(ii): The "Négritude" Movement and "African Philosophy"

In 1928, the young Léopold Sédar Senghor left his home in Senegal to study in Paris. Disillusioned by the ill-treatment of Africans in France and its colonies, he joined with his friend Aimé Césaire in 1929 to found a review called L'Etudiant noir, which proclaimed the principle of «négritude» (Guibert 1962, 15). The «négritude» movement sought to revalue the thought and culture of traditional Africa (see Mudimbe 1988, 83). Disenchanted with the racism they experienced in the French Communist party in Paris, the négritude group eventually broke with many aspects of
communist ideology. In 1948 Senghor renounced his membership in the S.F.I.O. (Guibert 1962, 24). Césaire retained his communist affiliation longer, but he too left the party in 1956 (Mudimbe 1988, 91). Though they retained a critique of western imperialism, the aspect of it which they most criticized was its utter contempt for the conquered peoples, their achievements and cultural values. The idea of "African personality" was central in négritude philosophy. The négritude scholars conducted research into the oral traditions of their own people and published these traditions so that the world could share the deep cultural riches of Africa. They also wrote poetry as part of the cultural revaluation process. Senghor later became ruler of his country, Senegal, upon independence in 1960.

Associated with the négritude movement was the development of the discourse of "African Philosophy", which attempted to understand traditional African worldview in philosophical terms, to say that Africans did indeed have something of value to offer to the world in the field of philosophy. The Belgian missionary Placide Tempels was important in the development of the term "African philosophy." Tempels came to the conclusion that "Bantu behaviour...is centered in a single value: vital force" (Tempels 1959, 44), which is rendered variously in the French edition as «force vitale, vivre fort, la force». This vital force Tempels saw as the central category of "Bantu philosophy" (Tempels 1959). Both these concepts were modified and adapted by the African scholar theologian Alexis Kagamé, in works which are now considered classics in the field. "Bantu philosophy" coined in the 1940s, was found useful by Senghor and Césaire, and became popular among the French-speaking élites of Africa.

Anglophone African theologians adopted a more qualified, more empirical and less speculative approach, and many have not referred to "African philosophy" per se, though they aim at the same basic goal, the revaluation of traditional African thought, culture and religion. For example, though Mbiti uses the term "African Philosophy" in his 1969 work, he rejects Tempels' "vital force" concept, while holding that Africans believe in the existence of "force" permeating the universe, similar to what anthropologists call mana (1969, 16). The difference in approach between the Anglophone and Francophone theologians may stem partly from the fact that Africans from British colonies learned from the British school of anthropology, which is more empirical, while Africans from French colonies learned from the French school, which is more theoretical and speculative.

By the late 1970s "Bantu philosophy", négritude and "vital force" as categories had come under increasing fire from African neo-Marxists, and from anthropologists of all schools, and in their original formulations are now largely considered "passé". Éla points out (1988, 171) that at the very moment in 1969 when Pope Paul VI was praising négritude in Kampala, it was being dismissed as obsolete in Algiers.

Among African theologians still working with the concept of "vital force" today the most notable would be Vincent Mulago.

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