Kwanzaa illumines African tapestry

CLEARWATER, Florida - They leap into the air with their arms stretched wide like soulful birds gliding across the Serengeti.

The dance is the koukou, and the Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet troupe will perform at a First Night New Year's Eve celebration. But the dance carries more meaning.

Sunday marks the sixth day of Kwanzaa, or kuumba, which means creativity in Swahili.

Jai Hinson, who heads the dance troupe , began celebrating Kwanzaa 20 years ago as a dancer in New York.

"It is important for African-Americans to research and reinstil these cultural things that bring unity back to our lives, such as African dance and language," Hinson said.

Tuesday was the first day of Kwanzaa, a seven-day celebration of African tradition and values.

It is estimated that about 18 million people celebrate the non-religious holiday worldwide.

Families and organisations spend the week commemorating the seven principles of Kwanzaa by lighting candles, dancing, feasting and telling African stories.

Kwanzaa was born out of the civil rights movement and created in the 1960s by Maulana Karenga, a college professor and activist at the University of California.

Kwanzaa celebrations vary from the home where families gather around the kinara, or candleholder, and light candles, to larger community efforts that promote unity through African culture, spirituality and history.

And some say that is the true beauty of Kwanzaa; it can mean something different to everyone. - New York Times