David Léon Mandessi Diop was born in 1927 in Bordeaux, France, to a Senegalese father and a Cameroonian mother. During his literary career, he was a proponent of Negritude. This was a political philosophy/literary movement whose scholars included statesman-poet Leopold Sedar Senghor. Negritude was a reaction to the French colonial administrative policy of assimilation; this policy was predicated on the belief that Africans possessed neither culture nor history and therefore French culture could be used to civilise them. Negritude desired a deep and almost essentialist re-grounding of Africans in the history, values, cultures of the Black people, while being open to friendship with other civilisations. The poem below by Diop reflects those values. David Diop died in an airplane crash in 1960. He was 33.
Africa my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral Savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this your back that is unbent
This back that never breaks under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying no to the whip under the midday sun?
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.
This poem is written by David Diop – A Black African who was born in France in 1927. His father was from Senegal and his mother from Cameroon and he grew up in France and West Africa aware of both cultures and traditions. He was deeply concerned by the question of independence from colonial rule. This poem is adramatic monologue where the speaker seems to be in conversation with Africa. The poem can be thematically divided into three parts; pre colonial Africa, colonial Africa and post colonial Africa.
COLONIAL TORTURE AND EXPLOITATION
There are evidences of torture and exploitation in the poem due to the fact that the poet expresses how the sweat of Africans was lost in vain. The blood of your sweatHe sweat of your work All this was done at a time when Africans were turned into slaves and worked for their masters without any benefit. The work of your slaveryThe slavery of your children
OPPRESSION AND HUMILIATION Oppression and humiliation were common practices in colonial time. They were used to force Africans work for colonisers without objection. This has left scars to Africa that we still depend on them even when they seem to mistreat us. This back that breaks under the weight of humiliationThis back trembling with red scarsAnd saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
IDENTITY AND AWARENESS The poet however seems to be aware of his identity as black African. Although he grew up in France he shows that black blood flows in his veins, which is to say he is still an African regardless of where he grew up. I have never known youBut your blood flows in my veins The voice that answers Diop sums up his African identity. Impetuous son that tree young and strongThat tree thereIn splendid loneliness amidst white and faded flowersThat is Africa your Africa.
EFFECTS OF COLONIALISM. The poet concludes his poem by showing the effects that colonialism had on African continent. Nevertheless, he seems to be optimistic that at least Africa is growing up again just like a young tree. That is Africa your AfricaThat grows again patiently obstinately
a) What is the poem about? The poem is about the effects colonialism has had on Africa. It traces the history of pre-colonial Africa, then shows the torture that Africans underwent in colonialism and how Africa is starting afresh like a young tree.
b) What type of the poem is this? It is a free verse/modern poem as it doesn’t follow all the strict rules for writing poems. There are variations in the length of verses in the poem
c) What does the symbol ‘that tree young and strong” suggest? First of all the symbol refers to Africa. It suggests that after colonialism Africa began to grow up again just as a young tree.
d) Why do the fruits acquire a bitter taste of liberty? Why does liberty taste bitter? The fruits acquire a bitter taste because liberation of the oppressed is not a simple thing. It needs sacrifice and determination. Some people lose their lives in the process. So in such a case liberty is never sweet but bitter memories.
e) What is the tone of the poem? The tone changes from the beginning it is happy in the middle it becomes sad. This makes the tone nostalgic and the mood becomes optimistic.
f) Why does the poet say that “black blood flows in his veins”? Black blood in this poem symbolises African nature as there is no blood that is black in colour. So he shows that although he grew up in France he is still aware of his African identity.
g) How have the past effects of colonialism shaped the Africa’s present? The socio-political and economic state of Africa today was seriously affected during colonial time. So Africa was paralysed and is just starting afresh as a young tree while the colonisers are well off.
h) Comment on the figures of speech and poetic devices.a. Anadiplosis; the repetition in which the last expression of one statement becomes the first expression in the following statement . The blood of your sweatThe sweat of your workThe work of your slaveryThe slavery of your children b. Rhetorical question a question that does not need a reply. Is that you this back that is bentc. Symbolism Ø Scars’, ‘whip’ and ‘blood’. They stand for the torture that Africans went through in colonial time. Ø Black blood– symbolises African identity d. Imagery. Ø Gustatory image. Image of taste. Bitter taste of liberty Ø Thermo image: image of heat; The sweat of your worke.
Personification. The poet addresses Africa as though it is a human being and has blood that flows, and can sweat etc. Ø But a grave voice answers me. Ø Your beautiful black blood Ø The sweat of your work Ø Is this you this back that is bent f. Alliteration- repetition of similar consonant sounds at the beginning of consecutive words. Ø You beautiful black blood g. Reiteration (for emphasis) The word Africa is repeated 7 times throughout the poem E.g. Africa my Africa.b) Exaggeration. Ø Your beautiful black blood Ø This is under exaggeration because there is no black blood in colour. Ø Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields. There is no blood enough to irrigate the fields. c) AnaphoraAfrica my AfricaAfrica of proud warriors in the ancestral savannahsAfrica of whom my grandmother sings
MESSAGE Ø Colonialism paralysed Africa so it is up to us to build again. Ø We must know our identity as Africans, where we come from, where we are and what we need to do to get where we are going. Ø We have to work hard to bring about development in Africa Ø We must fight against the oppression of the proletariat class.
RELEVANCE Ø The poem is relevant as it discusses the issues facing the post colonial Africa. The current economic status of the present Africa was badly damaged during colonialism. Ø There are many economic policies adopted in an attempt to recover the economy of African countries. Ø Oppression and humiliation are still common in Post colonial Africa.