Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

When Negritude Was in Vogue: Critical Reflections of the First World Festival of Negro Arts and Culture in 1966

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

When Negritude Was in Vogue: Critical Reflections of the First World Festival of Negro Arts and Culture in 1966

Article excerpt

Following Senegal's independence from France in 1960, the poet-statesman Leopold Sedar Senghor became the county's first African president. He subsequently established Nigritude and "African socialism" as the cultural, political, and economic ideologies of his government. (1) Six years after assuming the presidency of Senegal, Senghor, with the support of UNESCO, convened the First World Festival of Negro Arts and Culture in Dakar held from April 1-24, 1966. The Dakar Festival was Senghor's attempt to highlight the development of his country and "his" philosophy, Negritude, by bringing together people of African descent from around the globe. Margaret Danner, a Afro-North American poet from Chicago and attendee of the Festival referred to him as "a modern African artist, as host;/a word sculpturer (sic), strong enough to amass/the vast amount of exaltation needed to tow his followers through/the Senegalese sands, toward their modern rivers and figures of gold." (2) For Danner and many other Black cultural workers in North America and elsewhere, the prospects of attending an international festival on the African continent intimated that cultural unity among Africans and Afro-descendants was rife with possibility. What is more, for a brief historical juncture, Senghor and his affiliates were able to posit Negritude as a viable philosophical model in which to realize this Pan African unity. (3)

Brent Hayes Edwards' The Practice of Diaspora (2003) documents the post-World War I international linkages between Africans and Afro-descendants in the Franco-phone Caribbean, Paris, and North America, which resulted in the formation of the Negritude movement. He suggests that Paris served as "a special sort of vibrant, cosmopolitan space for interaction ... boundary crossing, conversations, and collaborations." (4) It was within this cosmopolitan space that Pan African connections were established between partisans of the New Negro Renaissance from the United States and francophone speakers from Africa and the Caribbean. Much of the impetus behind the Negritude movement can be found in the early publications of Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, and Leon Damas in L 'Etudiant noir (1934) and later Presence Africaine (1947), as well as the literary expression of Langston Hughes in North America and Nicolas Guillen in Cuba. However, equally essential to the formulation of the movement was the cultural and political work of Paulette and Jane Nardal, two Martinican women residing in France during the 1920s. In fact, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting's (2002) important study on the Nardal sisters and Suzanne Cesaire, the wife of Aime Cesaire, documents the genealogy of Afro-Caribbean women creative intellectuals in the articulation of Negritudist and Pan African cultural politics. (5) Moreover, Sharpley-Whiting and Edwards each point out that in addition to translating Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925) into French, the Nardal sisters also wrote numerous essays exploring the complex interaction between race, place, and gender experienced by Afro-descendant women in France. According to Edwards, Jane Nardal initially asserted the centrality of Black women in constructing and codifying racial consciousness, which ultimately resulted in Negritude:

   Until the Colonial Exposition, the coloured women living alone in
   the metropolis have certainly been less favoured than coloured men
   who are content with a certain easy success. Long before the
   latter, they have felt the need of a racial solidarity that would
   not be merely material. They were thus aroused to race
   consciousness. The feeling of uprooting which they experienced..
   .was the starting point of their evolution. (6)

Later Paulette Nardal would suggest that Jane "was the first 'promoter of this movement of ideas, so broadly exploited later,' and that Senghor and Cesaire 'took up the ideas tossed out by us and expressed them with more flash and brio...[W]e were but women, real pioneers--let's say that we blazed the trail for them. …

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