Léopold Sédar Senghor is probably Francophone Africa’s most famous writer. A poet and a politician, he was a founding member of the Negritude movement and the president of Senegal for the first twenty years after independence. The publication of his first volume of poetry in 1945 can be said to mark the beginning of the modern period in African literature. In presenting Negritude in his poetry, Senghor frequently employs a trope which also occurs, though sometimes in a different guise, in contemporary male-authored writing: the embodiment of Africa in the figure of a woman. The first stanza of his much-quoted poem ‘Femme noire’ provides a prototypical example:
Naked woman, black woman Clothed with your colour which is life, with your form which is beauty!
In your shadow I have grown up; the gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes.
And now, high up on the sun-baked pass, at the heart of summer, at the heart of noon, I come upon you, my Promised Land.
And your beauty strikes me to the heart like the flash of an eagle. (105)
The trope is deeply entrenched in the male literary tradition, the sexual imperatives it encodes shaping the writing of such diverse authors as Senghor, Soyinka, and Ngũgĩ.
My aim in this chapter is partly identification: to demonstrate the frequency of the trope’s occurrence in the African male literary tradition. I also hope to show how the trope functions within several different dialogical systems. It is to this trope that McLuskie and Innes refer when they speak of African men writers’ transformation of the ‘coloniser’s mythologising of Africa as the Other, as Female, as treacherous and