Martiniquian-born French poet Aime Cesaire, the 'Father of Negritude,' shown in a 2006 photograph. Cesaire, 94, died April 17, 2008.

Martiniquian-born French poet Aime Cesaire, the

Aime Cesaire was a black literary intellectual giant. He along with Leopold Senghor of Senegal, and Leon Damas of French Guiana created the idea & movement, Negritude. Afer, the death of Senghor in 2001, Cesaire was the lone advocate of the Negritude movement which called into question French colonialism.

His anti-colonial platform, agitated a full out intellectual assault into French rationalizations, as related to black culture through the lens of French subjects. For Cesaire, his tour de force against the inhumanity of colonialism was the indelible impressions cast from the enslavement of his African ancestors.

The world that Cesaire saw in the 1930’s was frought from overwhelming & consistent dehumanization of indigenous cultures within the African continent. Combined with the global denigration of all things associated with Black culture, then we can effectively intuit the mental effects of a man reared in the vacuum of a French caribbean subject. In fact, it was his grappling with this inviolable conundrum that precipitated his literary activism.

Cesaire was born in the French colony Martinique in 1913. Aime Cesaire lived to the ripe age of 93 years old. He was best known for his poetry, in fact he was inspired by the writers of the Harlem renaissance. Namely, Langston Hughes. His epoch piece, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal [Notebook of a Return to My Native Land], was explorative of the collective consciousness as shared with Pan-Africans throughout the diaspora.

His central theme in his poems was the cultivation of a redefinition of blackness. Throwing off colonial shackles & psychological images of enslavement by reinterpreting the quintessential being & personhood of the Black self. One could argue that Cesaire was a progenitor of black psychology, & sociology from his irreverent critiques of domination, imperialism, and reification.

Consider the tone & meter of this piece which was the catalyst behind the concept of ‘Negritude’ :

my negritude is not a stone, its deafness heaved against the clamor of day

my negritude is not a film of dead water on the dead eye of earth

my negritude is neither a tower nor a cathedral

it delves into the red flesh of the soil

it delves into the burning flesh of the sky

it digs through the dark accretions that weigh down its righteous patience.’

(Translation by Gregson Davis)

Another treastise of Cesaire’s literature was his ability to critique diverse francophone cultures within the African diaspora. His play, La tragédie du roi Christophe,” explored life after the Haitian liberation struggle, in particular, the machinations of Emperor Henri Christophe. Similarly, the African diaspora saw the violent overthrow of the Prime Minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba by Belgian forces. The infamous “Stanleyville paratroopers” depicts the colonial insurrection, despite Lumumba’s desire to wield autonomy & sovereignty for his country.

French President Nicolas Sarzoky attended the funeral.

French President Nicolas Sarzoky attended the funeral.

It was this setting that inspired Cesaire’s second play, “Une saison au Congo (A Season in the Congo).”  Cesaire play drew stark parallels between Haitian struggle & the global struggle for Africans at home & abroad. In may ways, Cesaire’s thematic work was Pan-Africanist & revolutionist in nature and form. His work won critical acclaim from all students of liberation movements across the 7 continents.

Consider his poignant words, when he relishes Lumumba as an African prophet, (indeed many in the diaspora saw Lumumba this way):

As for Africa. I know that, for all her weakness and her divisions, she shall not fail us! For after all, here, of sift, sun and water—of their solemn mating—here man was born.’

Alas, this poem was reflective of the prominence Cesaire placed on Africa as a heritage site for all Africans throughout the diaspora. The motherland served as a spiritual center for all of her sons & daughters no matter the nationality, language, or cultural traditions. Africa, is the genesis of man & woman kind that engenders the rise of a literary, intellectual & cultural motif to serve the cause of absolute liberation.

Cesaire, as a literary figure and founder of the concept of Negritude espoused this philosophy deftly. His name shall forever be moist on the lips of Pan-African literary freedom fighters across the four corners of the globe.

In the proverbial words of our ancestors, “A giant tree has fallen!” Though legendary through his work, he shall never be forgotten.

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