Harambee Festival

Harambee Festival

Date Observed: Last Saturday in February
Location: Benedict College, Columbia, South Carolina

The Harambee Festival is part of Benedict College's annual African-American/Black History Month celebration. The one-day event aims to draw in the larger community for African-American art, music, workshops, and health screenings.

Historical Background

Harambee (haa-RAHM-bay) is a Bantu word from Kenya that translates literally as "let us all pull together." According to Susan Njeri Chieni of Moi University in Kenya, Harambee "embodies the idea of mutual assistance, joint effort, mutual social responsibility and community self-reliance." From her vantage point, Harambee is a principle that has more or less always existed in traditional Kenyan societies: the security and prosperity of the individual and the group have always been intertwined; for the group to benefit and survive, each person has always had to be cognizant of the needs of others; one can not succeed when another fails.

The modern Harambee movement emerged during the 1960s, the early years of Kenya's independence. Harambees became widespread communal activities that undertook sorely needed projects, such as building schools. Projects are intended to benefit the majority rather than reap individual gain or profit.

Creation of the Festival

The first Harambee Festival at Benedict College was held in 1989. The festival was the vision of George Devlin, the associate vice president of student affairs, who has directed the event since its inception. Organizers hope to start a scholarship fund from festival proceeds. Following the spirit of "Harambee," the event also aims to unify the college community and the general public in a day of inspirational and enjoyable activities.


The Harambee Festival takes place at the college's Benjamin E. Mays Resource Center arena. The College's gospel choir, dance company, and jazz ensemble perform, as do rap artists and student poets. Other features include art exhibits, health screenings, workshops, and vendors offering food, clothing, jewelry, and other items.

Contact and Web Site

Benedict College 1600 Harden St. Columbia, SC 29204 803-253-5174; fax: 803-253-5178

Further Reading

Chieni, Susan Njeri. The Harambee Movement in Kenya: The Role Played By Kenyans and the Government in the Politics of Education and Other Social Services. Department of Educational Foundations, Moi University, Kenya, Institute of Distance Education, 1998, last modified April 26, 1999. Hill, Martin J. The Harambee Movement in Kenya. Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1991. Mbithi, Philip M., and Rasmus Rasmusson. Self-Reliance in Kenya: The Case of Harambee. New York: Homes & Meier Publishers, 1978. Sobania, Neal. Culture and Customs of Kenya. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003. Widner, Jennifer A. The Rise and Fall of a Party State in Kenya: From Harambee! to Nyayo! Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.
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