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Négritude—Literature and Ideology

  • Abiola Irele


Pan-Africanism has been described as ‘essentially a movement of emotions and ideas’,1 and this description is equally applicable to négritude, which is its cultural parallel. Indeed, no better phrase could be found to sum up its double nature, first as a psychological response to the social and cultural conditions of the ‘colonial situation’,2 and secondly as a fervent quest for a new and original orientation.

In the former respect, the imaginative writings of the French-speaking Negro intellectuals offer a precious testimony to the human problems and inner conflicts of the colonial situation; in the latter respect, their propaganda writing and other activities represent an effort to transcend the immediate conditions of this situation by a process of reflection. Négritude is thus at the same time a literary and an ideological movement.



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Page 499 note 1 Legum, Colin, Pan-Africanism (London, 1962), p. 14.

Page 499 note 2 The term ‘colonial situation’ will be used here to denote the global situation of black people as it affected the writings of French-speaking Negro intellectuals. The first part of this study has already spelt out how the position of the Negro in the United States was readily assimilated to the domination of other Negro peoples by the west.

Page 500 note 1 Senghor, Léopold Sédar, ‘On the Appeal from the Race of Sheba,’ translated by Reed, John and Wake, Clive in Selected Poems (London, 1964), p. 29.

Page 500 note 2 Camille, Roussan, Assaut à la nuit (Paris, 1956), p. 53.

Page 500 note 3 Césaire, Aimé, Et les chiens se taisaient (Paris, 1956), pp. 93–3.

Page 500 note 4 Cf. Williams, Eric, Capitalism and Slavery (London, 2nd edn. 1964).

Page 500 note 5 Césaire, , Discours sur le colonialisme (Paris, 1955), p. 22.

Page 501 note 1 Gunnar Myrdal has observed that racial solidarity is more marked among U.S. Negroes than class consciousness. He speaks therefore of a ‘caste struggle’, thus making the economic status of the American Negro secondary to the ethnic classification, in his analysis of the Negroes’ place in U.S. society. An American Dilemma(New York, 9th edn. 1944), ch. 31, pp. 667ff.

Page 501 note 2 Cf.Kennedy, Raymond: ‘The colour line, indeed, is the foundation of the entire colonial system, for on it is built the whole social, economic, and political structure’. ‘The Colonial Crisis and the Future,’ in Linton, Ralph (ed.), The Science of Man in the World Crisis (New York, 1945), p. 308.

Page 501 note 3 Modisane, Bloke, ‘Why I ran away’, in Hughes, J. Langston (ed.), An African Treasury (New York, 1960), p. 26.

Page 501 note 4 The psychological implications of racial discrimination for the black man in white society have produced numerous studies. This question seems to have been best summarised by Dollard, John: ‘The upshot of the matter seems to be that recognizing one's own Negro traits is bound to be a process wounding to the basic sense of integrity of the individual who comes into life with no such negative views of his own characteristics.’ Caste and Class in a Southern Town (New York, 2nd edn. 1949), p. 184. The genesis of Negro ‘self-hatred’ is discussed at length by Bastide, Roger in his chapter on ‘Le Heurt des races, des civilisations et la psychanalyse’, in Sociologie et psychanalyse (Paris, 1950), ch. XI, pp. 235 ff.

Page 501 note 5 Damas, Léon, ‘La Complainte du négre’, in Pigments (Paris, 1963), p. 45.

Page 502 note 1 For the theoretical basis of these remarks, see Kardiner, A., The Psychological Frontiers of Society (New York, 2nd edn. 1946), and Dufrenne, M., La Personnalité de base (Paris, 1953).

Page 502 note 2 Cf. Mannoni, O., Psychologie de la colonisation (Paris, 1950), pp. 1030.

Page 502 note 3 Senghor, , ‘Totem’, in Selected Poems, p. 10.

Page 502 note 4 Laleau, Léon, ‘Trahison,’ translated by Allen, Samuel, in Drachler, Jacob (ed.), African Heritage (New York, 1963), p. 195; French original in Senghor, Anthologie de Ia nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache (Paris, 1948).

Page 503 note 1 Bastide, Roger, ‘Problèmes de l'entrecroisement des civilisations et de leurs oeuvres,’ in Gurvitch, G. (ed.), Traité de sociologie (Paris, 1963), II, p. 319 and Park, R. E., Race and Culture (New York, 1950), p. 356.

Page 503 note 2 Damas, , ‘Solde’, in Pigments, p. 39.

Page 503 note 3 Cf. Henriques, F., ‘Colour Values in Jamaica’ in British Journal of Sociology (London), II, 2, 1951; and Wagley, Charles and Harris, Marvin, Minorities in the New World (New York, 1958). Mittelholzer, Edgar, A Morning at the Office (London, 1958), and Lamming, George, The Emigrants (London, 1955), offer sensitive inside views of this Caribbean problem.

Page 503 note 4 Césaire, , ‘Dit d'errance’, in Cadastre (Paris, 1961), p. 90.

Page 504 note 1 Kane, C. H., L'Aveniure ambigüe (Paris, 1961), p. 88. Cf. Reed, John, ‘Between Two Worlds’, in Makerere Journal (Kampala), 7, 1963, for an analysis of the theme of cultural conflict in the African novel.

Page 504 note 2 Senghor, , ‘For Koras and Balafongs’, in Selected Poems, pp. 1314.

Page 505 note 1 Regnor C. Bernard, Nègre, quoted and translated by Courthauld, G. R., Race and Colour in Caribbean Literature (London 1962), p. 81.

Page 505 note 2 Diop, David, ‘Les Vautours’, in Coups de pilon (Paris, 1960), p. 8; translated by Beier, Ulli in Hughes, J. Langston (ed.), Poems from Black Africa (Bloomington, 1963), p. 145.

Page 505 note 3 Senghor, , Hosties Noires (Paris, 1948), p. 115.

Page 506 note 1 René Depestre, ‘Quand je crie non’, in Gerbes de sang; quoted by Garret, Naomi, The Renaissance of Haitian Poetry (Paris, 1963), p. 191.

Page 506 note 2 Roumain, Jacques, ‘Prelude’ to Bois d'ébène (Port-au-Prince, 1945). The titles of the collections of poems by French Negro writers speak manifestly of this mood: Les Armes miraculeuses (Césaire), Coups de pilon (D. Diop), Feu de brousse (Tchikaya U. Tam'si), Balles noires (Guy Tirolien), and so on.

Page 506 note 3 Fanon, F., Les Damnés de la terre (Paris, 1961), ch. I. Georges Balandier and Roger Bastide have both drawn attention to this phenomenon, highlighted by the influence of the Apocalypse on ‘messianic’ movements. See G. Balandier, Sociologie actuelle de I'Afrique noire, and Bastide, , Sociologie et psychanalyse, p. 262.

Page 506 note 4 Césaire, , ‘Soleil Serpent’, in Les Armes miraculeuses (Paris, 1946), p. 25.

Page 507 note 1 René Bélance, ‘Moi nègre’, in Survivances; quoted by Naomi Garret, op. cit. p. 178.

Page 507 note 2 Translated by Moore, Gerald in Seven African Writers (London, 1962), introduction, p. xx, from Damas, , Black Label (Paris, 1956), p. 52. The same reversal of situations occurs in Laye's, CamaraThe Radiance of the King (London, 1959), where Clarence the white man goes through a succession of adventures in supplication of the attention of a black king.

Page 507 note 3 Césaire, , Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Paris, 1958 edn.), p. 46. Sartre observed, in connection with the problem posed to the black poet by his use of a European language: ‘Let him open his mouth and he condemns himself, except in so far as he sets himself to destroy the hierarchy’ (that is, of the ‘coupled terms black-white’); Black Orbheus, p. 27.

Page 508 note 1 This theme is also a favourite one with English-speaking African writers. Okigbo, C. calls the Angelus ‘the bells of exile”; Heaoensgate (Ibadan, 1962), p. 35. J. P. Clark writes in ‘Ivbie”, almost a poem of négritude: Is it ruse or truce That peace which passeth all understanding? Poems (Ibadan, 1962), p. 46.

Page 508 note 2 Cf. Soyinka's, WoleThe Lion and the Jewel (Ibadan, 1963) for a parallel treatment of this theme by an African writing in English.

Page 508 note 3 Jean-Paul Sartre speaks of négritude as ‘the weak stage of a dialectical progression: the theoretical and practical affirmation of white supremacy is the thesis; the position of Négritude as antithetical value is the moment of Negativity. But this negative moment is not sufficient in itself and the blacks who use it well know this; they know that it serves to prepare the way for the synthesis or the realisation of the human society without racism’. Black Orpheus (Paris, 1963), p. 60.

Page 508 note 4 Césaire, , ‘Visitation’, in Les Armes miraculeuses, p. 32.

Page 509 note 1 Roumain, Jacques, Bois d'ébène, p. 5.

Page 509 note 2 Laye, C., The African Child (London, 1954).

Page 509 note 3 Senghor, , Selected Poems, p. 6.

Page 510 note 1 Dadié, Bernard, ‘Couronne à l'Afrique’, in La Ronde des jours (Paris, 1956).

Page 510 note 2 Linton, R., ‘Nativistic Movements’, in American Journal of Sociology (Chicago). See also his chapter on ‘The Distinctive Aspects of Acculturation’, in Acculturation in Seven American Indian Types (New York, 1940), ch. 10.

Page 510 note 3 It is not suggested by these remarks that the romanticism of négritude was without its abuses. But this is a question for literary criticism, which must content itself with judging the aesthetic value of the finished product rather than legislating for the writer about his raw material. Besides, négritude, like any other literary school, has produced its unispired writers, and like any other movement its lunatic fringe.

Page 510 note 4 Cf. Jahn, Janheinz, Muntu (London, 1961), especially chs. 5 and 7, and Taylor, John V., The Primal Vision (London, 1963), for an extensive discussion of this question.

Page 510 note 5 Césaire, Cahier, p. 71.

Page 511 note 1 Cf. Beier, Ulli, ‘The Theme of the Ancestors in Senghor's Poetry’, in Black Orpheus (Ibadan), 5, 05 1959. Beier concludes his study with the following observation: ‘Senghor is not merely a Frenchified African who tries to give exotic interest to his French poems; he is an African who uses the French language to express his African soul’.

Page 511 note 2 Translated by Atik, Anne in Drachier, (ed.), African Heritage, p. 95.

Page 511 note 3 Cf. Memmi, A., Portrait du colonisé (Paris, 1957), p. 174.

Page 512 note 1 Cf. Kohn, Hans, The Idea of Nationalism (New York, 1946). The analogy between négritude and other nationalist literatures has been drawn, principally by two writers: Bernard Fonlon, who compares négritude to similar movements in Irish nationalism in La Poésie et le réveil de phomme noir (unpublished doctoral dissertation, National University of Ireland, Cork); and Melone, Thomas, De la négritude dans la littérature negro-africaine (Paris, 1962), in which négritude is compared to the literature of the German revival in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Page 512 note 2 Tevoedjre, A, L’Afrique révoltée (Paris, 1958), pp. 114–15.

Page 512 note 3 Césaire, , Discours sur le colonialisme (Paris, 1955), p. 65.

Page 514 note 1 Diop, Cheikh-Anta, Nations négres et culture (Paris, 1954), p. 253.

Page 515 note 1 Hazoumé, P., ‘L'me du Dahoméen, animiste révélée par sa religion’, in Contributions au ler congrés des écrivains et artistes noirs, pp. 233–51. See also the collected volume, Des Prétres noirs s'interrogent (Paris, 1957), for a similar approach to African religious beliefs.

Page 515 note 2 Paul, E., ‘L'Ethnologie et les cultures noires’, in Contributions au Ier congrés des écrivains et artistes noirs, p. 152.

Page 515 note 3 J. Rabemananjara, ‘L’Europe et nous’, ibid. p. 28.

Page 516 note 1 Diop, Alioune, Deuxiéme congés des ecrivains et artistes noirs, p. 41.

Page 516 note 2 F. Fanon, ‘Fondements réciproques de la culture nationale et des luttes de libération’, ibid. p. 87.

Page 516 note 3 G. Balandier observes that, in the development of African political myth, ‘the accent placed more on… cultural liberation… than on political liberation’. ‘Les Mythes politiques de colonisation et de décolonisation en Afrique’, in Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie (Paris), XXXIII, 1962, p. 93.

Page 517 note 1 The following observation by Louis Wirth about minorities' reaction to their situation should be kept in mind when considering négritude: ‘One cannot long discriminate against a people without generating in them a sense of isolation and of persecution, and without giving them a conception of themselves as more different from others than in fact they are’. Linton, R. (ed.), The Science of Man in the World Crisis, p. 348.

Page 517 note 2 No other member of the movement has elaborated négritude so fully as Senghor. As a matter of fact, Césaire himself prefers to regard négritude as a historical stand, as an attitude, rather than as a comprehensive system (private interview with the author).

Page 517 note 3 The title of one of his early articles is significant: ‘Défense de 1'Afrique noire’, in Esprit (Paris), 1945.

Page 518 note 1 Cf. ‘Ce que l'homme noir apporte’, in Liberté, I: négritude et humanisme (Paris, 1964), pp. 2239.

Page 518 note 2 Senghor, Preface to Diop, Birago, Les Nouveaux Conies d'Amadou Khoumba, in Liberté, I, p. 246.

Page 518 note 3 Cf. Lévy-Bruhl, Lucien, Morceaux Choisis (Paris, 1936), pp. 23–7. Although Lévy-Bruhl's ideas have been demolished, and he himself renounced them later in his life, this does not seem to have affected Senghor's own ideas.

Page 518 note 4 Senghor, , ‘Ce que l'homme noir apporte’, in Liberté, i, p. 24.

Page 518 note 5 Senghor, , ‘Psychologie du Négro-Africain’, in Diogéne, 37, 1962; translated by Reed, John and Wake, Clive, in Senghor: Prose and Poeiry (London, 1965), p. 33.

Page 519 note 1 Ibid.

Page 519 note 2 ‘L'Esthétique négro-africaine’, in Liberté, I, pp. 212–3.

Page 519 note 3 ‘Ceque l'homme noir apporte’, in Liberté, i, p. 27.

Page 519 note 4 Translations by John Reed and Clive Wake, op. cit. p. 37.

Page 519 note 5 Ibid. p. 43.

Page 520 note 1 Ibid.

Page 520 note 2 Cf. Nation et voie africaine du scocialisme (Paris, 1961), pp. 71 and 123–4.

Page 520 note 3 Cf. Senghor, , Nation et voie africaine du socialisme, pp. 4166, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin et lapolitique africaine, (Paris, 1962), pp. 1731. Senghor does not reject so much the philosophy of Marx as his social ideology.

Page 520 note 4 Ibid. pp. 33ff.

Page 520 note 5 Nation et voie africaine du socialisme, p. 108.

Page 521 note 1 Bakiwin, James, Nobody Knows My Name (New York, 1961), p. 29.

Page 522 note 1 Balandier, op. cit. p. 93.

Page 522 note 2 Thomas, L.V., Les Idéologies négro-africaines d'aujourd'hui (Dakar, 1965), p. 19. Cf. also Ogot, B., ‘From Chief to President’, in Transition (Kampala), 10, 1963, for a study of the same progression in African political organisation and attitudes.

Page 523 note 1 Diop, A., ‘Niam n'goura ou les raisons d'être de présence africaine’, in Présence africaine I, 1947 (translated by Wright, R.).

* A Nigerian writer at present preparing a doctoral dissertation at the Ecole pratique des hautes études, Sorbonne, Paris. This article follows one on ‘Négritude or Black Cultural Nationalism’, published in Vol. III, No. 3 of this Journal, which dealt with the historical origins and the social and cultural aspects of the movement.

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