Children's museum offers life lessons on Kwanzaa

Tanya Bacchus, vice president of the Rho Omega

Tanya Bacchus, vice president of the Rho Omega Zeta chapter of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, helps Mekhi Duncan, 6, of Atlanta, place candles during a Kwanzaa celebration at the Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City. (Dec. 29, 2013) (Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan)

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Dozens of children Sunday in Garden City created West African instruments, painted faces and were taught a new song -- all to learn the importance of Kwanzaa.

The holiday, which means "First Fruits of the Harvest" in Swahili, is a seven-day tribute to the cultural roots of those of African ancestry. Sunday, the fourth day of the holiday, which is observed through Wednesday, celebrated the principle of Ujamaa, or cooperative economics.

Activities at the third annual event at the Long Island Children's Museum began with storytellers dressed in African attire, dancing to African-themed music as about 30 children looked on.

And after a brief history lesson on the seven principles of Kwanzaa, it was time to construct a shekere -- a handmade West African rattle musical instrument made of gourd, string and beads.

Before the 70-minute function, Nyree Bacchus, 9, of Great Neck, sought to celebrate her ancestry and "wanted to really know what Kwanzaa is all about."

Minutes later, she got her answer. "It means helping people and being nice," Nyree said.

The holiday is built on seven principles: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

"It's all about the community, which is what the museum is all about. We think the [Kwanzaa] principles are in line with what children should be learning," said Aimee Terzulli, the museum's director of education.

That's exactly why Jason Cooke, 41, of Hempstead Village brought his 3-year-old daughter, Dallis.

"This is very educational for her. That's my main objective, to educate her," the father said, adding that too many people focus on Christmas instead of Kwanzaa.

Participants such as Bedenaa Odame, 10, of Elmont, also expanded their vocabulary by learning words such as zawadi, which means gift.

Another activity at the event, hosted in conjunction with Rho Omega Zeta, graduate chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., had children stand in a circle while passing along a shekere. Once the African music stopped, the person holding the instrument had to tell what they normally do to make their family or community better.

"It's about looking forward to a new year and keeping all of these wonderful values intact," said storyteller Xeny Odame, who attended with her daughter Bedenaa.

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