What Is Negritude, the Movement for Afro-Equality?

Negritude was a movement that sought to reaffirm the cultural identity of blacks and rebel against the implicit superiority of European cultures. It was born in literature and expanded to other arts.
What Is Negritude, the Movement for Afro-Equality?

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 16 February, 2023

Negritude is an intellectual and literary movement that originated in Paris in the 1930s. It defends the values of African societies and calls for the recovery of their culture.

This movement quickly spread to different parts of the then-French colonies, such as the current Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin, in Africa, and Guadeloupe, Martinique and Haiti, in the American West Indies.

Its main figure was Léopold Sédar Senghor (elected first president of the Republic of Senegal in 1960). Together with Aimé Césaire of Martinique and Léon Damas of French Guiana, they began to critically examine Western values and to revalue African culture.

Origin and development of the movement

The negritude literary movement was born in the Parisian intellectual context of the 1930s and 1940s. It was the product of the union of black writers who sought to reaffirm their cultural identity and to rebel against the implicit superiority of European cultures over African ones.

In this sense, through literature, negritude defended ideas about African religions and cosmologies, narrated historical events that occurred on the continent, taught the contributions of African cultures to humanity, and vindicated black identity and the freedom of African societies from Western colonial domination.

Aimé Césaire was the first to coin the word “negritude” in his 1939 poem, entitled Cahier d’un retour au pays natal ( Notebook of a return to the native country). There he stated:

My negritude is not a stain of dead water, in the dead eye of the earth, but takes root in the burning flesh of the earth.

~ Aimé Césaire ~

Alongside Césaire, Léon Damas and Léopold Sédar Senghor created poetry that would define negritude. The best-known works of these poets were Pigments (Damas), Hosties noire, Chants d’ombre (Senghor), and Cahier (Césaire).

African village.
The African colonies claimed their rights from their own perspective that criticized colonialism.

Expansion of negritude to other countries

At the outbreak of World War II, the leaders of the movement left Paris for the Caribbean and Africa. From there, new forms of negritude emerged in these places, whose expression encompassed not only literature, but other types of art, such as music and painting.

After the war, Paris again became the center of negritude activities. On this occasion, many artists from Africa and the Caribbean migrated to the city to study. Among them were Frank Bowling, Aubrey Williams, Donald Locke, Ben Enwonwu and Uzo Egonu.

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World Festival of Black Arts

In 1966, Senghor organized the first World Festival of Black Arts in Senegal. Many black artists, musicians, writers, poets, and actors had the opportunity to participate in a global examination of African culture.

Senghor’s goal was to promote the concept of negritude as a viable philosophical model. In addition, he sought to revalue African tribal art, which, until then, had been viewed with some indifference by the African diaspora.

This event spurred the beginnings of the international black arts movement and has been repeated on two subsequent occasions – in 1977 in Nigeria and in 2010 in Dakar.

Foundations of negritude

The negritude movement emerged as a protest against French cultural domination and assimilation policy. It therefore advocated the following:

  • The mystical warmth of African life, gaining strength from its closeness to nature and its constant contact with ancestors. This should continually be placed in the proper perspective against the soullessness and materialism of Western culture.
  • Africans should look to their own cultural heritage for the values and traditions that are most useful in the context of the modern world.
  • Committed writers must use African subject matter and poetic traditions to awaken the desire for political freedom.
  • Negritude itself encompasses the totality of African cultural, economic, social, and political values.
  • Above all, the value and dignity of African traditions and peoples must be affirmed.
Freedom with negritude.
Freedom was the underlying concept in the art of negritude. This is supported by the importance of African tribal and ancestral culture.

Does it still continue?

Negritude responded to the alienated position of blacks in history and asserted an identity of its own for them. In turn, from a political point of view, the movement was an important aspect of the struggle against colonialism. It had an impact on how the colonized saw themselves and positioned themselves in the cultural fabric of the West.

Finally, there is no clear end date for the movement. In fact, some literary critics say it will still continue in any artistic expression that affirms black identity.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.