Mkandawire S. B. (2007) Compare Leopold Sedar Senghor’s understanding of Negritude with Birago diop and david diop. Exemplify your comparison using one Poem from each of the three Negritude poets. Discussion paper.
UNDERSTANDING OF THE NEGRITUDE MOVEMENT AMONGST LEOPOLD SEDAR SENGHOR, BIRAGO DIOP AND DAVID DIOP
Negritude refers to the francophone literary movement which took place in the middle 20th century. It was a literary and ideological movement led by francophone black intellectuals, writers, and politicians. There are three scholars who are said to be the fathers of the negritude movement. These are originally from three different French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean but met while living in Paris in the early 1930s. The three fathers are Aime Cesaire who was a poet, playwright, and politician from Martinique. Leopold Sedar Senghor was a Poet and first president of Senegal. Leon Gontran Damas was a French Guyanese poet and National Assembly member. These scholars had different ideas about the purpose and styles of negritude. In an attempt to justify Negritude, Conde (1998) says;
Negritude refer to the French speaking black intellectuals during the 1930s which aimed at raising the black African culture and identity by
breaking down the established boundaries and stereotypes of
blacks that had been cultivated through several centuries of
colonial rule. This movement was led by a small group of writers
living in France, including Leopold sedar senghor, Leon Damas
and aime Cesaire.
However, this paper aim at comparing the understanding of ‘negritude’ amongst the three scholars sedar senghor, Birago Diop and David Diop.
2.0 DIFFERENT BACKGROUND INTRODUCTION
There were differences in the way black intellectuals viewed the negritude movement and where it was heading. For example, Senghor and César, who had essentially collaborated on the definition of the original movement, eventually split in their views regarding Negritude. Equally, many other scholars have different views about negritude.
2.1 THE ETYMOLOGY OF NEGRITUDE
The term negritude was coined by Aime Cesaire, from the French word nègre, which was equivalent to “black” or “Negro” in France but “nigger” in Martinique. Cesaire deliberately and proudly incorporated this derogatory word into the name of his ideological movement. (Webnet: Francophone literary movement)
Other scholars argue that the term negritude was coined by Aime Cesaire in conjunction with Leopold Sedar Senghor whilst in France during the 1920s to 1930s. In this era, Paris had a mixture of races from all over the world both blacks and whites. Some African writers like Damas, their stay in France relieved them from the colonial rulers of Africa. When American black renaissance movement emerged, most black African writers begun to reflect on their racial and cultural identity.
Their reactions first appeared in the student newspaper, L’Etudiant Noir (The Black Student, 1933-35), as a starting point, African intellectuals began their viewpoint regarding race by exploring the idea that there was a basic commonality across all black cultures. Although the student’s paper folded after a few years, the ideas expressed within its pages took root, and the Negritude movement was born. Senghor (1991)
However, the negritude movement placed a deep emphasis on the celebration and uniqueness of black, African culture and traditions.
2.2 LEOPOLD SEDAR SENGHOR. (Born 1906 and died 2001).
Senghor’s understanding of negritude is clearly reflected ‘In What Tempestuous Night’ poem in the appendix below. Firstly, Ngala (1990:24) call Senghor as an idealist in negritude whose views were slowly lapsing into romantic idealism. Lines 1 and 9 of this poem expresses some degree of romance and this is directly proving Ngala’s assertion.
Secondly, Senghor looked at negritude as a way of praising the virtues of African race in a more magnificent and lavish terms. As he says in line 9 ‘But when shall I hear your voice again, happy luminous morn?’. Where he is trying to value the virtues of the African race in a more romantic way.
Thirdly, negritude to Senghor is one’s identification of one’s “blackness” without reference to culture, language, or geography. In this way, “negritude” transcends the deep divisions within and between Arabs, Africans, and the African Diaspora by recognizing a common racial thread. This is supported by line 5 which says ‘O,I am lost in the treacherous paths of the forest’. Here, he is trying to reflect on his lost identity. In addition, his response to the interviews when he was in Dixion clearly reflects his understanding of the negritude movement when he said:
I feel that if I had remained a teacher, my poetry would have been gratuitous and more impoverished, for what feeds it is the communal life, the life of my people. In my poetry I certainly express my personal life, but I express myself as a black man and a proud African. (Senghor In Dixon 1991).
Fourthly, Senghor Viewed negritude as the emergence of a powerful black presence in the world of segregation. It has in many ways become the basis for Afrocentricity. Negritude as defined by Senghor is “the awareness, defense, and development of African cultural values” Elimimian (1991:25). It is arguably the basis for modern American Afrocentrism. This has been reflected in most of his poems including the one in the appendix below.
Fifthly, “The Senghorian school of negritude is concerned with the cultural, psychic and physiological aspect of the African and does not take into account the historical conditions and levels of economic development which shape human behaviour” Ngala (1990:26).
In the sixth count, Some scholars have viewed Senghor as a “poet of hope and confidence, a poet of reconciliation. He feels that the French culture has become too abstract and that the French poetic imagination has become sterile because it depended too much on the intellect. Clive (1965:5).
Other scholars argue that Senghor’s understanding of negritude together with his contemporaries is that it was a celebration of the African identity. Negritude defined the best means of expressing the essence of black identity, and he often stressed the existence of a unique black psychology. In their view, colonization had stripped their cultures of not only their uniqueness, but also the means of expressing it, via a transposition of a foreign language. In one of his many essays on the subject he stated, “emotion is black as reason is Greek.” Ironically, it reflects a state whose preface provided such an impetus to the movement of negritude as a phenomenon that would eventually disappear once the black/white racial conflict was resolved.
Some scholars like Chonde (1998) have argued that Senghor’s transformation of the ideology into a political movement, as well as his insistence that Negritude was ultimately a biological phenomenon review his theoretical and practical understanding of the negritude movement. They have recited a number of his poems including line 14 of ‘in what tempestuous night’ which support the argument above.
Finally, Senghor’s understanding of negritude was also to work towards a universal evaluation of African people and their biological contributions. While advocating for the expression and celebration of traditional African customs in spirit, he rejected a return to the old ways of doing things. This was reflected in his later poems few years before he died in 2001.
2.3 BIRAGO DIOP (Born 1906 and died 1989)
He was a folklorist and a poet. His early works were based on nostalgia and he is a direct disciple of negritude.
Firstly, Birago Diop’s understanding of negritude is not as serious as compared to Senghor and David Diop but attacks it at lower rate. He believes that the west have undone Africa with their cultural issues and therefore offers no room for reconciliation with Europe. This has been reflected in most of his poems including the diptych poem which is showing the results when Africans mingled with the west.
Secondly, Birago never viewed negritude in colonialism as a process that fostered positive contact between civilizations. Instead, he always regarded imperial rule as a process of consistent and detrimental domination of the colonized culture. Although this has not been clearly reflected in diptych poem, it is consistent in most of his works.
Thirdly, he viewed Negritude in a somewhat negative manner, deeming it a philosophy that ultimately alienated cultures on the basis of race, and therefore was complicit with imperialism. Line 2 of diptych poem in the appendix.
Birago Diop rejected David Diop’s denial of race as an integral component of Negritude and black identity. In contrast to Senghor, however, and in agreement with David, many other scholars did view the reclaiming of the African self as defined by the Negritude movement as only one step in an ongoing journey to overcome colonization and finally establish a truly national culture.
In the diptych poem, Birago’s view of negritude is dual: Firstly, he is directly attacking fellow Africans and the African land including the resources for their failure to uphold and protect the interest of the land. Secondly, he is describing the actual results which took place when Africans mixed with the west especially with the French policy of assimilation. On the other hand, Birago is defending black qualities and made it clear that he was not working toward any kind of reconciliation with the West.
2.4 DAVID DIOP. (Born 1927 and died 1960).
Firstly, David Diop’s understanding of negritude is expressed in a harsh and angry manner. Although he was born in Bordeaux France to a Senegalese father and Cameroonian mother, his French upbringing and education has not stopped him from empathizing with the African plight against French colonialism. This has been reflected in most of his works and in ‘Africa’ poem in the appendix lines 12 to 24 are clear reflections on colonialism.
Secondly, David’s view of negritude is that of Dichotomy. He clearly reflects the two faces of one pervasive reality arguing that negritude involves oppression and repression. There is always a colonizer and those being colonized, Civilization of the Master and the slave, Assimilator and the assimilated. His work reflects his hatred of colonial rulers and his hope for an independent Africa. He employed a colloquial style as a tool of popular protest till 1960, Diop and his wife were killed in a plane crash returning from France to Dakar. Most of his work was destroyed with him in the crash; only the 22 poems that were published before his death remained.
Thirdly, according to David Diop negritude stressed racial differences; it was nonetheless a significant precursor to decolonization as shown in the African poem. He bitterly stressed that:
Those that do not lack love, never know the trauma of hate. Those that enjoy good health hardly understand the hell of ill-health. Those that are not exiled, may not realize the happiness symbolized by home. Those that have the mother, never fathom the agony of the orphan. Those that are free fail to comprehend the the feelings of the slave. David Diop Bitterly understood these facts and he saw Africa in the true light and rather than hiding from that reality. He faced it with courage and decided to work to change it. Diop (1983).
These views have been reflected in the poem “Africa” which traces the history of Africa from her glorious past, through slavery and colonialism to the renaissance of the race and revolution against colonialism and neo-Colonialism.
Fourthly, David Diop regarded Negritude as a part of the history of Africa, a natural and dynamic merging of European and African cultures and technology. This is reflected in line 1-7 of the African poem.
On the fifth account, David Diop viewed Negritude as yet another manifestation of a slave mentality, one that stemmed from an inherent inferiority complex. Where he discovered the black community and rediscovered Africa. To some extent, he saw negritude as the fact of being black, acceptance of this fact, and appreciation of the history, culture, and destiny of black people. He sought to recognize the collective colonial experience of Blacks – the slave trade and plantation system – and attempted to redefine it. This has been reflected in the poem ‘Africa’.
2.5 COMMON AREAS OF AGREEMENT AND SOME DISAGREMENT
Although the three Scholars gave some different views as explained above, They have a good number of similarities. Firstly, they all agree that the themes being addressed under negritude are almost the same. Sartre (1948) argues that the negritude movement is generally characterized by the following factors to any scholar;
1 Reaction to colonialization: Denunciation of Europe’s lack of humanity, rejection of Western domination and ideas
2 Identity crisis: Acceptance of and pride in being black; valorization of African history, traditions, and beliefs
3 Very realistic literary style
4 Marxist ideas: Realist and idealist
Secondly, although the term Negritude was coined by Aimee Creasier, its intellectual breadth and broad cultural relevance can be attributed to the poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor, David Diop and Birago Diop. It is evident that the three scholars developed the term negritude as a
Literary and cultural movement with the fundamental objective
Of defining black aesthetics and black consciousness against a
Background of racial injustice and discrimination around
The world (Elimimian 1991:23).
Finally, the three Scholars looked at negritude as the African exploration of Western influences. They had a new perspective on African-European relations that recognized the intertwined history of the two continents and suggested ways of settling them. They completely refuse the aspect of black inferiority and European exploitation, while marrying Africa to the virtues of the French language and the potential for African-European cultural hybridization.
This paper can be concluded in two ways: Cognitive closure and social closure
3.1 Cognitive closure
The paper has discussed the different understandings of the term negritude amongst the three scholars Senghor, David Diop and Birago Diop. It has looked at their distinct or different views on the subject matter and their similarities and finally a well rounded off conclusion has been given.
Although the negritude movement had its own disadvantages, it is clear that it provided a great impetus to African literature in the 1930s and later, helping an entire generation of authors and intellectuals to develop an awareness and appreciation of their racial and cultural identities. In doing so, the movement also helped pave the way to national and political freedom for many African countries and reminded Africans of their real Values and cultural identity.
3.2 Social closure
Most negritude writers in the movement did not use their indigenous African languages but instead used French and other languages in new ways, using them to express symbolically their connection to traditional African culture, rituals, and symbols. However, the paper is resolved by looking at the social relationships amongst the three scholars and finally a resolution has been given.
Conde, Maryse (1998), “O Brave New World”, Research in African Literatures 29: 1-7, http://www.awigp.com/default.asp?numcat=conde.
Elimimian, Isaac I. 1991. Theme and Style in African Poetry. Lewiston, NJ: Edwin Mellen Press.
Reed, John and Clive Wake. 1972. French African Verse. London: Heinemann.
Reed, John and Clive Wake. 1978. A Book of African Verse. London: Heinemann.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. “Orphée Noir.” Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache. ed. Léopold Senghor. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. p. xiv (1948).
Senau, K.E. and T. Vincent. 1988. A Selection of African Poetry. London: Longman.
Senghor, Léopold Sédar. 1991. The Collected Poetry. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.
In What Tempestuous Night by Senghor
What dark tempestuous night has been hiding your face?
And what claps of thunder frighten you from the bed
When the fragile walls of my breast tremble?
I shudder with cold, trapped in the dew of the clearing.
O, I am lost in the treacherous paths of the forest.
Are these creepers or snakes that entangle my feet?
I slip into the mudhole of fear and my cry is suffocated in a watery rattle.
But when shall I hear your voice again, happy luminous morn?
When shall I recognize myself again in the laughing mirror of eyes, that are large like windows?
And what sacrifice will pacify the white mask of the goddess?
Perhaps the blood of chickens or goats, or the worthless blood in my veins?
Or the prelude of my song, the ablution of my pride?
Diptych poem by Birago Diop
The Sun hung by a thread
In the depths of the Calabash dyed indigo
Boils the great Pot of Day.
Fearful of the approach of the Daughters of fire
The Shadow squats at the feet of the faithful.
The savannah is bright and harsh
All is sharp, forms and colours.
But in the anguished Silences made by Rumours
Of tiny sounds, neither hollow nor shrill,
Rises a ponderous Mystery,
A Mystery muffled and formless
Which surrounds and terrifies us.
The dark Loincloth pierced with nails of fire
Spread out on the Earth covers the bed of Night.
Fearful at the approach of the Daughters of Shadow
The dog howls, the horse neighs,
The Man crouches deep in his house.
The savannah is dark,
All is black, forms and colours
And in the anguished Silences made by Rumours
Of tiny sounds infinite or hollow or sharp
The tangled Paths of the Mystery
Slowly reveal themselves
For those who set out
And for those who return.
Africa by David Diop
Africa tell me Africa
Is this your back that is bent
This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answer me
Impetuous child that tree young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
Springing up patiently obstinately
Whose fruits bit by bit acquire
The bitter taste of liberty.