riting the Struggle – Senghor’s negritude rooted on self-actualisation
One of negritude’s arguments was that even if one is as dark as three nights put together, the first step towards self-actualisation is to love oneself.
This came about because over the years, Africans especially women had developed some self-negation traits that saw them seek to change their biological and physical make-up using either skin enhancing lotions or even starving themselves to death just to get the slim body the West so much adores.
It was not only women but men too who would go all the way to try and sound or behave like Westerners. There was an era when men too resorted to skin-lightening creams just to hide their black mask.
Indeed, most men would love to have slim women as compared to the robust and heavily-built African woman.
Negritude sought to instil some self-confidence in Africans on the continent as well as elsewhere in the world.
For Leopold Sédar Senghor, negritude means sharing “certain distinctive and innate characteristics, values and aesthetics” as shown in his poem titled ‘To New York’, where he focuses on Harlem, the (in)famous black township.
In the poem, Senghor urges New York to “Listen to the distant beating of your nocturnal heart./ The tom-tom’s rhythm and blood, tom-tom blood and tom-tom.
“New York! I say New York, let black blood flow into your blood./ Let it wash the rust from your steel joints, like an oil of life/ Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple vines./ Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored,/ The reconciliation of the Lion and Bull and Tree/ Idea links to action, the ear to the heart, sign to meaning./ See your rivers stirring with musk alligators/ And sea cows with mirage eyes. No need to invent the Sirens.”
The imagery in the above stanza captures the greatness inherent in Africa and its peoples. Let black blood … let it wash the rust … like an oil of life…
He also alludes to night, which is a very strong symbolism because blackness is as natural as the night. Nobody can escape the night. As such, nobody can escape nature or biological make-up.
For Senghor, Africans oiled development in today’s metropolis and that fact alone should make them proud and stand tall even on the face of debilitating circumstances.
Self-actualisation in one’s physical outlook does not come alone but is accompanied by one’s beliefs, which are simply culture and traditional norms.
This combination gels into a very potent tool against any oppression and the Chinese as well as Japanese are just but one good example of how a well-cultured people can defy external odds and defeat such forces.
Writing in “Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century”, Senghor says that negritude is “diametrically opposed to the traditional philosophy of Europe”.
He further argues that European beliefs are founded on “separation and opposition: on analysis and conflict” while Africa’s is rooted on unity, balance negotiation and an appreciation of “movement and rhythm”.
Nigerian academic, Francis Abiola Irele in his study “The African Experience in Literature and Ideology”, sums up Senghor’s negritude beliefs as one largely based on “sensuality, rhythm, earthiness and a primeval past”.
“The traditional stereotypes of African culture are not directly challenged by Negritude – Africans are essentially spiritual according to Senghor – they are modified.
“Negritude is a process of negotiation which proposes a counter-myth or counter-reading of those traditional stereotypes with the aim of valourising and celebrating the African personality,” Irele writes.
According to Irene, Senghor’s conception of Negritude holds that one’s inner and outer essence is informed, defined by one’s race.
Although there has been some conflicting theories about Senghor’s negritude beliefs, the essence still remains that self-actualisation is central to being a human race in a world battered by several forces seeking to destroy the weakest.
There is also within negritude the belief that the colonised should acquire the colonisers’ values and use them as a weapon against domination.