With construct of African reality and continue to

 

                                 With
the decline of imperialism and setting up of new liberated states in the 1950s-1960s,
the third world authors challenge the Western construct of African reality and
continue to offer cultural resistance to European hegemony. They take a stand
against European ethnocentric philosophy which considers the European culture
as the center of all cultures. They emphasize the grace and effectiveness of
the “third world” cultures which were deftly pushed to the margins. It is
essential to undermine that colonialism has not only distorted and obstructed
the history and culture of Africa but has created a new set of values for the
African, and in this context Africans had  equally become a creation of the west.

This delusive image of Africa is disintegrating in
the wake of the proliferation of several concurrent events, national movements
and cultural movements during the early part of the twentieth century served to
create a climate that was more responsive to hearing the voices of the African
colonized and that reinforced their nationalistic sentiments. The objective of this paper is to explore
the 1950’s theoretical and literary movement of
Negritude as a discourse that was manifested by leading African intellectuals,
but was affected by the hegemony of Western discourse and misrepresentations of
African culture and identity.

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African culture has
endured grievous boorishness since the attainment of independence in the 1960s
by many countries of Africa. This abominable aspect has been caused mainly by
the imposition of the colonial rule over the indigenous traditional political setting
and foreign dominance and subjugation of African people in all spheres of their
social, political, cultural, economic and religious civilizations. The arrival
of European imperial expansion in Africa helped to wipe away traces of highly
developed ancient cultures. They glorified the western culture and deliberately
marginalized and eventually misrepresented the culture, religion, tradition and
identity of Africans in their discourse. In Orientalism,
(1978) Edward Said addressed the phenomenon of “the Other” in Western
consciousness and Western empire and in this sense the orient (East) is
perceived as exotic, inferior, intellectually retarded, emotionally sensual,
and culturally passive. He uses the phrase “the other” to describe the Western
fascination with the Orient. He also insists that the Orient does not exist and
has never existed outside the imagination of the West. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) became a source
of enthusiastic distress for African writers because of its inglorious depicture
of Africans as he “projects the image of Africa as ‘the other world’, the
antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization, a place where man’s vaunted
intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality” (Bloom
73).

The repugnant period of
colonialism in Africa affected the people’s language, education, culture,
religion and identity. With the fall of European colonial empires and the
creation of new, independent states in the 1950s and 1960s African writers took
it upon themselves to tell their own stories in a more realistic and
constructive manner. African writers therefore became the authentic weapons for
demolishing the hegemonic boundaries and the determinants that accomplish
binary oppositions such as “Us” and “Them”; “First World” and “Third World”;
“White” and “Black”, “Colonizer” and “Colonized”. Writers and intellectuals
from colonized cultures became aware of the ramifications of the colonial
discourse of power, they wrote back to the Empire to defend, explain, and at
times attack the West for all the political, economic and cultural atrocities
the colonial regimes inflicted on the colonized. Africans have been writing in
English since the eighteenth century. But it was in the early fifties of the
twentieth century that postcolonial African writings came up as a considerable
force in world literature. These writings can be regarded as a historical
record of the changing consciousness of black Africa and can be represented as
rebuilding of lost dignity, denied identity and distorted history. Thus the
African writing challenges the Western construct of African reality and
continues to offer cultural resistance to European hegemony.

African writers and
intellectuals revolted against the oppression meted out to them and their
nation by western opportunistic colonial system. They joined forces to erase
the stigma attached to the black world and attempted to redefine and
re-establish their identity. The French writer Jean Paul Sartre anticipated in Black Orpheus (1959) that an aggressive
intellectual revolution has to take place among African people to pave the way
for the dawn of the true African identity because “The Negro cannot deny that
he is black nor claim for himself an abstract, colorless humanity: he is black.
He picks up the word ?black that they had thrown at him like a stone; he
asserts his blackness, facing the white man with pride.”  Such an intellectual revolution came about in
the 1930’s in France, when a group of intellectuals Aime Cesaire, Leopold
Senghor, and Leon Dames—and other Caribbean and African writers, developed the
literary and political ideology of Negritude. United in a revolutionary action
and seeking the liberation of the Blacks from the white colonial power and the
recognition of the Negro-African culture and civilization, Black students from
the Caribbean and Africa started their movement in France in the late
1920’s-30. They were all activist poets and they contested the White oppressive
domination over people of African descent. Negritude is a protest at a very
sophisticated level: a protest of men largely assimilated into European
culture, but unable to escape from the color of their skins. It was a direct
and forceful response to the consequences of the white imperialist’s attempt to
destroy not only African culture, but also the African personality itself. They emphasize the grace and
effectiveness of the ‘third world’ cultures which were skillfully pushed to the
margins. There are many components of the colonizing attitude like humiliation,
oppression, degradation, alienation, and economic exploitation which has led to
the marginalization of African culture. Thus African writers struggled to
correct false images, to rewrite fictionally and poetically the history of
pre-colonial and colonial Africa, and to affirm African perspectives. These
writers break up the ordeal of their condition in using their own life as
content and re-write the black history distorted by the west, question the
Black culture, identity and past and protested against all forms of
exploitation of Africa and the Caribbean.

For a century, this was the identity that had been
disseminated to them through the colonial system and colonial educators; and
their own histories, civilizations, languages, and cultural practices had been
effaced in the interests of better controlling them. The colonized were
denounced to passivity and alienated from their cultural heritage due to the
identity that was rooted somewhere else and that did not belong to them. Thus
the “colonial enterprise was presented as a ‘civilizing mission’, aimed at
transforming the black man by his progressive approximation to the ideals of
western civilization through education” (Roux 40). The black man, and
especially the intellectual, found himself a man no longer in his own right,
but with reference to another, thus estranged from himself; in exile, not only
in a political and social sense, but also spiritually. He recognized himself as
belonging to an ‘out-group’, an alien in relation to the west, which controlled
the total universe. The African identified himself developing in two cultures
and consequently could not relate himself with any specific culture. He was
neither African nor European. The Africans and the Blacks of the Diaspora were
involved in writing to rectify the unfounded image of Blacks as spread by
Europeans at the peak of Western imperialism in Africa and the rest of the
world.

 

The educated Africans and Caribs of African descent residing
in France were among the first to spur this search for an identity. These black
intellectuals asserted the value and vitality of black culture and challenged
the supremacy of European civilization. The western cultural superiority
advocated by the colonialist and rationalists tradition awakened the
consciousness of the blacks to assertive effort in articulating cultural
rationalism among the French speaking Africans. “There is an African literature
that flatters condescending western eras, in which African prove,  by means of negritude of black personality
rhetoric, that they are “intelligent human beings” who once had respectable
civilization that colonialism destroyed” (Mudimbe 36).  Negritude came up as a literary and political
movement in 1930s by a number of black intellectuals from Africa and the
Caribbean as response to French policy of assimilation that alienated them from
their cultural values. Negritude was part of the process to undo the damage of
colonialism. It made blacks legible on the cosmos and empowered them to mount a
fierce battle to be heard, recognized and respected. The opening up of the
African mind to rediscovery of African values and traditions and a rebirth of
the African idea of the black self appears to be in fact the most essential and
the most significant element in the literature of Negritude. Negritude
represent “a poetics, a philosophy of existence, a literary, cultural, and
intellectual movement that signified the birth of a new literature among
black Francophone writers, a ‘New Negro’ from the Francophone world, a
metaphorically rich Pan- Africanism in French” (Denean 95).

 

Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Aime Cesaire of Martinique
and Leon Gontran Dames of French Guiana were among the African students who
were given scholarships by France to go and study at the great Louis Le Grand
of Paris. There, these blacks realized that their other mates of white skin
would not interact with them as equals, rather they would not miss any chance
to abhor them, treating them as if they were of inferior intelligence. Thus,
they realized the Whiteness of French identity and its hostility toward
blackness; and congregated together and displayed to their white mates that
they were not of inferior status. These three became the main theorizers of
Negritude movement as they were all interested in questions of black identity
under French colonial rule. Their vision of Negritude became not only the
foundation of an African cultural philosophy and aesthetics but also a pathway
to redefining of African identity through the canons of the west. Thus the
literature of Negritude with Cesaire, Senghor and Damas sang praises of the
achievements of Africa. Through their collective poetic voice, employing it
both as an emancipative discourse and weapon, the Negritude poets reconstructed
and reconfigured Black’s identity that was suppressed, disoriented and
fragmented by oppression, slavery and colonial control. 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. They
all were activist poets and they challenged the White oppressive domination
over people of African descent. They found unity in their common ideal of
affirming pride in their shared black identity and African heritage, and
reclaiming self-determination, self-reliance, and self-respect. They believed
that forming a solidarity of black people with a unified sense of their place
in the world, a common culture and history about which they could be proud of,
a common expression that belonged to them alone, a common emotional and mental
disposition: in short, a doctrine of blackness, would be one of the greatest
weapons that they could employ against European hegemony and cultural and
intellectual suppression.

 

Thus, Negritude Movement (the first Diasporic ‘black pride’
movement), sought to recover and assert African identity which was deemed
inferior in the European Enlightenment project and colonial discourse. The
movement purported to re-examine the relationship between African and
African-related cultures and western civilization, and to redefine the racial
and cultural identity of blacks. It also presented a revolutionary way to think
about the political status of African colonies for the Africans and the French.
The Negritude movement proposed the universality of the black experience and
awakened a suppressed cultural voice that African people used to express
themselves in the modern world. It was an initiative to recover African
traditional values and vernaculars in service of the struggle for liberation.
Negritude embraces the revolt against colonialist values, glorification of the
African past, and nostalgia for the beauty and harmony of traditional African
society. It enabled the Africans and the Caribbeans for the first time in the
modern period to deploy blackness as a positive concept. This disrupted the
process of racial othering and signified a sense of pride in their ancestry,
and the beauty of blackness.

 

It was not only a literary movement
that brought together the Diaspora of Blacks from three continents but above
all the expression of a black rebellion against the West and its stranglehold
on the Third World. The movement holds a prominent place in African
intellectual history because it was able to synthesize a wide-range of black
and white radical perspectives, as well as leave a controversial legacy for
future anti-racist, anti-colonialist, and anti-capitalist radicalism. Negritude
as a set of attitudes leading to revaluation of the Negro values, the world
over, in the face of white civilization, appears to have started and gone
through a great deal of its development in the literature of the French West
Indies. Ideologically and politically, Negritude can be described as a
conscious and constructed response to colonial patterns and practices of racial
and cultural superiority. The movement was not only to return to African roots
but to destroy the myth and stereotypes that instilled a sense of inferiority
in people of African descent, and particularly the descendants of slaves in the
Carribean. In the aftermath of the African holocaust, enslavement,
colonization, and segregation, Negritude redefined and radically politicized
the black aesthetic, making it more modern by bringing black art into dialogue
with Pan-Africanism, Black Nationalism, and African socialism.

As habitants of three different
French colonies, Cesaire, Senghor, and Damas realized the commonalities of
their experience, as well as their capacity for unified action against French
colonial oppression. To break down the image of Africans as ‘dark continent’
and to carve themselves an identity other than that of ‘Frenchmen with Black
skins’, Senghor, Cesaire, and Dames sought to restore the merit and dignity of
African civilization, both as a source of pride for black people everywhere and
for its contributions to the human community. Together, they developed the
philosophy of Negritude, which emphasized the importance and universal nature
of black culture and called for solidarity among the inhabitants of Black
Africa and its Diaspora in opposition to Western oppression. It was an attempt
to redefine black culture in terms of universal black values and black self-expression,
and was the passionate demand for the freedom of the colonized lands, for the
dignity of their people, and for recognition of the cultural values of their
continent. Negritude movement itself was an effort at self-definition, at
discovering a distinct identity common to black people everywhere.

Negritude evolved as the twin
phenomena of racism and colonialism and sought to rejoin and affirm the essence
of the Black Personality that generations of French cultural assimilation had
sought to Europeanize. The concept of negritude sprang up as the culmination of
that desire earlier conceived as a celebration of the black endowment and drive
for the restoration of the dignity of the black race. Negritude is the modest
but obstinate striving to restore the victim’s rights and show the world what
it has particularly denied-the dignity of the black man. The movement is more
concerned with raising the status of Africans and members of the black Diaspora
than denigrating another population. Proponents of the Negritude movement
wanted instead to combat the ignorant stereotypes of Africa perpetuated by the
West.  At its core, it is a reclaiming of
the derogatory term, “Negre”, and a reappropriation of it in order to promote
the value of African cultures. Negritude accepted the European assertion that
blacks were different from whites but rejected the assumption that they were
therefore an inferior race. The movement assumed that if Europe was reason,
Africa was emotion: that is to say, if the white race was by nature analytical,
objective, detached and cerebral, the black race was intuitive, subjective,
involved and sensual. The movement argued for a consolidated version of African
identity emerged from the works and operations of students, intellectuals and
writers from the French colonies and was also linked with Afro-American blacks
in Europe. The advocates of this movement sought to ‘create a culture African
in tone and content’ and ‘black people’s rejection of the other’. The movement
proclaimed to reexamine the relationship between African and the African-
related cultures and western civilization, and to redefine the racial and
cultural identity of blacks. The literary movement of negritude constitutes a
symbolic progression from subordination to independence, from alienation,
through revolt, to self-affirmation. The astounding belief that dominates
negritude is the black man’s sense of separation from his own world and of
being thrown into a social system with whose cultural values he can strike no
personal relation. Thus the uprising of negritude in the literature thus
represents a reinforcement of the antagonism created by the colonial situation,
between the white master and the black subordinate. Negritude sought to exemplify
African cultural identity in historical and racial affiliations and glorify the
African continent. The movement proposed a dismissal and even defiance of
anything European, and an identification with everything African, turning
erstwhile ‘negative’ terms applied to people of African descent (such as negro
and savage) into signifiers of black pride.