Pan Africanism, Myth and History in African and Caribbean Drama

Article excerpt

Introduction

Although the origination and dating of the Pan-Africanist phenomenon itself is often not precise, there is considerable consensus around its definition and philosophical purport. Pan-Africanism is frequently defined as: "an intellectual movement conceived by people of African descent mainly in Africa in the Caribbean and in the USA" (Christopher, "Caribbean Studies International Traditions"), and one that: "consciously and deliberately attempts to create bonds of solidarity based upon a commonality of fate imposed by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its aftermath" (Cooper, citing St. Drake; "No matter where you come from ..."). It is also seen as: "a quest for unity amongst continental and Diaspora Africans, a revival of undeniable so-called African traits and traditions, and finally, political and economic independence" (Campbell, "Sculpting a Pan-African Culture" 28). The movement has Africa as its central motif and the validation and emancipation of Africa as a constant pre-occupation. It has been described further as "solidarity among people of African descent, belief in a distinct African personality, rehabilitation of African past [and expression of] pride in Africa" (Esedebe 4, cited in Secovnie 32). In all, Pan-Africanism was and remains crucial to the formation of a universal Black identity, derived from a consciousness that all Black people emerged historically from Africa.

Cultural Pan-Africanism, which may also be referred to as the literary arm of Pan-Africanism, has rendered the Pan-Africanist vision in varied aesthetic forms over time. Pan-African aesthetics generally mimics Pan-African history and politics in terms of thematic exposition and sundry representations of Pan-Africanist ideals. These "ideals" are not always monolithic or easy to define, as there are a number of recorded variations in the originating details of the Pan-Africanist vision. Examples of these include: whether the original concern was only about Black people in the Diaspora or with Black people in Africa as well (Mazrui's "Africans of the blood" and "Africans of the soil" respectively (Mazrui 70); whether the attitude towards the continent was egalitarian/partnering or patronizing/paternalistic or both (Marcus Garvey's "brotherly cooperation"/"assist in civilizing the backward tribes of Africa" or Du Bois's "I used to think Africans were children," cited in Secovnie 5), and whether it Pan-Africanism would only entail a spiritual/psychological affiliation on the part of elements of the Black Diaspora, or involve an actual return to Africa relocation programme, etc. However, the fact remains that the thoughts of the acknowledged American, Caribbean and African fathers of Pan-Africanism, Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah respectively, coalesced around a broad Africanist concern embracing all Black people.

The ideals of Pan-Africanism may therefore be phrased in summative terms as the emancipation of Black people in all locations, and, possibly, the political unification of African countries and the creation of a home in Africa for all African people. Cultural movements within PanAfricanism, notably Negritude and Afrocentricity, seek both the political and cultural validation of Africa by encouraging and documenting the deployment of Black or African cultural values and Africa-derived aesthetic usages in art forms by people of African descent.

It follows from the definition above that both "Africanist" and "Pan-Africanist" aesthetics would intersect at many levels and may be regarded as being coterminous. The terms are sometime used interchangeably in this paper. African aesthetics itself has long been defined as aesthetic forms that evoke the image and emotions of Africa, providing a "complete ensemble" of its values (Mphalele 49), evincing a "cultural and metaphysical immersion" in African ideas and world views (Jeyifo 42) and approaching "a high degree of regional authenticity" in "[language] usage, setting, treatment or realization" (Oloruntoba-Oju, "Irreducible Africanness"). …

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