Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Black Mind

The Black Mind: A History of African Literature

Copyright Date: 1974
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 544
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Black Mind
    Book Description:

    The comprehensive account of the development of African literature from its beginnings in oral tradition to its contemporary expression in the writings of Africans in various African and European languages provides insight, both broad and deep, into the Black intellect. Professor Dathorne examines the literature of Africans as spoken or written in their local languages and in Latin, French, Portuguese, and English. This extensive survey and interpretation gives the reader a remarkable pathway to an understanding of the Black imagination and its relevance to thought and creativity throughout the world. The author himself lived in Africa for ten years, and his view in not that of an outsider, since it is as a Black man that he speaks about Black people. Throughout the book, a major theme is the demonstration that, despite slavery and colonialism, Africans remained very close to their own cultures. Professor Dathorne shows that African writers may be, like some Afro-American writers, “marginal men,” but that they are Black men and it is as Black men that they feel the nostalgia of their past and the corrosive influences of their present. The chapters are divided into sections: Tradition; Heritage; The Presence of Europe; and Crosscurrents. In the final chapters the author extends the thread of continuity to the New World -- Africa as present in the work of Black writers in the United States and in the Caribbean.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6206-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Part I. Tradition

    • Chapter 1 The Traditional Artist
      (pp. 3-8)

      The artist in traditional African society is a difficult figure to understand, for his function corresponds to nothing comparable in present-day western society. He is at once inheritor and donor of the literature, its custodian and its liberator. He is a spokesman for the society in which he lives, sharing its prejudices and directing its dislikes (in a limited form of satire) against what is discountenanced. He is not recognized as an individual, for he has no personal voice, but he is a highly respected member of the community. He can be a professional or an amateur, but this is...

    • Chapter 2 African Script
      (pp. 9-14)

      According to Gelb, a phonetic script evolves out of the need “to express words and sounds which could not be adequately indicated by pictures or combinations of pictures . . . Its principle consists in associating words which are difficult to express in writing with signs which resemble these words in sound and are easy to draw.” Writing in Africa did not undergo this kind of process. Side by side with the “ancient” pictographs and the “prehistoric” rock engravings, forms of writing were properly developed. In addition to Swahili writing in the Arabic script, which has been going on for...

    • Chapter 3 Spoken Art
      (pp. 15-42)

      The study of oral literature is the consideration of folklore or “the traditional beliefs, legends, and customs, current among the common people.” In the European context the problem is complicated: “It is a moot question whether traditional tales should be considered folklore. In practice it is extremely difficult to separate oral from written traditions.”¹ As has been shown, although there was a written tradition in Africa, it was not always applied to literature. Therefore at this moment in African history it is not too difficult to make the distinction between oral and written literature, since the oral is still being...

    • Chapter 4 Sung or Chanted Art
      (pp. 43-64)

      A consideration of African oral poetry or the sung or chanted art must take into account all nonspoken forms, including at the one end songs and at the other end everything which is declaimed. Perhaps the Chadwicks put it best when they defined oral poetry as “speech which is sung.” Frobenius has added that “with people who work everything into experience there can be no exuberance in story-telling, for life itself is poetry, poetry of the highest degree, but non-communicable poetry. Life itself is the poetry of these people.” On the other hand, the Chadwicks felt that “the memorisation of...

  6. Part II. Heritage

    • Chapter 5 African Literature in Latin
      (pp. 67-75)

      Of the Africans who wrote in Latin two were not creative writers and another two were poets. Anton Wilhelm Amo, born in 1703 near Axim, Ghana, was brought to Amsterdam as a slave when he was only four. He was presented to Duke Anton Ulrich von Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel who gave him to his son Wilhelm—hence his two names. He was educated at the University of Halle and secured a junior post in jurisprudence in 1729. The following year he began his doctorate at Wittenberg and in 1735 he completed his degree. He afterwards went to Halle as a professor.


    • Chapter 6 Three Eighteenth-Century African Writers in English
      (pp. 76-88)

      Francis Williams had only gone to England to study, but in the eighteenth century Blacks who were permanently settled there were not unusual; indeed there were so many of them who had come up from West Africa by way of the West Indies that they were given the name of “St. Giles blackbirds,” since they congregated around St. Giles Circus in London.¹ Most of them were simply chattels employed in the households of prominent people; three managed to overcome this status and wrote and published during their lifetimes.

      K. Little in hisNegroes in Britainquotes a letter that the...

    • Chapter 7 Written Indigenous Literatures
      (pp. 89-140)

      The literature in the written vernacular languages of Africa provides an imaginative and essential link between unwritten indigenous literature and writing in European languages. It is true only in part that vernacular written literature is closely related to literary oral forms, for apart from translations the written vernacular literature has drawn from standard European writing as well as from the more “popular” European models like the “love” story and the “detective” story. But in a way this literature indicates the adaptability of the oral tradition in that through the written vernacular literature the oral tradition expresses its versatility and diversity....

  7. Part III. The Presence of Europe

    • Chapter 8 Beginnings in English
      (pp. 143-155)

      In Africa the novel is the only literary art form that has been totally imported and imposed over and above development from an indigenous pattern. Drama and poetry, on the other hand, were an integral part of the African heritage; they functioned within the oral tradition, contributing to ceremonial and festival occasions. In a preliterate society no such function existed for the novel—there was no need for it toperform. It is not surprising, therefore, that with the advent of literacy, the novel has most interested the new writers. The novel, by its nature, establishes a terrain of private...

    • Chapter 9 West African Novelists in English
      (pp. 156-210)

      A primary reason for examining the cultural environment of the African writer is to provide a basis for understanding the consciousness of the present-day artist. His culture is an absorptive one, demonstrating a clear capacity for inheritance and the assimilation of new values. The resulting dualism has created a dynamic disorder which in turn has engendered a great deal of present-day art. In the synthesis of the art form the material is resolved into a new whole—part past, part present. In some of the writers who will be considered here, one will find cultural accommodation; in others, a refusal...

    • Chapter 10 East, Central, and South African Novelists in English
      (pp. 211-240)

      Conceivably writers in English living in East, Central, and South Africa can be seen as rebels against appearance. These sections of Africa saw not only the European administrator but the settler from Europe as well. On face value it seems that alien modes have taken hold here and the architecture of the cities certainly seems to testify to this. But the writers manipulate the cultural apparatus; they alert us to the fact that a true depth of artistic engagement can become a drama of consciousness. Therefore there are few “documents” in the manner of West African writing, for these are...

    • Chapter 11 African Poetry in English
      (pp. 241-306)

      Poetry by Africans in English began appearing in the 1940s. The period seemed right because of the intense political activity (to which the poetic expression was geared) that was taking place in West and South Africa. A new type of artist was needed, for no longer was the traditional artist able to voice the aspirations of the nation. At first the writer did not acquire an individual voice; instead he extended the boundaries of tribe to include the nation. Although no longer merely the mouthpiece of the tribe, these poets were nevertheless still committed. They extolled the virtues of their...

    • Chapter 12 Négritude and Black Writers
      (pp. 307-338)

      Before embarking on an account of the written literatures of Africa in Portuguese and French, we should venture some wary remarks about the nature of the task awaiting us. In the first place so much has been said about a homogeneous literature on the African continent—that is, a Black literature—that geographical definitions have often sufficed, as I demonstrated in my introduction, to establish the reality of a remarkable literary phenomenon. Critics have seemed to shy away from justifying their choice of material, and one could argue that this is unnecessary since the literature can be defined at least...

    • Chapter 13 African Literature in Portuguese
      (pp. 339-355)

      That African literature in Portuguese has received so little attention seems surprising, for it is a formidable body of work of a varied and a most appealing originality. Most of the writing comes from Angola, Cape Verde, and Mozambique, but São Tomé and Guinea are equally well represented. One need not be an advocate of Gilberto Freyre’sluso-tropicalismo¹ or the homogeneity of Portuguese culture in the tropics to agree that certain common themes and attitudes emerge from the writing, not least among them being sentiments that are distinctly anti-Portuguese.

      Although the Portuguese were last in the field of collecting folklore,...

    • Chapter 14 Contemporary African Prose and Poetry in French
      (pp. 356-397)

      The perfect past sought to glorify not only African civilization, but the French empire. The first African novel in French,Force-Bonté(1926) by Bakary Diallo, merely sang of the splendors of France, its strength and its righteousness. Twelve years later Paul Hazoumé was to writeDoguicimi(1938),¹ a book centering on tribal customs and kinship loyalty—a theme very different from Diallo’s. The novel is ostensibly about the conflict between “enlightenment” and “conservatism” (represented by the main character King Guézo). He is depicted as a man of strength and Hazoumé uses Prince Toffa’s long speech early in the work to...

    • Chapter 15 African Drama in French and English
      (pp. 398-430)

      European theater assumes that all human relationships are interrelationships and therefore psychological. In unscripted African theater what was paramount was man’s involvement with something extra-human. The development of African creativity from the anonymous to the personal effectuated the consolidation of the individual, and in theater it is obviously not only the individual but his relationship with other individuals that emerges. In other words written drama moved theater from the shrine and the marketplace to the stage, and the basic assumption was made (and is surely implicit in staged theater) that language could interpret any psychological relationship. The danger here is...

  8. Part IV. Crosscurrents

    • Chapter 16 “Africa” in Caribbean Literature
      (pp. 433-449)

      An important side to a survey of the Black mind in literature is a consideration of what Caribbean literature has to say about Africa and the Africans. This is not the same as that larger aspect of Caribbean literature which centers on the Black man and the color question. Here the main concern is with the African past in Caribbean literature and its presence in Caribbean life either as a cultural and personal dichotomy or as a unifying influence. The question is, How did Africa come into Caribbean literature and what precisely has the Caribbean environment taught its writers to...

    • Epilogue. The Black Environment
      (pp. 450-458)

      The writer in a developing country, in his dilemma of sensibility, comes to his material with an environment within. In this way he is to a large extent not a creator of the environment, but brings to the environment some of all that he has inherited. For instance, New World cultures have a child-parent relationship with Old World cultures, and therefore Europeans in America tend to ally themselves with European culture just as Black people tend to identify with African culture. It follows from this that it is extremely difficult for the subject culture to surpass the parent host culture,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 461-490)
  10. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 493-506)
  11. Index
    (pp. 509-527)