.
Following drumming by Blake and a traditional libation shared by those on stage, children lit the candles as each principal was sounded out. The young voices uttered the seven basic values of Kwanzaa as the flames danced, pronouncing the names carefully and correctly: umoja, unity; kujichagulia, self-determination; ujima, collective work and responsibility; ujaama, cooperative economics; nia, purpose; kuumba, creativity; and imani, faith.
Further celebrations are:
— Tuesday on St. Thomas: Kwanzaa organizers are holding a community informal potluck at Brewers Bay to celebrate the last day of the festival at noon New Year's Day. Admission is free.
— Wednesday on St. John: The 12th annual Kwanzaa Celebration, sponsored by the Sigma Theta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, will take place at 6 p.m. at the Franklin A. Powell Sr. Park in Cruz Bay. There will be guest speakers, vendors and musical performances. This year's honoree is Rodney Varlack. Admission is free.
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