Negritude in Anti-colonial African Literature Discourse.

Author:Galafa, Beaton


The term 'Negritude' originates from the term 'negro' referring to a Black person. In pre-independence times, it would indiscriminately refer to all African people regardless of where they lived. With passage of time however, the concept delineated itself from African people residing on the continent and remained a derogatory reference to African people who had gained citizenship in the West, especially the United States of America, through either migration or ancestral belonging to generations of African people that had been forced across the Atlantic in a brutal and dehumanizing trade of humans that lasted four centuries.

This distinction between the Negro and the African which characterized a great part of colonial Africa and racial segregation in the west was insignificant as a concept. This is the case because just as the African was suffering from colonial oppression and cultural denigration on the continent the Black American and other Black people in the Caribbean, the Antilles and various parts of Europe were also in constant struggles against racial discrimination and its accompanying consequences. It was from such struggles--both in and outside Africa - that the concept of Negritude in Africa's anticolonial literature was conceived.

Literature Review

A lot of scholars have written on Negritude and its impacts in the literary and political world especially in the times of colonialism. The birth of negritude was very relevant as it stood in the way of colonial tendencies of racism and suppression of African cultures and literatures. Souleymane Bachir in The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy notes that the concept of Negritude emerged as the expression of a revolt against the historical situation of French colonialism and racism. "The founders of Negritude, Cesaire, Damas and Senghor, had individual lived experiences of their feeling of revolt against a world of racism and colonial domination" (Diagne, 2018). This was in their encounters as second class citizens both in their own countries and in diaspora--the earlier in Martinique and Senegal, the latter in France.

As a literary and political movement, Ome (2014) posits that Negritude writers found solidarity in a common Black identity as a rejection of French colonial racism. "They believed that the shared Black heritage of members of the African diaspora was the best tool in fighting against French political and intellectual hegemony and domination" (Ome, 2014). Historically, Ome (2014) argues that Negritude has been perceived as an ideological reaction against French colonialism and a defence of African culture, leading to the strengthening of African identity in the Francophone Black world.

Campbell (2006) considers Negritude as the art of being Black. He cites Lemelle & Kelly (1994: 87) who argue that Senghor's particular brand of Negritude was largely a "neo-African cultural challenge" in which he equated cultural by-products such as art as a marker of civility. According to Campbell, Negritude has as its objective the revalorization of African culture through reclaiming the identity suppressed by colonialism and structural racism. This is on the pretext of art as activism in agreement with Senghor's belief that "art is not an isolated or solitary event, but rather a "social activity, a technique of living" which brings all other activities to their fulfilment" (Senghor, 1995, p. 52 in Ome, 2014).

While Aime Cesaire is acknowledged as the first to have used the word Negritude in his 'Notebook of the return to my native country' published in 1939, Warren (1990) notes that Leon Damas was the first to publish poetry demonstrating Negritude. "He published in Esprit as early as 1934. In 1937 his collection of poetry, 'Pigments', championed the theory. The collection was later banned by the French government citing fears that it would incite an uprising in the colonies. His poem S.O.S. reveals his political consciousness" (Warren, 1990).

Defining Negritude: Multiple Perspectives

Negritude is both a literary and political movement that was created just after the Second World War by Black francophone writers who included Aime Cesaire from Martinique, Leopold Senghor from Senegal and Leon Gontran Damas from Guyana among others (Mabana, 2006). The three were all students in Paris, France, with the poetry in between them tempting literary scholars and political analysts into reimagining their literary semblance as holding key to the birth of the movement. The three men were influenced by surrealism (Kunda, 2010), a twentieth century literary and artistic movement which used fantastic images and incongruous juxtapositions in order to represent unconscious thoughts and dreams.

The concept of Negritude has been defined differently by various scholars and literary figures, each emanating from their varying perspectives in understanding the assumed roles of Negritude. One of the movement's founders Aime Cesaire regards Negritude as the conscious of being Black, a realisation which directly translates into acceptance and the siege of a Black person's own destiny and culture (Campbell, 2006). Campbell sums up the concept as a philosophical movement to revive Black pride. He posits that Negritude is often considered as having been conceived out of another relevant ideology, Pan-Africanism. Campbell (2006) posits that the actual concept of Negritude might have emerged from Edward W. Blyden who "is said to have called for African people in all parts of the world to reclaim their African heritage and by doing so, reclaim their pride", while admitting that the most popular rendition of Negritude conceptually evolved in the 1930s from a triad of diasporan African people living in France: Aime Cesaire, Leon Damas and Leopold Senghor (Campbell, 2006).

Another of the founding fathers of Negritude, Senghor, defines the concept of Negritude simply as the collection of cultural values of Africa (Mabana, 2006). According to him, Negritude is in fact a culture. It is a collection of economic, political, intellectual, moral, artistic and social values of the African people and Black minorities in America, Asia and Oceania (Mabana, 2006). The idea behind the inclusion of Black people from all over the world resonates well with the common struggle of the people of African descent in every society around the world where they have been subjected to racial discrimination and other forms of oppression.

The discrimination and prejudice have been a result of both cultural and racial ignorance emanating from lack of exposure to diversity of human species. This is due to systemic suppression of curiosity in some political settings among other reasons and a superiority complex emanating from the entrapment of victims ignorance's various forms in its vicious cycle. As such, Senghor's understanding of the very concept he gave rise to permeates the need to reclaim...

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