What is Kwanzaa?

cccThe seven candles — three red, three green and one black — represent the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa

KWANZAA is a cultural holiday that celebrates African heritage and identity. The name comes from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya kwanza,” which translates to “first fruits,” and the holiday is based on traditional African harvest festivals. Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, created in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, a professor and department chair at California State University, Long Beach. It is a cultural holiday, not a religious one.Thus available to and practiced by Africans of all religious faiths who come together based on the rich, ancient and varied common ground of their Africanness.

Kwanzaa is observed from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. The seven days correspond to the Seven Principles, or Nguzo Saba. Seven candles are lighted during Kwanzaa, and seven symbols are placed around the home.

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Kwanzaa is celebrated for seven days to emphasize the Nguzo Saba and to celebrate family, community and culture.

The Nguzo Saba are common among many African cultures.The Seven Principles “help people of African decent focus on ways to reinvigorate pride in and celebrate African culture by acknowledging our connection to African cultures and traditions.” 

The Nguzo Saba are: 

  • umoja (unity) — to strive for and maintain unity within the family, community, nation and race
  • kujichagulia (self-determination) — to define, create and speak for ourselves
  • ujima (collective work and responsibility) — to build and maintain community and to solve the community problems together
  • ujamaa (cooperative economics) — to build and maintain businesses and profit from them together as a community
  • nia (purpose) — to build and develop the community in order to restore the members to their traditional greatness
  • kuumba (creativity) — to do as much as possible to leave the community better, more beautiful, and beneficial than initially inherited
  • imani (faith) — to completely believe in the people within the community, parents, teachers and leaders, and the righteousness and victory of the struggle

The seven Kwanzaa symbols that are placed around the home represent African cultural values that contribute to community building and reinforcement. According to Tafari, they are:

  • mkeka — a woven placemat put on the table to represent the foundation of a strong family
  • kinara — a candleholder with places for seven candles that represent parents
  • mishumaa saba — seven candles (three red symbolizing struggle, three green symbolizing the future, and one black candle symbolizing the African people) that are placed in the kinara to represent the Nguzo Saba
  • kikombe cha umoja — a unity cup that is used to pour libation, or a drink typically poured as an offering to a spirit or god or in memory of a loved one who has died
  • vibunzi — an ear of corn representing each child in the family
  • mazao — a bowl of fruits and vegetables to represent the harvest
  • zawadi — gifts to children for keeping their promises throughout the year, typically a book and a heritage symbol.

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Each family celebrates Kwanzaa in their own way but celebrations often include dances, singing, storytelling, poetry reading and a large traditional meal.

Tafari said Karenga created Kwanzaa during the height of the civil rights movement in response to the social and political climate. “Black people were struggling for equal rights … freedom from oppression, and relief from systematic injustices that robbed us of our ability to live lives filled with joy, pride, and self-expression.”

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How Peacocks Got Their Colorful Tails

The male peacock’s tail was a vexing problem for the father of evolutionary theory, Charles Darwin, who struggled to explain why the bird should have such a seemingly burdensome trait. Darwin finally struck upon the idea of sexual selection, which posits that extravagant traits like the peacock’s colorful fan of feathers provided an advantage in the competition for mates that outweighed other disadvantages.

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Some researchers are now turning their attention from why showy traits evolved, to how they evolved and why they tend to do so more often in males. To help answer these questions, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studied fruit fly derrieres and found that ancient genetic switches have evolved to  manipulate the appearance of animals in a way that favored their selection as mates, providing a possible explanation for how peacocks evolved their spectacular tails.

A genetic switch

To get at the answer of how and why males developed these traits, the researchers studied the molecular details of a simple genetic switch that controls decorative traits in male fruit flies and how that switch evolved.

Male fruit flies have more colorful derrieres than females. Traits like this that are peculiar to one sex or the other but are not part of the actual reproductive organs are called secondary sexual characteristics. The question of why secondary sexual characteristics exist is a major one in modern evolutionary biology.

“Males and females basically have the same set of Genes, so how do you specifically modify the activity of a male’s genes but not a female’s genes?” said study team member Thomas Williams, a UW-Madison postdoctoral fellow.

The study, detailed in the Aug. 22 issue of the journal Cell, found that the genetic repression of a particular protein in the male fruit fly permits it to color the tail end of its abdomen and that the same repression seems not to happen in females.

The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Human Frontiers Science Program, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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Boys only

The genetic switch that controls the expression of the protein is ancient, the researchers noted, and originally evolved for an entirely different purpose. But over time, mutations accumulated that drove the evolution of male flies with more colorful behinds, perhaps in response to sexual selection.

“Evolution is a cumulative process,” explained study leader Sean Carroll. “You have this machinery and it’s easy to add a bell or a whistle. With this particular trait, it evolved by exploiting (genetic) information that was already there to make male bodies different from female bodies.”

The ornamentation process never occurred in females, the study found, and was subsequently repressed.

The male-specific traits could have evolved with the changing preferences of females.

“These are the most rapidly evolving traits in evolution,” Carroll said. “If female tastes change, these traits go away. There is no reinforcement.”paw

 

The world’s largest plane, which has a wingspan longer than a football field and will debut in 2019

The hefty, double-bodied Stratolaunch airplane — its wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters) is the widest in the world — recently reached a new milestone that brings it one step closer to leaving the ground.

In runway tests conducted on Sunday (Feb. 25) at the Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, Stratolaunch achieved a taxi speed of 46 mph (74 km/h), according to a tweet  posted on Feb. 26 by Paul Allen, founder of Stratolaunch Systems Corp. and co-founder of Microsoft.

Stratolaunch, which weighs about 500,000 lbs. (227,000 kilograms), can carry a payload of up to 550,000 lbs. (250,000 kg). The massive aircraft will transport rocket launchers and satellites bound for low Earth orbit, according to the company’s website.

Rocket launches from fixed locations can be delayed or halted by inclement weather and may face hazards from airborne traffic. But deploying rockets and satellites from a moving aircraft such as Stratolaunch — which would take off from a runway and release its payloads from a cruising altitude of about 36,000 feet (11,000 meters) — could reduce the risk of launch cancellations or delays from bad weather, making access to space “more convenient, reliable and routine,” Stratolaunch representatives said on the company website.

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The world’s largest plane is so big, it needs two fuselages with separate cockpits.

It’s called the Stratolaunch, and it’s designed to launch rockets into space in what is known as low-Earth Orbit, which means the spacecraft is between 99 and 1,200 miles above the Earth’s surface. (Most space flights, as well as satellites and the International Space Station, are in low-Earth orbit.)

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