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Janine Dove-Rumé
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Michel Naumann
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Tri Tran

IV. Nouvelles littératures

Now Is the time to Think Blackness beyond Fixity: Leopold Sedar Senghor and the Concert of Negritude

Cheikh Thiam

Résumé

Beyond the anti-colonial manifestations to which major critics of Negritude frequently limit it, Senghor’s study of prehistory, the Negro’s shared-experience-of-suffering, and Senghor’s childhood experience in Joal and Djiloor make possible a new understanding of his concept of Negritude as a theory which, at the same time, acknowledges the particularity of the Negro subject and defines races as fundamentally mixed. The study of prehistory enables Senghor to develop the theory of métissage as constitutive of human races ; the Negro’s shared-experience-of-suffering enables him to present Negritude as a relation to the world and a position within the power structure ; Senghor’s traditional African cultural background, his experience in Joal and Djiloor, influences his definition of Negritude as a being Negro. Each of the sources of Senghor’s philosophy gives a particular meaning to the concept of Negritude without silencing its other possible manifestations and enable Senghor to present blackness as a concept that is always becoming.

Texte intégral

  • 1 In the late 1920s and the early 1930s, European anthropologists such as Leo Frobenius and Maurice D (...)
  • 2 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Ce que je crois, Paris, Grasset, 1988, p. 65.

1The racist foundations of the French colonial system play an important role in the emergence of the first theories of Negritude. The French colonial socio-political structure was organized according to the supposed cultural and biological inferiority of Negroes at the same moment that the richness of Negro cultures was celebrated by the-scientific and cultural intelligentsia.1 Many critics of Senghor’s work, such as Lyliane Kesteloot, Hubert de Leusse, and Sylvia Washington, consider this colonial situation to be the essential source of Senghor’s conception of Negritude. Senghor’s own definition of Negritude as an anti-colonial movement legitimates the traditional conception of Negritude as springing from the French colonial structure. In Ce Que Je Crois, for instance, he defines Negritude as “un combat pour la libération des chaînes de la colonisation culturelle.”2 There are, however, other possible manifestations of Negritude that remain silenced if the socio-political situation of the Negro, in the 1930s France, is considered to be the essential source of Negritude.

  • 3 I use the concept of rhizome in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari present it in A Thousand Platea (...)

2Negritude has different sources and different conditions of emergence, which prefigure its possible manifestations and its various meanings. Beyond the anti-colonial manifestations in which it is frequently enframed, Senghor’s study of prehistory, the Negro’s shared-experience-of-suffering, and Senghor’s childhood experience in Joal and Djiloor establish the conditions for a re-interpretation of his conception of the Negro and make possible a new understanding of his conception of Negritude as a theory which, at the same time, essentializes the Negro subject and defines races as fundamentally mixed. Each of the sources of Negritude functions as a new point of departure. Each source instills a particular meaning to the concept of Negritude without erasing its pre-existing meanings. The sources of Negritude present Negritude as a multifaceted movement, a rhizomatic phenomenon taking diverse forms which cannot be limited to one field.3

  • 4 “Pre-colonial” does not solely refer to the time before colonization. It also concerns African trad (...)

3The study of prehistory enables Senghor to theorize the unity of Negro cultures, to challenge the philosophical foundations of the colonial system, and to justify his concept of Métissage. Senghor’s study of prehistory, which the critics of Negritude have not accorded enough importance, is not only central to the different meanings of his theory, it also places the Senghorian critique on a new interpretive dimension. The Negro’s shared-experience-of-suffering creates, within Negro communities, a feeling of belonging to the same nation through slavery and colonization and enables Senghor to reclaim European colonial influences on Negro societies and to reaffirm the Métissage of Negro cultures. In the same vein, Senghor s traditional African cultural background, his experience in Joal and Djiloor, influences his definition of Negritude as a prospective attitude which, beyond a reaction against the dehumanizing imperialist racial philosophy, functions as an illustration of Negroeness based on pre-colonial African traditions.4

  • 5 William E. B. Du Bois, “The Conservation of the Races,” American Negro Academy Occasional Papers 2 (...)
  • 6 Cheikh Anta DIOP, Nations nègres et culture: de l’Antiquité nègre égyptienne aux problèmes culturel (...)
  • 7 Marginal Negroes refers to any group that can be considered “minor” in Negritie. That is, minor eth (...)

4The different sources of Negritude lead to the conclusion that Negritude can be defined as a prospective movement of pride and a reaction against colonization. Negritude manifests itself in the history of the Negro race, from the statutes of Grimaldi to the twentieth century French empire and beyond. It inscribes itself in the flow of Negro cultural and socio-political movements, which preceded and prefigured it in various forms. Yet, unlike Africanist thinkers such as Cheikh Anta Diop, the sources of Negritude present Negroeness as a heterogeneous concept, which cannot be limited to borders. The sources of Negritude make possible a critique of the dichotomist African thinkers who, from W. E. B. Du Bois’ “The Conservation of Race”5 to Cheikh Anta Diop’s Nations nègres et culture,6 question Euro-centricity but essentialize Negroeness and silence “marginal Negroes.”7

THE PREHISTORY OF BLACK FOLKS

  • 8 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Liberté 3, négritude et civilisation de l’universel, Paris, Seuil, 1977, p. (...)

Plus important me semble être les fondements historiques, proto-, voire pré-historique de la négritude.8

  • 9 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Liberté 5, le dialogue des cultures, Paris, Seuil, 1993, p. 200.

Nous commencerons par évoquer certains faits de la préhistoire, qui prouvent le rôle majeur de l’Afrique, du Continent noir, c’est le cas de le dire, dans l’élaboration de la première civilisation digne de ce nom.9

  • 10 Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilisation ou barbarie, anthropologie sans complaisance, Paris, Présence Africa (...)
  • 11 Cheikh Anta Diop, Unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1981.
  • 12 This chapter is a condensed version of a longer paper Senghor presented at a conference at the Univ (...)

5Leopold Sedar Senghor participates in the Afri-centrist tradition of thinkers in the nineteenth century, such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, and in the twentieth century, such as Cheikh Anta Diop, who theorize the unity of Negro cultures. Like the Cheikh Anta Diop of Nations nègres et culture, civilisation ou barbarie,10 and Unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire,11 Senghor articulates a definition of Negroeness based on the specific African origins and the particular level of sophistication of the first human civilizations. He conceives a unified, but mixed, Negro cultural heritage, conceptualizes Negritude as a pan-Negrist movement, and questions the validity of the western imperialist socio-political structure. In his last book, Ce Que Je Crois, Senghor assimilates the beginning of prehistory with the discovery of the Australopithecus, which he defines as the first step from animality to humanity.12 The Australopithecus, Senghor says, created the oldest industry of history, the pebble industry, before it evolved to become Pithecanthropus, singe-homme, or homicides. The homicides disappeared before the Neanderthals, which had a pronounced sense of heaven and constitute the link to the homo-sapiens. Senghor concludes that all these species play an important role in his theory of Negritude because they constitute the first manifestations of Negro cultural values. He declares,

  • 13 L. Senghor, Ce que je crois, op. cit., p. 47-48.

J’entends par ‘Hommes de la Conscience’ les Africains du Dernier Age de la Pierre, qui correspond au Paleolitique superieur, au Mésolitique et au Néolithique. Ces Hommes, réagissant aux transformations de leur environnement, accompliront une dernière révolution. Celle-ci, à travers l’art, les mènera, les premiers, à la civilisation écrite... Et, peu à peu, millenaire apres millenaire, se dégagea, de ces différents facies, une ‘Civilisation africaine.’13

6Senghor adds, in Liberté 3,

  • 14 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 110. Italics mine.

C’est en Afrique... qu’il convient de se placer pour voir au mieux se former, grossir, partir, puis revenir sur elle-même, jusqu’à saturation des terres habitables, la grande onde des peuples, des techniques et des idées.14

  • 15 Pierre Theilhard de Chardin, Camille Arambourg, Henry Breuil, Marcelin Boule, et al.
  • 16 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 90.
  • 17 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 90.

7For Senghor, these different human forms can be considered to be early manifestations of Negro cultural values. They marked the beginning of “l’ensemble des valeurs de civilisations nègres” for, as the archeological studies of his time show, modern “African cultures” are the direct forbearers of these cultures.15 The prehistoric manifestations of Negro cultural values validate Senghor’s theory, which considers modern Negro civilizations as outcomes of earlier African civilizations. Senghor’s conception of the role of prehistory in the formation of Negro civilizations leads him to the conclusion that Negritude sprung forty thousand years earlier, “depuis les statuettes stéatophyges des Négroïdes de Grimaldi.”16 He concludes: “la réalité recouverte par le mot [Negritude] existait depuis 40000 ans.”17 In other words, Negritude, understood as the sum total of Negro cultural values, is a doctrine which, even though it remained un-theorized for a long time, started before history.

8The prehistoric manifestations of Negro cultural values undermine the legitimacy of western scientific definitions of Africa as an a-historical kingdom of childhood, challenge the definitions of the Negro as a subhuman subject without culture, and threaten the foundations of colonization, which, officially, functions as a humanist movement destined to lift Negroes into humanity. The prehistoric manifestations of Negritude shows that Negritude functions, at the same time, as a philosophical doctrine, which aims at re-valuating Negro cultural values, and as a political anti-colonial movement, which questions the legitimacy of western imperialism. Instead of portraying Negritude as either an accommodating assimilationist movement or as a radical separatist philosophy, Senghor’s accounts of prehistory present these two different manifestations of Negritude as inseparable. The prehistoric manifestations of Negritude enable Senghor to redefine the Negro subject and to oppose, at the same time, the imperialist definition of the Negro as subhuman. The very philosophical action of proposing a positive Negro-centric redefinition of the Negro constitutes a direct attack to the theoretical foundations of the political doctrines of colonization.

  • 18 C. Diop, Nations nègres, op. cit., p. 12.

9It is, nevertheless, necessary to note that although prehistory provides Senghor with the means to theorize the cultural unity of Negro civilizations and to question the validity of western imperialism, Senghor does not enclose Negroeness within the limits of purity. The study of prehistory not only shows that Negroes prepared the way for the emergence of modern human civilizations, but also illustrates that Negro-Africans have, as early as the prehistoric time, mixed with Europeans and Asians. Senghor conceives prehistory to be the period of the first racial mixtures. He questions the racialist philosophy of the Cheikh Anta Diop of Nations nègres et cultures, for whom the civilizations of Ancient Egypt as well as the civilization of the Mediterranean, were exclusively Negro.18

  • 19 L. Senghor, Ce que je crois, op. cit., p. 33.
  • 20 L. Senghor, Liberté 5, op. cit., p. 90.

10For Senghor, European and African civilizations emerged through their mutual influences. African history is inseparable from “celui de l’Europe méridionale, ni surtout celui du Proche Orient, avec lesquels il s’est si souvent métissé, qu’il s’agisse de biologie ou de culture.”19 Founding his theory on the discoveries of contemporary scientists such as Paul Rivet, René Verneau, Henri Breuil, and Marcelin Boule, etc., Senghor ascertains that the first populations who occupied the Mediterranean were Negroid. These Negroid species (Capsiens, Grimaldi) met with the Cro-Magnum (white species) and the Chancelade (yellow species) before “l’albisation progressive, c’est à dire le blanchissement, des pays méditerranéens: du Paléolitique supérieur à l’époque historique.”20 Thus, observing that,

  • 21 Ibid., p. 86.

Depuis le paléolothique supérieur, et c’est l’un des traits de l’homo sapiens, lorsque deux peuples se rencontrent, elles se combattent souvent, mais elles se métissent toujours21

11Senghor develops the theory of the fundamental mixture of races. This conception of the mixture of races prepares his redefinition of the concept of race and prefigures his concept of Métissage. Senghor’s conception of racial mixture is not, however, limitable to the prehistoric period. Métissage constitutes a frequent and constant phenomenon in the history and development of races, although some historical periods, such as the European imperialist era, had been the theater of more contact and, thus, more mixture between races, than other periods. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, indeed, European imperialism accelerated mixture between races. Unlike the prehistoric mixture of races and cultures, however, the sixteenth century cultural and biological mixtures were accompanied by a racialist politics and philosophy that essentialized races, redefined Negroeness, and implemented a hierarchical conception of race through violent economic and political systems. Frequently defined as the period of the invention of race in the modern sense of the term, the western imperialist era of the sixteenth to the twentieth century is also presented, by many Africanist thinkers, as the period of the Negro’s shared-experience-of-suffering.

THE SHARED-EXPERIENCE-OF-SUFFERING

  • 22 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Liberté 1, négritude et humanisme, Paris, Seuil, 1964, p. 9.

Que le lecteur lise donc les pages qui suivent dans un esprit de fraternité. Tel voudrait être notre message. Si race il y a-et comment le nier?-, celle qui lui parle, ici, est une voix sans haine. Nous avons tout oublié, comme nous savons le faire: les deux cents millions de Morts de la Traite des Nègres, les violences de la Conquête, les humiliations de l’indigénat. Nous n’en avons retenu que les apports positifs. Nous avons été le grain foulé au pied, le grain qui meurt, pour que naisse la Civilisation nouvelle. A l’échelle de l’Homme intégrale.22

  • 23 Sylvia Washington, The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor, New Jersey, Pri (...)

12The European imperialist definitions of the Negro, by the very action of defining the Negro, participate in the imagination and formation of Negroeness. The invention of the Negro is inseparable from, on the one hand, the violence of words that define the Negro as a subhuman category, and, on the other hand, the violence that resulted from and legitimated the definition of the Negro as a subhuman category: slavery and colonization. Silvia Washington names the history of the invention of the Negro “the experience of suffering” or “the shared experience of the Negro.”23 She presents this history of violence against the Negro as a center around which Negroeness can be imagined.

13The “experience of suffering” is a common trope in African thought. Numerous pan-Negrist and pan-Africanist scholars use it to conceptualize the Negro subject. Many thinkers present the “experience of suffering” as an example to show the evil of slavery, colonization, and imperialism, and to demonstrate why Africa has been, for over four hundred years, economically poor and, supposedly, culturally decadent. Edward W. Blyden, James A. Horton, Marcus Garvey, and Cheikh A. Diop, for example, present the shared-experience-of-suffering as the cause of the presupposed in-authenticity characteristic of contemporary Negro cultures and call for a backward movement towards the “roots” of Negritude. They, however, create a binary identity and risk reducing Afri-centrism, pan-Africanism, and Pan-Negrism to movements of complaint. These thinkers present Afri-centrist movements such as Negritude as reactions against the socio-political realities of western imperialism. The reactionary logic of these thinkers results in the definition of the Negro as another subject (the other of the European), the definition of Africa as another place (the other of Europe), and the situation of the golden age of Negro cultures in another time (pre-colonial Africa), as if it is not possible not to think of the Negro as a derivation of Europe.

14Senghor broadens the reactionary dichotomist definition of the Negro that appears in the work of pan-Negrist thinkers such as Blyden and Diop, and proposes an alternative reading of the shared-experience-of-suffering. His pragmatism leads him to present the shared-experience-of-suffering as participating in the formation of the Negro-self. Senghor does not consider the-shared-experience-of suffering to be a reason for the advocacy of a tabula rasa, a Fanonian call for at least the rejection, if not the annihilation of the colonizer’s cultural influences on the Negro. Rather, for Senghor, the-shared-experience-of-suffering establishes the condition of a pan-human movement. Beyond the de-humanization of the Negro, Senghor considers that the colonial experience marks a period of cohabitation and, therefore, a period of mixture and self re-invention for both Negro and Albo-European cultures.

  • 24 L. Senghor, Liberté 1, op. cit., p. 13.

15For Senghor, influenced culturally and biologically by western cultures, Negro socio-cultural entities and Negro modes of definition of the human must acknowledge the “apports étrangers” to their developments. As Senghor stipulates, “[because of European imperialism] notre milieu n’est plus ouest-Africain, il est aussi français, il est international; il est afro-français.”24 In other words, whether colonization is imposed or chosen, desired or enforced, it participates in the evolution of the pre-colonial Negro cultures and in the invention of the Negro. The shared-experience-of-suffering transformed the Negro into a mixed subject.

16The experience of slavery, segregation, and colonization may not have annihilated pre-colonial Negro cultures, but it has, somehow, transformed Negroes. Anthony Appiah’s observation,

  • 25 Antony Appiah, In My Father’s House, New York, Oxford UP, 1992, p. 7.

Even those children who were extracted from the traditional culture of their parents and grandparents and thrust into the colonial school were nevertheless fully enmeshed in a primary experience of their own traditions,25

17can work both ways. One can argue that “this primary experience of their own traditions” will never again have the same meanings for those children because they have already been in contact, influenced, and transformed by Western cultures. Pretending to be able to forget all the influences of colonization and to return to a supposed pristine past is an un-achievable goal. The past is not erasable because time is not a present following a past from which it can detach itself, and cultures are not chemical products that one can erase or re-create anytime one wants. The African cultures born from the influence of the West are as much representative of African reality as are the pre-sixteenth century manifestations of African civilizations.

18The three to four hundred years that constitute the shared-experience-of-suffering participate, like prehistory and the pre-sixteenth century history of Africa, in the formation of the Negro-self because cultures are not autarchic entities with definite borders, which can separate themselves from exterior influences. On the contrary, the essence of every culture is to be found in its relation with the other cultures with which they are in contact. Any culture that closes itself disappears. As Cheikh Hamidou Kane declares in L’Aventure Ambigue,

  • 26 Cheikh Hamidou Kane, L’Aventure ambiguë, Paris, Julliard, 1960, p. 92.

L’ère des destinées singulières est révolue. Dans ce sens, la fin du monde est bien arrivée pour chacun de nous, car nul ne peut plus vivre de la seule préservation de soi.26

19Senghor declares, in the same vein,

  • 27 L. Senghor, Liberté 1, op. cit., p. 39-40.

Nous voilà devant le fait colonial. C’est à partir de là qu’il faut poser la question... Laissez nous y prendre [la colonisation] ce qu’il y a de meilleur, de fécondant, et souffrez que nous vous rendions le reste.27

20For Senghor, since the-shared-history-of-suffering has participated in the creation of mixed Negro cultures, one needs to recognize the western influence in the formation of the Negro-self. Rather than being a reason for an extreme Fanonian violence supposedly necessary for the setting of a new dawn, the “shared history of the Negro,” or the “experience of suffering,” as Washington calls it, functions, in Senghor’s text, as a mark of the Negro’s particularity.

21Senghor’s concept of the shared-history-of-violence places the framework from which we think race on a new interpretive dimension. The influence of Europe in the modern manifestation of Negroeness leads the reader of Senghor’s text to the conclusion that even though races are not imaginary, and even though in order to question the reality of racism it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of races, the acknowledgement of the existence of races should only be a strategy, a moment of the discourse, which needs, ultimately, to be overridden in order to attack the roots of the racial question: the invention of races as such. To fail to acknowledge the necessity to go beyond race leads to repeating the nineteenth century essentialization of the concept of race, which anti-colonial race theories attempt to challenge in the first place.

22The failure to deny the validity of the concept of race is due to the fact that racism is considered to be a problem, while it is less a problem than the effect of the real problem: the invention of races. Senghor’s conception of the shared-experience-of-suffering challenges racial purity and questions the existence of races. His prospective conception of races as always evolving and always mixing with other races shows why, for him, it is after the acceptance of the reality of colonization and its role in the creation of the Negro self that one can think productively about the fundamental natures of Negroes.

23Senghor’s analysis of the shared-experience-of-suffering and his conception of Métissage is frequently presented as paradoxical. Pathé Diagne, for instance, declares,

  • 28 Pathé Diagne, Leopold Sedar Senghor ou la négritude servante de la francophonie, Paris, L’Harmattan (...)

Le paradoxe de la théorie de la Négritude, c’est d’avoir précisement voulu fonder une renaissance du monde négro-africain a partir d’un patrimoine culturel étranger à l’Afrique, et de surcroît utilisé jusqu’ici pour assimiler et aliéner des peuples dominés.... Senghor donne les réponses d’un intellectuel européen assimilationiste, à la fois euro-centriste et extrêmement conservateur.28

  • 29 In Book Gamma of Metaphysics, “The Most Certain of all Principles,” Aristotle declares: “It is impo (...)
  • 30 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Postface, Ethiopiques, Paris: Seuil, 1967, p. 161.

24Pathe Diagne presents Negritude as a paradoxical Eurocentric theory that denies the authenticity of Negro cultural values. Yet, Senghor’s definition of Negritude is paradoxical only if one reads it according to the Aristotelian principle of non-contradiction and if one imagines that Negritude cannot be one thing and its contrary.29 That is, Negritude cannot, at the same time, theorize Negroeness and acknowledge the influence of the west on Negro cultures. Yet, Senghor does not frame his theory as a paradox. For Senghor, the Negro is not an acculturated subject reinvented by European imperialism. Although the influence of Europe re-defines the different manifestations of Negroeness, this influence only shifts the different manifestations of Negritude. After all, “les lamantins vont toujours boire à la source.”30

COMME LES LAMANTINS VONT TOUJOURS BOIRE À LA SOURCE

  • 31 Aimé Césaire, “Et les Chiens se taisaient,” Les Armes miraculeuses, Paris, Gallimard, 1989, p. 120.

J’ai remonté avec mon coeur l’antique silex,
Le vieil Amadou déposé par l’Afrique au
Fond de moi-même.31

25Without Senghor’s experience in Joal and Djiloor, his conception of Negritude would have been different. Senghor’s experience in Africa opens the barriers in which Negritude can be enframed and leads him to a cultural rather than a biological definition of race. This experience prefigures his definition of Negritude as a prospective expression of Negro cultural values, leads him to present the concept of race and the one of culture as interchangeable, and enables him to describe Negroeness as a certain relation to the world:

  • 32 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 69-70.

une certaine manière de concevoir la vie et de la vivre. Une certaine manière de parler, de chanter et de danser, de peindre et de sculpter, voire de rire et de pleurer...32

  • 33 The Ibadan School of Poetry.

26Thus, Senghor retorts to the Anglophone African critics33 who presented the concept of Negritude as an effect of French imperialism,

S’il y a un impérialism à vitupérer ce serait l’impérialism négro américain et, plus sûrement l’impérialism négro-africain, elle même... Elle [la Négritude] jaillit directement des sources négro-africaines.

27Joal and Djiloor constitute places where Senghor was initiated to the rich historical and cultural heritage of his ethnic group.

  • 34 The kim njoms are, at the same time, poems, songs, treaties of ethics, and history lessons.

28Senghor was born in 1906, in Joal, a rural area of 3000 people, from a wealthy aristocratic family. In Joal, as in many places in the world, being part of the aristocracy facilitates one’s likelihood to know the official history of the national culture. Since history is frequently the history of the ruling class, members of upper classes tend more to preserve and value it in order to legitimate their own domination. Senghor, the king’s nephew, was fully immersed in the traditional Sereer culture. He recalls, in many occasions, that “le soir, aprés le diner, dans une salle du gynécée, se deroulait la veillée sénégalaise.” These veillées were not only the places where history lessons were given, but also, they marked the moments when kim njom34 were recited, sung, and commented. These séances constitute the young Sedar’s first in depth encounter with Africa. During these veillées, Senghor learnt the values and the richness of the Sereer culture, and even, he listened, for the first time, to Ndeye Marone Ndiaye, the poetess of Joal, sing the beauty of her “black prince,”

  • 35 L. Senghor, Ce que je crois, p. 123.

Lang Saar a lipwa pay’baal;
Ο fes a gennox, nan fo soorom.35

Lang Saar has worn a black dress
A young man has raised like a filao tree.

  • 36 Ibid., p. 18.
  • 37 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, p. 69.

29Marone Ndiaye’s poems triggered the first manifestations of Senghor’s Negritude. As Senghor declares, “Ces kim njom resteront gravés dans ma mémoire... Ils allaient être l’une des raisons majeures de ma fierté d’être Nègre. Et dès les Séminaire.”36 Marone Ndiaye’s praise of the beauty of Lang Saar’s blackness makes possible a framework for theorizing Negroeness, which, as Marone Ndiaye’s kim njom implies, focuses on the particularity of the Negro self, rather than on a comparative—hierarchic, oppositional—conception of races. Sereers’ conception of blackness, which can be inferred from Marone Ndiaye’s kim njom, is based on a feeling of self pride. It prefigures Senghor’s definition of Negritude when, in response to Sartre, he declares: “Non, la Négritude n’est rien de tout cela. Elle n’est ni racisme ni négation de soi. Elle est enracinement en soi et confirmation de soi.”37

30Senghor’s philosophy is also strengthened by the education he received from his maternal uncle, Tokor Wali. As he affirms,

  • 38 Leopold Sedar Senghor, La Poésie de l’action: conversations avec Mouhamed Aziza, Paris, Seuil, 1980 (...)

Jusqu’en 1913 j’ai vécu dans un milieu animiste. C’est mon oncle Wali qui s’occupait de mon éducation morale et religieuse [...] J’étais animiste à cent pour cent.38

  • 39 Sereer cosmogony.

31Beyond the veillées, which marked Senghor’s early years in Joal, and which lead him to conceive Negritude as a positive expression of Negroeness, he was initiated to the Sereer culture and religion by his uncle Wali, who resided in Djiloor, his mother’s village. Senghor’s experience in Djiloor was decisive in his future theory of Negritude. His poetry, the essential manifestation of his conception of Negritude, is filled with reminiscences of this childhood spent under the shade of this uncle, who introduced him to the unnamable reality of the pangoles.39 In “Que m’Accompagne Koras et Balafong,” for instance, Senghor praises the man who introduced him to the inner realities of his own culture:

  • 40 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Poèmes, Paris, Seuil, 1984, p. 6

Toi Toko Waly, tu écoutes l’inaudible
Et tu m’expliques les signes que disent les Ancêtres dans
la sérénité marine des constellations40

  • 41 L. Senghor, Liberté 5, op. cit., p. 10.

32Senghor’s experience with Tokor Waly, his animist uncle who introduced him to the surreal world of the gods, has a fundamental effect on his conception of race and his definition of Negroeness. Senghor’s description of his uncle Waly, the man who can listen to the inaudible, can be superposed and interchanged with his definition of the Negro as a subject in communion with the different elements of the universe. Tokor Wall’s relation to the world, which is a relation of communion rather than a relation of distanciation, leads Senghor to the observation that, for the Negro, evidence is a quality of surface. Signs veil the fundamental reality of objects. This conception of the Negro’s relation with the object of knowledge is one of the reasons why Senghor conceives races as cultural rather than biological as shown by one of his most famous phrases: “Emotion is Negro, while reason is Hellenic.” Senghor essentializes the Negro’s relation to the world, which appears in the way Tokor Wali relates to the world, and which he calls Negritude, the expression and performance of Negro cultural values, “une certaine vision du monde, une certaine manière concrête de vivre ce monde.”41 This conception of race, based on subjects’ relations to the world, constitutes one of the central elements of Senghor’s theory of Negritude. Like Marone Ndiaye’s poems, Tokor Wall’s influence on Senghor’s theory enables Senghor’s critics to conceive Negritude beyond the white and black dichotomy introduced by the colonial system. Negritude is, at the same time, a positive élan of pride and an anti-colonial definition of Negroeness.

33The diverse sources of Negritude not only present Negritude as a multifaceted movement, they also question any dichotomous framework for conceptualizing the Negro. Senghor’s conception of the Negro, as an effect of the different sources of Negritude, shows that Negritude does not presuppose the existence of a unique anticolonial root from which the Negro emerges. The sources of Negritude re-define different points from which the concepts of Negritude and the Negro can be imagined and prefigure the different alternative meanings to which Negritude can refer. Negritude theorizes, at the same time, the essentiality of Negroeness, presents Negroeness in plural (Negroenesses), and defines races as essentially mixed.

  • 42 Bell Hooks, for instance, declares: “During the Sixties, black power movements were influenced by p (...)

34Senghor conception of Negritude questions the Africentrist philosophical tradition that limits Negroeness to an élan of remembrance consubstantial to the history of the cultural ethnocide intended by European imperialism.42 In fact, conceiving that the cultural politics of Euro-American imperial powers have devalued and diluted the essence of the Negro self, Africanist thinkers such as Edward Wilmot Blyden, Marcus Garvey, and Cheikh Anta Diop theorize the necessity to go back to the source, that is, the necessity to resuscitate the authentic Negro subject. While theorizing “difference,” “otherness,” and the necessity to de-centralize the white subject, numerous Africanist thinkers re-affirm the existence of a pure Negro subject, exclude “marginal” Negroes from Negroeness, and, by the same token, they re-consider the white subject as the central subject against which other groups rebel. This reactionary theory of blackness stipulates a degree zero of mixture, a period before which there was a generic Negro identity, an authentic Negro self. This framework of reading leads many thinkers to divide Negroes into two groups: the assimilated euro-centric Negro and the authentic Afri-centric Negro, or as we say in popular culture, the real Negro and the fake Negro.

  • 43 Ethiopianism is a concept that Edward Wilmot Blyden introduced in the historiography of African tho (...)

35Senghor’s childhood in Joal and Djiloor, his experience in the Kingdom of Childhood, marks his difference with the Ethiopianist historiography of African thought.43 While Césaire and Damas, for instance, present Negritude as “un retour aux sources” Senghor defines Negritude as “l’ensemble des valeurs culturelles du monde noir.” The difference between Senghor’s definition of Negritude and Césaire’s and Damas’ definitions of Negritude denotes their respective relations to memory in the definition of the Negro. The loss of memory, the fear of forgetting the African past, is a ghost that haunts thinkers such as Césaire and Damas who lost direct ties with African cultures. This fear of forgetting the African past leads many Africanist thinkers to limit themselves within a “tribal thought” or to long for “lost African cultures.” The fear of the loss of memory, however, does not directly preoccupy Senghor since not only was he rooted in his own cultures, but also, for Senghor, one cannot be uprooted because cultures cannot be lost. Cultures are always changing, moving, becoming, mixing with other cultures, even if they always remain authentic in their mixity.

  • 44 Master narratives represent official homogenous voices of dominant modes of production of knowledge (...)

36The different sources of Senghor’s concept of Negritude, namely, Senghor’s accounts of prehistory, the Negro’s-shared-experience-of-sufifering, and Senghor’s experience in Joal and Djiloor propose dichotomist Africanist thinkers an alternative framework for reading Negroeness. These sources present Negritude as a movement that questions the modernist universalizing agenda, characteristic of African thinkers such as Cheikh Anta Diop who, paradoxically, question the nineteenth century master narrative44 and substitute for it another master narrative: An essentialist theory of Negroeness. This modernist dichotomist conception of the Negro is paradoxical since it repeats exactly what it disputes: The existence of master narratives.

37Conceiving Negritude as springing from different sources, conversely, makes it possible to define the Negro as a heterogeneous subject who transgresses definite racial boundaries and, even, threatens the concept of race as such. Senghor’s conception of the heterogeneity of the Negro can give a new élan to the historiography of pan-African, pan-Negro, and black nationalist thought because it enables Africanist thinkers to redefine Negroeness as the manifestation of multiple subjectivities.

38The multiple manifestations of Negritude present Negritude as a rhizome. It springs from different roots and manifests itself differently. Although it is not wrong to present Negritude as a movement that sprung from the racist colonial structures of the 1930s France, one cannot deny that Negritude—I do not mean Negrité, which is the theory-of-Negritude—manifests itself from the statutes of Grimaldi to the present. Negritude is a pan-Negrist movement that functions as the product of Negro cultural values, which develop since prehistory and which will reach their most important point as a celebration of Métissage at the Rendez-Vous du Donner et du Recevoir.

Bibliographie

BIBLIOGRAPHY

APPIAH Antony, In My Father’s House, New York, Oxford University Press, 1992.

DU BOIS William E. B., “The Conservation of the Races,” American Negro Academy Occasional Papers 2 (1897); (rpt. in The Oxford W. E. B Du Bois Reader, 38-47).

CÉSAIRE Aimé, “Et les Chiens se taisaient,” in Les Armes miraculeuses, Paris, Gallimard, 1989.

DIOP Cheikh Anta, Nations nègres et culture: de l’Antiquité nègre égyptienne aux problèmes culturels de l’Afrique noire d’aujourd’hui, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1956.

—, Civilisation ou barbarie, anthropologie sans complaisance, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1981.

—, Unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1981.

KANE Cheikh Hamidou, L’Aventure ambiguë, Paris, Julliard, 1960.

SENGHOR Leopold Sedar, Liberté 1, négritude et humanisme, Paris, Seuil, 1964.

—, Postface, Ethiopiques, Paris, Seuil, 1967.

—, Liberté 3, Négritude et civilisation de l’universel, Paris Seuil, 1977.

—, La Poésie de l’action: conversations avec Mouhamed Aziza, Paris, Seuil, 1980.

—, Ce que je crois, Paris, Grasset, 1988.

—, Liberté 5, le Dialogue des cultures, Paris, Seuil, 1993.

WASHINGTON Sylvia, The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor, New Jersey, Princeton UP, 1973.

Notes

1 In the late 1920s and the early 1930s, European anthropologists such as Leo Frobenius and Maurice De la Fosse published positive accounts of African history and cultures. At the same time, not only was Jazz fashionable in Paris, but also the work of prominent African, Caribbean, and American figures of the black world, such as René Maran, Richard Wright, and Langston Hughes, who challenged the Western assumption of the inferiority of the Negro race. Marcus Garvey’s black nationalism was also quite popular (the Crisis was Senghor’s bedside revue) and there was a proliferation of Afri-centrist magazines such as Revue du Monde Noir and Légitime Défense, which attempted to redefine Negroeness and to question the supremacy of western cultures.

2 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Ce que je crois, Paris, Grasset, 1988, p. 65.

3 I use the concept of rhizome in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari present it in A Thousand Plateaus. That is, “the rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couchgrass, or the weed. Animal and plant, couchgrass is crabgrass. Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, 1987, p. 7-13.

4 “Pre-colonial” does not solely refer to the time before colonization. It also concerns African traditions that are not directly influenced by the colonial cultural imperialism.

5 William E. B. Du Bois, “The Conservation of the Races,” American Negro Academy Occasional Papers 2 (1897); rpt. in The Oxford W. E. B Du Bois Reader, 38-47.

6 Cheikh Anta DIOP, Nations nègres et culture: de l’Antiquité nègre égyptienne aux problèmes culturels de l’Afrique noire d’aujourd’hui, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1956.

7 Marginal Negroes refers to any group that can be considered “minor” in Negritie. That is, minor ethnic groups, gays and lesbians, “Europeanized Negroes,” and, in some instances, members of lower casts etc.

8 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Liberté 3, négritude et civilisation de l’universel, Paris, Seuil, 1977, p. 300.

9 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Liberté 5, le dialogue des cultures, Paris, Seuil, 1993, p. 200.

10 Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilisation ou barbarie, anthropologie sans complaisance, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1981.

11 Cheikh Anta Diop, Unité culturelle de l’Afrique noire, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1981.

12 This chapter is a condensed version of a longer paper Senghor presented at a conference at the University of Cairo in February 1967, under the title “Fondements de l’africanité ou négritude et arabité,”12 and which he repeated on many other occasions. Leopold Sedar Senghor, “Négritude et civilisations méditerranéennes,” Ethiopiques 6 (1976): 44-51; “Les Noirs dans l’antiquité méditerranéenne,” Ethiopiques 11 (1977): 30-48.

13 L. Senghor, Ce que je crois, op. cit., p. 47-48.

14 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 110. Italics mine.

15 Pierre Theilhard de Chardin, Camille Arambourg, Henry Breuil, Marcelin Boule, et al.

16 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 90.

17 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 90.

18 C. Diop, Nations nègres, op. cit., p. 12.

19 L. Senghor, Ce que je crois, op. cit., p. 33.

20 L. Senghor, Liberté 5, op. cit., p. 90.

21 Ibid., p. 86.

22 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Liberté 1, négritude et humanisme, Paris, Seuil, 1964, p. 9.

23 Sylvia Washington, The Concept of Negritude in the Poetry of Leopold Sedar Senghor, New Jersey, Princeton UP, 1973.

24 L. Senghor, Liberté 1, op. cit., p. 13.

25 Antony Appiah, In My Father’s House, New York, Oxford UP, 1992, p. 7.

26 Cheikh Hamidou Kane, L’Aventure ambiguë, Paris, Julliard, 1960, p. 92.

27 L. Senghor, Liberté 1, op. cit., p. 39-40.

28 Pathé Diagne, Leopold Sedar Senghor ou la négritude servante de la francophonie, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2006. p. 198.

29 In Book Gamma of Metaphysics, “The Most Certain of all Principles,” Aristotle declares: “It is impossible that the same thing can at the same time both belong and not belong to the same object and in the same respect, and all other specifications that might be made, let them be added to meet local objections.” (1005bl9-23). This principle is mostly known as the principle of non contradition.

30 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Postface, Ethiopiques, Paris: Seuil, 1967, p. 161.

31 Aimé Césaire, “Et les Chiens se taisaient,” Les Armes miraculeuses, Paris, Gallimard, 1989, p. 120.

32 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, op. cit., p. 69-70.

33 The Ibadan School of Poetry.

34 The kim njoms are, at the same time, poems, songs, treaties of ethics, and history lessons.

35 L. Senghor, Ce que je crois, p. 123.

36 Ibid., p. 18.

37 L. Senghor, Liberté 3, p. 69.

38 Leopold Sedar Senghor, La Poésie de l’action: conversations avec Mouhamed Aziza, Paris, Seuil, 1980, p. 37-38.

39 Sereer cosmogony.

40 Leopold Sedar Senghor, Poèmes, Paris, Seuil, 1984, p. 6

41 L. Senghor, Liberté 5, op. cit., p. 10.

42 Bell Hooks, for instance, declares: “During the Sixties, black power movements were influenced by perspectives that could be easily labeled modernist. Certainly, many of the ways black folks addressed issues of identity conformed to a modernist universalizing agenda. There was little critique among black militants of patriarchy as a master narrative.” Bell Hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics, Boston: South End, 1990, p. 25. Bell Hooks’ limitation of this modernist universalizing agenda can be extended to the nineteenth century theories of blackness such as W.E.B Dubois’ “The Conservation of Race” and the 1920s African thinkers’ writings such as Marcus Garvey different speeches and writings. It is also not rare, today, that Africanist thinkers imagine Africa and the African in singular.

43 Ethiopianism is a concept that Edward Wilmot Blyden introduced in the historiography of African thought. It claims that Ethiopia, or Africa, constitutes the mother land and represents the cradle of African civilizations, to which Africans must return. This concept constitutes a trope in the history of African thought. It will be repeated and rearticulated by thinkers such as Marcus Garvey and W. E. B Du Bois.

44 Master narratives represent official homogenous voices of dominant modes of production of knowledge. Master narratives can be defined as grand narratives, central voices which consider themselves to be universal. These voices silence minor/marginal voices and constitute points from which races and sexes are defined in a hierarchical way.

Auteur

Binghamton University

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2008

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540