Skip to main content Accessibility help

Négritude or Black Cultural Nationalism

  • Abiola Irele


It is well known that nationalist movements are generally accompanied by parallel movements of ideas that make it possible for its leaders to mould a new image of the dominated people. And as Thomas Hodgkin has shown, the need for African political movements to ‘justify themselves’ and ‘to construct ideologies’ has been particularly strong.1 Nationalist movements were to a large extent founded upon emotional impulses, which imparted a distinctive tone to the intellectual clamour that went with them and which continue to have a clear resonance after independence.



Hide All

Page 321 note 1 Hodgkin, Thomas, Nationalism in Colonial Africa (London, 1956), p. 169.

Page 321 note 2 Frazier, Franklin, Race and Culture Contacts in the Modern World (New York, 1957), p. 35.

Page 323 note 1 Cf. Balandier, Georges, Sociologie actuelle de l'Afrique noire (Paris, 2nd edn. 1963), pp. 338.

Page 323 note 2 Cf. Frazier, op. cit. pp. 305-II.

Page 323 note 3 Cf. in particular Lanternari, V., Les Mouvements religieux des peuples opprimés (Paris, 1962).

Page 323 note 4 Balandier, op. cit. The article he quotes by d'Arboussier was entitled ‘ Les Problèmes de la culture ’, and was published in the special number of Europe (Paris), 0506 1949, devoted to black Africa.

Page 323 note 5 Balandier, op. cit. pp. 486 and 441–2. Sentiments of racial solidarity were helped by the influence of American Negro ‘missions’, but were inevitable in view of the racial discrimination to which the Africans were exposed. The racial factor assumed a preponderance in popular and intellectual movements of black people in the New World, and will consequently be discussed in that context. See also Balandier, , ‘Messianismes et nationalismes en Afrique noire’, in Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie (Paris), XIV, 1953.

Page 324 note 1 This is Fanon, Frantz's interpretation in Les Damnés de la terre (Paris, 1961), which J.-P. Sartre summarised in his preface in characteristic fashion: ‘The colonised protect themselves from colonial alienation by reinforcing religious alienation’.

Page 324 note 2 Malinowski, B., The Dynamics of Culture Change (New Haven, 1961 edn.), p. 158.

Page 324 note 3 Kariuki, Joseph, Mau Mau Detainee (London, 1963), p. 27.

Page 325 note 1 Balandier, Georges, Afrique ambigüe (Paris, 1957), p. 285.

Page 325 note 2 Cf. James, C. R. L., The Black Jacobins (London, 1938).

Page 325 note 3 Césaire, Aimé, Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Paris, 1956 edn.), p. 44.

Page 325 note 4 Quoted by Césaire, Aimé in Toussaint Louverture (Paris, 1956 edn.), p. 44. Delgrès and his followers in revolt were holding out against the French army, and preferred to blow themselves up with their fort rather than surrender.

Page 326 note 1 ‘The Glory of Negro History—A Pageant’, in The Langston Hughes Reader (New York, 1958), pp. 465 ff.

Page 326 note 2 Cf. Bastide, Roger, ‘Le mythe de l'Afrique noire et la société multiraciale’, in Esprit (Paris), 10 1958.

Page 326 note 3 The problem of ‘Africanisms’ in the New World has been given considerable attention; the best known studies are: Herskovits, Melville, The Myth of the Negro Past (Boston, 1941), and Bastide, Roger, Les Religions africaines au Brésil (Paris, 1960).

Page 327 note 1 Roumain, Jacques, ‘Guinée’, translated by Hughes, Langston in The Poetry of the Negro (New York, 1949), p. 365.

Page 327 note 2 Cf. Frazier, Franklin, The Negro in the United States (New York, 1949).

Page 327 note 3 Cf. Essien-Udom, E. U., Black Nationalism (Chicago, 1962), ch. 2, ‘The Nationalist Tradition’, which offers a useful summary of American Negro forms of nationalism.

Page 327 note 4 SirBurns, Alan gives a history of the development of this idea in his book Colour Prejudice (London, 1949).

Page 328 note 1 Herskovits, op. cit. pp. 30–1.

Page 328 note 2 Essien-Udom, op. cit. p. 17.

Page 328 note 3 Frazier, , Race and Culture Contacts in the Modern World, p. 311.

Page 329 note 1 Abram Kardiner and Lionel Ovesey concede as much when they write: ‘Marcus Garvey saw one important truth: that the Negro was doomed as long as he took his ideals from the white man. He saw that this sealed his internal feeling of inferiority and his self contempt.’ The Mark of Oppression (New York, 1962), p. 363.

Page 329 note 2 Garvey, Marcus, Philosophy and Opinions, edited by Jacques-Garvey, Amy (New York, 1923).

Page 329 note 3 It is well known that Ghana's ‘Black Star’ emblem is a legacy of Garvey's movements. But the activities of New World Negroes who did come to Africa, such as Dr E. W. Blyden, helped to diffuse ideas similar to his.

Page 329 note 4 Césaire, , Tonssaint Louverture, p. 35.

Page 330 note 1 Cf. Dollard, John, Caste and Class in a Southern Town (New York, 1949 edn.).

Page 330 note 2 Cf. Freyre, G., Maîres et esclaves (Paris, 1952).

Page 330 note 3 Bastide, Roger, ‘Variations sur la négritude’, in Présence Africaine (Paris), p. 36. Professor Bastide considers coloured people in Brazil with particular reference to the ideology of négritude, and shows that no real movement based on an African myth was able to extend beyond the national context, despite a Back to Africa slogan, ‘Volta na Africa’.

Page 331 note 1 Cf. Courthauld, G. R., Race and Colour in Caribbean Literature (London, 1962). I am indebted mainly to this book for information on the Afro-Cuban movement; it also offers an insight into the Caribbean aspects of négritude.

Page 331 note 2 For example, Palés Matos' poem, ‘Ñam-Ñam’, in which this passage occurs:

Translated and quoted by Courthauld, op cit. p. 33.

Page 331 note 3 See Jahn, Janheinz, ‘Poetry in Rhumba Rhythms’ in Black Orpheus (Ibadan), p. 3, 1958.

Page 331 note 4 Courthauld, op. cit. p. 34.

Page 332 note 1 Guillén, Nicolás, ‘Ballad of the Two Grandfathers’, in Elégies et chansons cubaines (Paris, 1959), pp. 1519. The version here quoted offers slight variants on the original in El Son Entero (Buenos Aires, 1947).

Page 332 note 2 The term ‘Negro’ is used here in its accepted sense in the U.S.—that is, to denote any individual having in any way an African origin. The American Negro writer was often a mulatto, sometimes very light-coloured, but in the circumstances was obliged to write under a racial ‘Negro’ label.

Page 332 note 3 Cf. Park, R. E., ‘Cultural Conflict and the Marginal Man’, in Race and Culture (New York 1950), and also Stonequist, E. V., The Marginal Man (New York, 1937).

Page 333 note 1 Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 7th edn. 1907), pp. 34.

Page 333 note 2 Herskovits, op. cit. p. 2.

Page 333 note 3 Cf. Legum, Cohn, Pan-Africanism (London, 1962), for more details of this aspect of Du Bois' activities.

Page 333 note 4 Du Bois, quoted by Essien-Udom, op. cit. 28–9, from The American Negro Academy Occacicnal Papers, 2, pp. 10–12.

Page 334 note 1 Park, R. E., ‘Negro Race Consciousness as Reflected in Race Literature’, in Race and Culture, p. 264 See Wagner, Jean, Les Poètes nègres des Etats- Unis (Paris, 1962), for a complete discussion of the period 1890 to 1940 (Dunbar to Hughes) in American Negro poetry.

Page 334 note 2 Walter Everette Hawkins, ‘Credo’, quoted by Park, op. cit. p. 296.

Page 334 note 3 Cullen, Countee, Color (New York, 1925), p. 36.

Page 335 note 1 The Langston Hughes Reader, p. 88.

Page 335 note 2 Césaire obtained his Diplôme d'études supérieures (M.A. degree), with a monograph on American Negro poetry. Léopold Sédar Senghor produced translations of Hughes and others.

Page 335 note 3 Kesteloot, Lilyan, in Les Ecrivains noirs de langue française (Brussels, 1963), p. 63, cites a letter of Senghor's, in which he mentions how contacts between American- and French- speaking Negro intellectuals were developed by a certain Mlle Nardal who had founded a Revue du monde noir, and kept a salon littéraire, at which Negro intellectuals from the U.S.A., the Caribbean, and Africa were wont to meet. Mme Kesteloot's book contains the best documentation so far of the literary development of French-speaking intellectuals, and is indispensable for the study of négritude. (It was reviewed by El Nouty, Hassan in The Journal of Modern African Stud0ies (Cambridge), 2, 4, 1964.)

Page 336 note 1 Garret, Naomi, The Renaissance of Haitian Poetry (Paris, 1963), p. 61. This book is the only account in English of this important phase of Haitian literature.

Page 337 note 1 Price-Mars, J., Ainsi parla l'oncle (Port-au-Prince, 1928), pp. 111, 20, and 210.

Page 337 note 2 Garret reports that in ‘separate interviews with many of them’, the majority of the younger poets indicated 'lectures by Dr Mars’ as the great influence on them and their work; op. cit. p. 611.

Page 337 note 3 The choice of the word ‘indigéne’ (the French colonial equivalent of ‘native’), is highly significant as a calculated gesture of defiance, the same attitude that was to produce négritude out of the word ‘nègre’, a term of contempt.

Page 337 note 4 Garret, op. cit. p. 84.

Page 338 note 1 The poetry of the Haitian renaissance will be discussed, together with the literature of négritude, in the second part of this study.

Page 339 note 1 Albérès, R. M., L'Aventure intellectuelle du XXe siècle (Paris, 3rd edn. 1963), p. 11.

Page 339 note 2 Henri Bergson was Professor of Philosophy in the Collège de France from 1900 until his death in 1941. His Creative Evolution probably exercised the greatest influence on Senghor and others.

Page 339 note 3 A later influence on Senghor was the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, to be discussed in the second part of this study.

Page 339 note 4 The surrealists had adopted an anti-colonial attitude in their reaction against western society. In an open letter to Paul Claudel in 1925, they wrote, inter alia, ‘We heartily wish that revolutions, wars and colonial insurrections would come to wipe out this western civilisation whose impurities you defend even as far as the eastern world’; reproduced in Nadeau, Maurice, Histoire du surréalisme (Paris, 1945), p. 296.

Page 339 note 5 Picon, G., Panorama de la nouvelle littératurefrançaise (Paris, 1960 edn.), p. 43.

Page 340 note 1 Césaire, described the American Negro situation as ‘para-colonial’ in his Discours surle colonialisme (Paris, 3rd edn. 1958). The fundamental identity between the colonial system and the caste system in the U.S. has been pointed out by the French sociologist, Mickel Dufrenne, who remarks that they are both a perpetuation of the ‘master-slave’ relationship, and concludes: ‘The hazards of history have only arranged that the United States have their colonies. within!’ La Personnalité de base (Paris, 1953), p. 232. Similarly Césaire's phrase carries the idea of domination.

Page 340 note 2 Senghor, , ‘Négritude et marxisme’, in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et la politique africaine (Dakar, 1962), pp. 21–2.

Page 341 note 1 Césaire resigned from the Communist Party after the exposure of Stalin by N. Kruschev at the 20th Congress in 1956. His Letire à Maurice Thorez on this occasion has been analysed at length by Legum, Colin, in his Pan-Africanism, pp. 104–10. Senghor has affirmed on several occasions that Marxism is a western ideology which has to be adapted in Africa. Both he and Césaire, however, continue to employ the dialectical method in their writings, especially the latter in Toussaint Louverture.

Page 341 note 2 These essays were first published in his review Les Temps modernes (Paris), and later separately under the title Qu'est-ce que la litérature? (Paris, 1948).

Page 341 note 3 Paul Eluard wrote the best-known poem of the French Resistance, ‘Liberté’. He was a personal friend of Césaire, and his death inspired one of the latter's greatest poems, ‘Tombeau de Paul Ehiard’; see Ferrements (Paris, 1960), pp. 62 ff.

Page 341 note 4 Wright, Richard, interview in Pan-Africa (London), 1, 9, 09 1947.

Page 342 note 1 A good example of the old approach to the question of culture is to be seen in the late Eliot, T. S.'s Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (London, 1948).

Page 342 note 2 Frobenius, Leo, Histoire de la civilisation africaine (Paris, 3rd edn. 1936), p. 14.

Page 342 note 3 Delafosse, Maurice, Les Noirs de l'Afrique (Paris, 1922), Griaule, Marcel, Dieux d'eau (Paris, 1948), Tempels, Placide, La Philosophie bantoue (Paris, 1949), Herskovits, Melville, Dahomey (New York, 1938), 2 vols.

Page 342 note 4 As a Belgian administrator put it, ‘The coloniser conceived his relationship to the colonised as that of a civilised man to a savage. Colonialism is thus based on a hierarchy, assuredly elementary, but stable and sure.’ G. Picon, quoted by Kesteloot, op. cit. p. 109.

Page 342 note 5 Césaire, , Discours sur le colonialisme, p. 10.

Page 343 note 1 The influence of African sculpture on western art forms, especially on Picasso and Modigliani, is a well-known chapter of art history. The influence of African literary forms is perhaps less appreciated, especially on Blaise Cendrars, whose Anthologie nègre appeared in 1947. Jazz has also influenced western classical music through Stravinsky and Ravel.

Page 343 note 2 Garret, op. cit. p. 69.

Page 343 note 3 Senghor, , ‘Eléments constructifs d'une civilisation d'inspiration négro-africaine’, in Deuxième Congrès des écrivains et artistes noirs (Paris, 1959), I, pp. 249–79.

Page 343 note 4 Senghor, , ‘What is Négritude?’, in Atlas (New York), 01 1962.

Page 343 note 5 Mme Kesteloot's history of Negro poetry in French, already cited, is in fact based on the development of these journals and reviews.

Page 343 note 6 Cf. Hodgkin, op. cit. pp. 33–40, for a fuller analysis of French colonial policy. There were also numerous cases of exactions, of which the most resented was the system of forced labour whose abuses were seen at their worst during the construction of the railway line from Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire (the ‘Congo-Océan’) in 1928–33, at the cost of a great number of African lives. Mongo Béti makes a reference to this in his novel, Le Pauvre Christ de Bomba (Paris, 1956).

Page 344 note 1 Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, p. 65.

Page 344 note 2 Senghor, op. cit. p. 54.

Page 344 note 3 See preface to the second edition of Batouala (Paris, 1921); cf. also Kesteloot op. cit. pp. 83 ff. for a discussion of Maran's place in the development of the négritude movement.

Page 345 note 1 Légitime Défense appeared as the first number of a projected review, but due to its ‘subversive’ character it was immediately suppressed by the French authorities. Copies are hard to come by, but Léon Damas has reproduced lengthy extracts in the introduction to his anthology Poétes d'expression française (Paris, 1947), from which I quote, pp. 1315.

Page 345 note 2 For example, see Damas op. cit. and Senghor, , Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue française (Paris, 1948). In ‘Black Orpheus’, his preface to this volume, Sartre compares Léro's surrealism to that of Césaire, and concludes that the former showed no originality. However, there is no doubt that Césaire owes a lot to Léro, who can be regarded as his immediate ancestor.

Page 345 note 3 Mme Kesteloot, whose documentation is otherwise complete, could not find a single copy of this paper, and had to rely on excerpts from another publication of Damas, and on testimonies.

Page 345 note 4 Two other similar terms were also used by Césaire in Cahier d'un retour an pays natal, ‘négraille’ and ‘nigritie’, the first being a pejorative term in common parlance, and the other an invention. But in the crucial passages in the poem, the word négritude is invariably employed.

Page 345 note 5 Césaire, , ‘Présentation’, in Tropiques (Fort-de-France), I, 04 1941. The reference to ‘darkness’ is, of course, to the war. For more about this review and the ideas developed in it by Césaire, with the collaboration of his wife Suzanne and other Caribbean intellectuals, see Kesteloot, op. cit. p. 211. ff.

Page 346 note 1 Breton, André, in ‘Un grand poète noir’, preface to Cahier d'un retour au pays natal, reproduced in Martinique, Charmeuse de Serpents (Paris, 1948), p. 95.

Page 346 note 2 Diop, Cheikh-Anta eventually obtained his doctorate with a dissertation on The Cultural Unity of Negro Africa (Paris, 1959), which was complemented by L'Afrique noire pré-coloniale (Paris, 1960).

Page 346 note 3 Sartre's, essay, ‘Orphée négre’, is reproduced in Situation III (Paris, 1949). An English translation by the American poet Samuel Allen was published under the title Black Orpheus (Paris, 1964).

Page 347 note 1 Diop, Alioune, ‘Discours d'ouverture’, in Proceedings of the First Congress of Negro Writers and Artists (Paris, 1956), pp. 11 and 15.

Page 347 note 2 Césaire, , ‘L'Homme de culture et ses responsabilités’, in Deuxième Congrès des écrivains et artistes noirs, pp. 117–18.

* A Nigerian writer at present preparing a doctoral dissertation at the Ecole pratique des hautes études, Sorbonne, Paris. This study of négritude will appear in two parts; the first deals with the historical origins and the social and cultural aspects of the movement, and the second part will be concerned with its literary expression and ideology.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed