Ovahimba woman, rosette (married), photo © 1966 Alice Mertens*

Négritude 7∏

Towards a Black Consciousness

This series of essays analyse and explore Négritude, a literary and philosophical movement of the early 20th century, originally by Africans and later by African American writers and thinkers. They were inspired both in African art and poetry, exposed and admired in Paris, and in Jazz and the multi-cultural Harlem Reinassance (New York, 1920's). The movement, of strong definitions and peaceful commitment, continued and expanded worldwide and is today a source of inspiration for understanding Black African legacy, now a world heritage.

Pouchulu & Oliveira

About the Authors

Patricio Pouchulu (Buenos Aires, 1965) is an architect and academic graduated at the Bartlett School, UCL London, and FADU-UBA. Recognized by the British Council, his architecture develops a wide range of themes: from cities to organic architecture and eco-pods. An expert in Habitat, he became known after his 2002 Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza, Egypt. He taught in Germany, UK and Argentina. He has been researching on Négritude and African art for thirty years. He write essays.

Vanessa Oliveira (São Paulo, 1978) is a musician, actress and linguist who works with literature and the arts. She is a percussionist and tambourine player. As a multilingual artist she speaks and sings in Portuguese, Spanish, English and French. She performed in films. In São Paulo she was a member of avant-garde theatre companies Cia. os Satyros and Teatro Oficina. She researches on languages, art and anthropology.

1- Prologue

In order to establish an appropriate historical context, we focus in the first chapters into exposing, analysing and stating concepts related to African and European comparative history, with the help of social anthropology, in particular the extraordinary developments of Edward Hall in relation with Anthropology of Space.

We highlighted a series of African cultures and civilizations mostly unknown to clearly define that, for a series of reasons, since the 18th century Europe started to forget its links to Africa, creating instead the myth of the Black savage, creating a horrific circle of denigration and humiliation to justify the abduction, enslavement and murder of millions of people.

It were not the initial explorers -who used to settle for years in remote places, learning local languages and habits- but the rudimentary scientists and thinkers who ignored that the less favoured ethnics identified in the unlivable jungle had little to do with a large and extremely rich panorama of Black African cultures. This myth, fed by scientists, magazines, newspapers and films, persisted intact till recently and still feeds racism; it has been tiered down thanks to the extraordinary work of Black writers, artists, musicians and millions of professionals that silently work.

At the time of the European Middle Ages, in the 10th century, the Mali Empire had made of its capital Timbuktu a city of light with universities, libraries and archives with a million manuscripts, commerce chambers and sophisticated machinery industries. At that time, in many flanks a more advanced civilization than any of the European regions. They were the ancestors of the actual Berber, Black (Sudanese branch) with some Arab descent, inhabitants of the tough Sahel.

Approaching Négritude in relation with African and European history is a complex task; to discover and identify the unknown forces and facts that produced modern slavery is even more difficult, but we understand that by using an interdisciplinary approach the challenge can be successful.

Pouchulu & Oliveira, 2014-18


Below, the first paragraph of each chapter.

2- Introduction

"The civilization of the twentieth century cannot be universal except by being a dynamic synthesis of all the cultural values of all civilizations. It will be monstrous unless it is seasoned with the salt of Négri-tude, for it will be without the savor of humanity."

Léopold Sédar Senghor.

Indeed, Négritude is seasoning humanity. 

Detached from established ideologies from left, centre or right, we find some aspects of Liberalism stimulating, in particular those related to Freedom, Empiricism and individual responsibility. Read the full introduction, here.

3- The Point of View as a Meassure of Analysis

We cannot judge the 17th or 18th Centuries with 21st Century eyes, which is one of the main structural mistakes of the rigid socialist thinking. On the other hand, we cannot judge those centuries with a single, dominant angle, mistake often produced by conservative thoughts. Reality is far more complex than any philosopher or analyst could possibly propose. Read this chapter here.

4- Dual Racism

Racism -as we know it- is inherent to humans; to define foreigner as "the other", to exclude, to fight the enemy for survival has been humans' leit-motiv for thousands of years. A global reaction against a particular race is not something new. Civilizations and cultures have fought against others, seen as enemies. (...) Racism and slavery are different things. Greece, Rome, and Islam had slaves, but in the first two that condition was not related to race, in the latter it was. (...)  What is unusual is the bizarre situation where racism appears in modern times. Read this chapter here.

5- Why Slavery Happened

There are (at least) six main reasons that help explaining why, since the late 17th century, many Europeans started to consider Black Africans an inferior race, to the point of commercialize Africans as slaves, and for 300 years:

Read this chapter here.

6- At Least We Know What Happened

The practice of recording history, keeping in archives and libraries all possible knowledge, but for public interest, is an Hellenistic idea. In the 5th century BC in Athens, Sparta or Thessaloníki, libraries were public institutions open to citizens and scholars. In most archaic civilizations, however, knowledge was secret, for exclusive use for the rulers and the military and kept by priests and wise Men. The Hellenistic scholar tradition was later taken and developed by Romans (...) After the collapse of the Roman Empire it was the young Catholic Church who took the role of historian, researcher and archivist (...) In Black Africa, prior to 19th century Islam*, a collection of more than a million manuscripts were concentrated in Timbuktu, under the Empire of Mali. One third of them survive today distributed in thirty Sub-Saharan and Sahel African cities and towns. Preservation and digitalisation is taking place, step by step, with local, foreign and private financial assistance. Read this chapter here.

7- Moral vs. Ethics

We must analyse history with method and patience, not passion. Which culture has not initiated conflicts? Some of them have produced massive conflicts, Germans against Jews, White South Africans against Blacks. There are hundreds of conflicts in the globe pivoting on cultural clashes; racism is still quite visible and impossible to justify.

To approach Négritude as a literary and philosophical movement, we first had to analyse historical and anthropological concepts in order to locate racism in relation with slavery in a specific and particular time-frame. This was done in the previous chapters. There are two more issues to consider. Read this chapter here.

8- What is Négritude?

We promote the appreciation of Négritude -Black Consciousness- as a selected frame in a world that eventually differentiates itself because of unique particularities, rather than excluding other worlds. Négritude is also -and mainly- a territory, a space. There, Black Africans created an extremely rich combination of cultural patterns and abstract artistic forms, and for millenia, often with a great sense of individual artistic freedom and hard community work, in the context of a tough environment, the unlivable Sahara desert and the impenetrable jungle. Read this chapter here.

9- Self-contained cultures

We think Black Culture -like any culture- has no sense without the whole rainbow of cultural colours. The Akan and the Ashanti, from south and north of Ghana respectively (Ashanti and Fante dialects) are today integrated into modern culture without leaving their identity; unlike those African ethnic groups living far in the deep jungle that faced the obstacle of living in the "unlivable", most West Africans along the Atlantic are industrious people.

To read this chapter go here.

10- Africa's first gift to the world

The first lesson from Africa is the richness of its immense number of cultures, all very different from each other, manifestations that celebrate life with pleasure and intensity and joy. Between ethnics, dialects, clothing, habits, beliefs, food, mourning, religions, games, they all differ. The great Miriam Makeba used to point us this aspect while introducing her songs to the audience. This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Black Africa: diversity (...) Read this chapter here.

11- Africa's second gift to the world

The second lesson has to do with proxemics. Spacial and kinetic relationships between Black people vary, compared to other cultures, in two ways: first, they tend to pay less attention to the relative position of the body in space; for instance, in a room or in the street, private and public areas tend to overlapp, except of course, sacred places; second, they are sensitive to silence. Read this chapter here.

12- Black and Afro-descendant

The great anthropologist Edward T. Hall, who created social anthropology, concluded that Black Americans' distinctive cultural marks -independently from cultural context- were transmitted from parents to children.

We would like to add that those marks can be understood like refexions or shadows transmitted through generations, but once you are in another society, in a different culture, sooner or later your desdendants will change and adapt. That is how Transcultural societies form and evolve.

Primarily, Black Americans belong to the American matrix, not to the African one. In the late sixties, some prominent Black Americans like Nina Simone or Dizzi Gilliespie expressed their genuine feeling to be "at home" when they visited Africa for the first time and performed (at the time of the Black Power movement).

Afrique Occidentale, Sénégal, Dakar, Le Marche, circa 1930

But those who remained there for a while experienced and faced a different reality: even if feeling good, they noticed that African life, and all its primary systems (habits, language, proxemics) and secundary ones (regulations, limits, allowances) were totally different from the US.

Another issue, present since the mid-20th Century, deals with media. The image of the world we have today is mixed: part of it is our real Habitat, part of it our virtual one, what we watch in TV, Internet and Mobile phones, like this text. Read this chapter, here

13- 3H

After the first set of essays on historical and cultural issues related to Africa, part of the question "what does it mean to be Black or Afrodescendant?" starts to be visualized. Cultures can be analysed through three levels of development: we like to call it the 3H: Habitat, Habits, Hazards. In our case, regarding Black and Afro-desdendants, the 3H can be syntethised as follows. Habitat: we belong to the Earth. Our Art reflects that. Our image of the world is not theorical or mathematic, but mainly abstract and geometric. To read this chapter go here.

14- What can you do (if you are not Afro-descendant)

If you do not have (or if you think you do not have) Black ancestors but you admire Black people or have an attraction for Black art and cultures, or if you realised that there is a void in your education regarding Négritude, or if you are suddenly surrounded by awful racist friends and relatives, then you are probably reading the right text, and there are two issues involved: first, part of your feelings, consciously or unconsciously is with our culture and second, more important, you are a free man or woman. Read this chapter here.

15- What can you do (if you are Afro-descendant)

If you are reading this and you are Black or Afro-descendant, it means you are either looking for some information or you were lost in the Internet. Either way, it is good news to find something by accident. Additionally, if you've been reading our essay for a few minutes and you've been surprised, better. If you are not Afro-descendan try to read the biography and life of artists like Nina Simone or Max Roach. They exude particular concepts and feelings in such a way that will make you understand certain specific facts; basically, what our community went through, particularly in the Americas. Read this chapter here.

16- Bibliography

This is a tentative list of Black writers which represent the core of Black culture and Pan-Africanism. Some are Americans (North, the Caribbean, South), some Africans, selected by Patricio Pouchulu and Vanessa Oliveira between 1985 and 2018. In chronological order.

Hear our recommendation here.

Read our bibliography here.

17- Resources, Magazines, Newspapers, Art, Exhibitions

We prefer to read real books; what we read online are not books but a virtual text, scanned or digitalized, transmitted via fiber optics cables under the Ocean, then re-transmitted to your computer or mobile in screens made of illuminated pixels. It only works with electricity... would you like to be green? Our advice is simple: forget this virtual text and get real books.

Go to our archives here.

18- Films
A must-see list of classic African films and links to African and Black Films Festivals can be found here.

19- Education, Archives

Read more here.

* Photo courtesy of Alice Mertens, from: South Africa, published by Collins, St. James's Place, London, 1977.


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Copyright © 2018 Patricio Pouchulu & Vanessa Oliveira