Papa Cesaire dies at 94

18th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

The French black identity poet Aime Cesaire, a leading voice of black cultural identity, passed away in Martinique.

18 April 2008

FORT-DE-FRANCE - French poet Aime Cesaire, a leading voice of black cultural identity whose struggle against colonialism resonated in Africa and the United States, died Thursday in Martinique. He was 94.

With fellow writers such as Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal, Cesaire invented the term "negritude" which he defined as an "affirmation that one is black and proud of it".

Cesaire, a cult figure on his native island Martinique and elsewhere in the French-speaking Caribbean, died in hospital in Fort-de-France. He had been admitted on 9 April with heart problems.

He will receive a state funeral here Sunday, to be attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who described the poet as a "symbol of hope for oppressed peoples".

French Culture Minister Christine Albanel and Socialist opposition leader Segolene Royal, who will also fly to Martinique for the funeral, have both suggested the poet's remains should have a last resting place in the Paris Pantheon, where French luminaries are interred.

"Papa Cesaire," as he was affectionately known during his long tenure as mayor of Fort-de-France between 1945 and 2001, served as a deputy in the French National Assembly between 1945 and 1993. The island of Martinique is a department, or region integrated into France.

Describing himself as "negro, negro from the bottom of the sky immemorial," Cesaire fought against colonialism through political activism and poetry.

His flamboyant and demanding works are standard texts in universities and are also celebrated in top French theatres.

Former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf described Cesaire as a great figure of 20th-century literature, saying he was a "poet who had a world stature while remaining deeply attached to the cultural values of the black world".

"I pay tribute to a man who devoted his life to the many struggles being waged on several battlefronts for the cultural and political destiny of his brothers, a noble struggle that was free from hate, which he abhorred," said Diouf.

President Sarkozy said the French nation mourned Cesaire's passing.

"A free and independent spirit, he embodied during his entire life the struggle for identity and the richness of his African roots," Sarkozy said.

"Through his universal appeal for the respect of human dignity, consciousness-raising and responsibility, he will remain a symbol of hope for all oppressed people."

Born on 25 June 1913 in Martinique, Cesaire was educated in Paris, where he attended the Lycee Louis-le-Grand on a scholarship before passing an entrance exam for the elite Ecole Normale Superieure.

In his student days he and Senghor created the literary review "L'Etudiant Noir" ("The Black Student").

With his "negritude," Cesaire was a forerunner of the later "black is beautiful" movement in the United States.

His ideas were first fully expressed in his long poem "Return to My Native Land," a powerful depiction of the ambiguities of Caribbean life and culture.

As a playwright he is best known for two plays, "The Tragedy of King Christophe" and an original adaptation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest".

[AFP / Expatica]

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