Leopold Sedar Senghor’s “Black Woman” is a protest poem. Discuss.
Most early post-colonial African literary writings are premised, apparently from their subject matters, on the need to refute the European narrative about Africa in all respect of Her existence as God’s own continent. Upon their return (both physically and psychologically) from the corners that fostered them in Europe during their opportune stay, African intellectual elites began to realise the subtle encroachment of Western civilisation on the African continent. The superiority complex of Europe became crystal clear. At that rate, it supposedly became their onus to present anew the viable culture that defines Africa as deathless and indestructible. This is the background that inspires Senghor’s “Black Woman” as a lyric that fulfils that clamant need as an unapologetic expression of the creed of the negritude poetry movement of French-African poets.
The unequivocal message passed across in the poem is protestant throughout its style and content. For the former, the poet uses a literal or surface reference to decry the sexual exploitation of the black slave woman; for the latter, an informed counterclaim to refute the objectification of the African continent. One of the devilries fomented on the enslaved Africans of the over 400 years of slave trade was rape of the women. If this woman provided such utility, what then devalued her to the degree that candour was regarded exclusive to the white woman? The degradation of the black woman’s physical beauty was tantamount to the exploitation of the human and natural resources of Africa by the colonialist, making that history the basis of the poet’s rebuttal.
In this regard, her “colour which is life” and “form which is beauty” suggest a psychoanalytic view of her naked form as the desire and satisfaction of the orgasmic exploration of her abusers. The knowledge of her innocence worked the pomposity and power that doctored the ravage of the soil and soul of Africa. Yet, this colour indictment is what the poet-persona presents as the human need and demand for meaning as one preoccupation of having been created at all. There is nothing less than prestigious in the colour of life itself. The form passes for the need to appreciate our differences as charming in their respective capacity to complement the existence of one another. There is no competing the values for which we stand to contribute to the harmonious purpose of life. But the exploitative tendency to explore Africa is what has brought about the condescending division and degrading of the continent by the same reality by which everything exists.
Further on, the refrain “Naked woman, black woman” reiterates the poet’s impassioned advocacy of the dynamics of African dignity. Each stanza bears the diverse momentum of Africa for being a mother continent: spiritually, economically, physically, indigenous civilisation-wise, and many more. The indigenisation of the presupposed western dogoodery plus the presentment of blackness and nakedness as the unadulterated blessing of and to humanity — the rawness from which infrastructural creativity emanates — is the unalloyed conclusion of the poet’s journey to consciousness. So, while “jealous fate” is bent on turning Her “to ashes to/ feed the roots of life”, the poet, representative of the enlightened African, fixes her “form” “in the eternal”; he appreciates Her as the essence for which our awakening experiences make us critics of the social conditionings that influence our choice of right or wrong; he protests, argues, refutes the derived construct that determines his nationality, citizenship and sense of belonging. Implied from the poet’s unapologetic confession, it is time Africans wore their nativity like a crown.
Additionally, “Black Woman” undermines the delusion of Europeanisation. It passes for the disillusionment in the aristocracy staged against Africa in the one-sided struggle of imperialism. How that dawned on the intelligentsia resulted in a subtle contempt for the unbidden superiority and to think that does not even exist! So, they started writing back to the aristocrat: there arose the need to negotiate their humanity, warning renegades too against the European definition of themselves. Or did Chinua Achebe not say, “Until the lions have their own historians , the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”? We find this submission justified in poems like: George Awoonor-Williams (now Kofi Awoonor)’s “The Weaver Bird”; Mbella Sonne Dipoko’s “Our History (to pre-colonial Africa)”; Lenrie Peters’s “We Have Come Home”; Birago Diop’s “Vanity”; Gabriel Okara’s “Piano and Drums”; Bernard Dadié’s “Dry Your Tears, Africa!”; J.R.D.A. Dubreka’s “Goodbye, Europeans”; Mazisi Kunene’s “Kindness”; David Diop’s “The Renegade” and his “The Vultures”; Tom Simpson’s “African Communion”; Bernard Dadié’s “I Thank You God” (which gives Blackness an unparalleled status of glory) and many more. These are addresses to the coloniser to fault his view of Africa, and to the colonised to extol his view of himself.
Facts will not cease to surface, but to make do with the facts that which we have banked on to this extent, Senghor agitates without sentiment the need to now regard Africa the mother of all other continents. This borders on the inexhaustible wealth and the unrivalled culture and values of the continent. Given this spotlight, it is deducible from the connection drawn between the intertextual references cited and the poem in question that it became the responsibility of the African upon ‘return’ from Europe to rebuild the demolished dignity of Africa. Again, in the irony that obtains, the poet plays on the kinesthetic turn out of a journey: rather that reach the “Promised Land”, he has “come upon” Her. This establishes the reinstatement of nativity as the major thematic preoccupation in the poem. The consummation of this viewpoint is that Leopold Sedar Senghor’s “Black Woman” belongs in that category of African literature which seeks to use formal education and history to lampoon the injurious influence of the culture contact and the friction it has created as a whole with respect to the physical, social, economic, and spiritual beauty of the “Land”. Time and again, Africa remains God’s image for endowments which meet the demands of all the necessities of life.