David Mandessi Diop (1927-1960) was a Bordeaux-born Senegalese poet. He spent most of his short life in France and had a second hand knowledge of Africa. He was a prominent poet of the negritude movement—a movement that was preoccupied with the rehabilitation of the black man, the affirmation of his qualities before the white world and the affirmation of the African personality in the colonial Africa.
The poem “Africa”, being a prominent in Diop’s poetry collection, typifies the philosophy of the negritude movement. It was originally written in French but later translated to English. The French version has 24 lines while the English version has 23 lines.
In the opening lines, the poet persona identifies himself with Africa and affirms the peaceful coexistence of the black people before the colonial incursion. The poet’s use of possessive pronoun in the appositive phrase to the word/noun “Africa” confirms this identification.
Africa/ my Africa (line 1)
Africa (a noun)
my Africa (line 2: appositive phrase, the “Qualifier” that post-modifies the noun “Africa”)
His use of the descriptive word (adjective) “proud” which means “feeling greatly honoured, having or showing dignity, independence or respect for oneself” indicates peaceful coexistence and satisfaction in Africa and the noun “warrior” suggests virility and valour of the black man prior to the slave trade and colonization periods.
The peace, happiness, virility, etc. of the Africans vanished with the advent of the slave trade. Africans were dehumanized and made to work out their bones on the white men’s plantation. The line; “blood…irrigates the fields” (line 7) buttresses this. In agricultural parlance, irrigation means to supply land or crops with water. But the poet’s change of water to blood suggests the inhuman treatment and humiliation suffered by the black under slavery and colonization.
Nevertheless, the poet is optimistic about the African future. He believes that despite the suffering, Africa still has a bright future. The poet’s use of the expression “…springing up anew” (line 20) is significant here. The phrasal verb “spring up” means “to appear, develop, and grow while the adjective “anew” means “again; in a new or different and typically more positive way”. This suggests that Africa, despite the level of dehumanization suffered, will sprout again.
In conclusion, the poem captures a panoramic overview of the history of Africa, taking care of the three basic periods—the cherished precolonial period, the horrible colonial period (coupled with the slave trade), and the hopeful postcolonial period. Not only does the poem celebrate Africa but it also castigates the whites for the injustice meted out to Africa during the colonial/slavery period.
Note: The poem is available when you click here.