Tigritude

5 August 2013

Fact-checking a story is getting lost in rabbit-holes of one kind or another. After a while you start to take amusements of a very particular kind: dry, pedantic, maybe totally incomprehensible. In this case, I was looking for the most accurate possible version of a quotation attributed to Wole Soyinka. There is no reason for you to find this  interesting, but I find endless minor variations on a theme kind of relaxing. You see the phrase, originally specific and tied to history, get polished down into a maxim that’s portable and casually deployed, you see every writer wear out the word “famous.”  Was it a quip or statement, criticism or aphorism? 1976, or 1967, or 1962? Did the tiger pounce or leap or jump or strike? Eventually, tragically, hilariously, it ends up credited, in three different books of quotations, as “an African proverb.”

Here we go:

The reaction of the first generation of Anglophone writers in the 1960s to the older tradition of French Négritude theory is usefully, if crudely, summed up by the often quoted remark of Wole Soyinka that ‘a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.’

…and it is hard not to sympathize with Wole Soyinka’s famous criticism that ‘a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.’

Hence Wole Soyinka’s now famous maxim: “A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude.”

Soyinka expressed this in his famous statement that ‘a tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.’

I am reminded of Wole Soyinka who points out that in a free environment a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude, a tiger jumps on its prey.

The future Nobel laureate from Nigeria proclaimed, “The tiger does not proclaim its tigritude. It leaps on its prey.”

“A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude before it strikes.” These words, coined by Nigerian playwright and activist Wole Soyinka …

Wole Soyinka (1934–), Nigerian writer. “Does a tiger feel its tigritude?” on the use of the word ‘negritude'; often quoted in the form ‘A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude—he pounces’ in Time magazine, 17 November 1967

This is the meaning of Soyinka’s well-known aphorism that the Tiger does not need to proclaim its Tigritude, it just pounces. A Tiger, we note, has an immutable identity rooted in genetics.

One should also note that Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian dramatist, and Mphahlele, the South African writer-scholar, once vocal anti-négritude voices, have moved away from a narrow reading of the notion. Soyinka’s statement, that a tiger does not proclaim its tigritude but jumps, became the play word of the anti-negritude school.

“A tiger does not shout its tigritude,” Soyinka argued, “it acts.”

“Négritude? A tiger does not proclaim its tigritude.” — Wole Soyinka, 1976

Soyinka’s disagreement with the Négritude tenets was summed up by his famous remark made in 1964 at a conference in Berlin: A tiger does not proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.

The quip graduated into the celebrated adage about tiger and tigritude at the African Writers Conference at Kampala (Uganda) in 1962.

As Wole Soyinka would say, a tiger does not have to proclaim its tigritude. Neither does Mandela.

Nigerian proverb: A tiger does not have to proclaim its tigritude.

There is an African proverb that says, the “Tiger does not have to proclaim its Tigritude.”

…whose criticism of the movement is summarised in Soyinka’s famous aphorism that Le tigre ne proclâme pas sa tigritude; il saute sur sa proie. (A tiger doesn’t proclaim its ‘tigerness'; it jumps on its prey.) The problem this paper sees in this assertion is that if a tiger has been tamed over the years not to be conscious of its natural instincts or capacities, then it would lose its ability to feed itself.

Soyinka: “un tigre ne proclame pas sa tigritude— il bondit” (a tiger doesn’t proclaim his ‘tigerness’—he springs!).

And I remember too Soyinka’s smile when I asked him last year in Hanover, in what terms exactly had he put his phrase about the tiger, about how it does not proclaim its tigritude; I remember what he told me—after repeating his phrase and throwing in another reference to the eagle that does not proclaim its eagletude—that such preoccupations are known only to Francophone Africans.

It turns out, by the way, that the earliest recorded instance I can find of Soyinka taking this phrase out for a spin is a 1960 essay for the Horn, “The Future of West African Writing,”: “And if we would speak of ‘negritude’ in a more acceptable broader sense, Chinua Achebe is a more ‘African’ writer than Senghor. The duiker will not paint ‘duiker’ on his beautiful back to proclaim his duikeritude; you’ll know him by his elegant leap.” Or to put it another way:

Soyinka’s famous put-down of Negritude (“a tiger does not have to proclaim his tigritude”) apparently originated in this remark on the duiker and duikeritude, of which it must have been a perversion, tigers being no more indigenous to Africa than surrealist French poetry.

_____________________

Some sources:

Being Black, Being Human: More Essays on Black Culture, Femi Ojo Ade
Black Odysseys: The Homeric Odyssey in the African Diaspora Since 1939, Justine McConnell
Concise Oxford Dictionary of Quotations
The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin
Marxism and African Literature, ed. Georg M. Gugelberger
National Consciousness in Russian Literature, Gamel Nasser Adam
“Negritude: New and Old Perspectives,” Lewis Nkosi
Research on Wole Soyinka, ed. James Gibbs, Bernth Lindfors
The Routledge Book of World Proverbs
“The Senghor Complex,” Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Writing, Patrice Nganang
Toward a Critical Realist Reading of African and African Diaspora Literatures, Dokubo M. Goodhead
The World Contracted to Recognizable Images, Edrik Joel Lopez
World Musics in Context, Peter Fletcher

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