Asynchronous Assignment on Discourse on Colonialism (Excerpt) by Aimé Césaire

Poet, political theorist, and politician Aimé Césaire was born June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique in the French Caribbean. His books of poetry include Lost Body (George Braziller, 1986), with illustrations by Pablo Picasso, Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (University of California Press, 1983), and Return to My Native Land (Penguin Books, 1969). He is also a playwright and has written The Tempest (G. Borchardt, 1968), based on Shakespeare’s play, and A Season at Congo (Grove Press, 1966), among others.

He is also the author of Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press, 1950), a book of essays which has become a classic text of French political literature and helped establish the literary and ideological movement  of Negritude, a term Césaire defined as “the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture.”

Robin D. G. Kelley on Aimé Césaire 

Discourse on Colonialism (1950) is poetry and therefore revolt. It is an act of insurrection, drawn from Césaire’s own miraculous weapons, molded and shaped by his works with Tropiques […] by his imbibing of European culture and his sense of alienation both from France and his native land. It is a rising, a blow to the master who appears as owner and ruler, teacher and comrade. It is revolutionary graffiti painted in bold strokes across the great texts of Western Civilization.”

Robin D. G. Kelley, From the Introduction

“We lived in an atmosphere of rejection, and we developed an inferiority complex. I have always thought that the black man was searching for his identity. And it has seemed to me that if what we want is to establish this identity, then we must have a concrete consciousness of what we are- that is,  of the first fact of our lives: that we are black; that we were black and have a history, a history  that contains certain cultural elements of great value; and that Negroes were not, as you put it, born yesterday, because there have been beautiful and important black civilizations.”

-Aimé Césaire, An Interview with Aimé Césaire



In the comment section down below  write a response (225-words minimum) to a set of two questions (due on 2/9 before class):


.Césaire argues that colonization works to decivilize and brutalize the colonizer. He says that “a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds towards savagery.” Explain. (Pages 35-36)

.Césaire holds that “nobody colonizes innocently.” Discuss what he means by that. (Page 39)


.Césaire proposes that colonization is based and justified on contempt for the native and that it changes the colonizer. Amplify. (Page 41)

.What are the effects of colonization on the colonized? (Page 43)

Oubao Moin – Juan Antonio Corretjer

The title of this song means “Island of Blood” in the language of the Taino, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.  It was written by celebrated Puerto Rican poet Juan Antonio Corretjer. The music was composed by nueva trova (folk) artists Roy Brown and Aires Bucaneros to tell the history of Boricuas and the hope of the poet and the musicians for an independent future. To this day it is an anthem of the pro-independence movement and a  celebration of working people everywhere in el Caribe. The song is also representative of Latin America as a whole as it discusses the struggle of indigenous, black, and indentured workers to be free from all forms of colonialism.

The Corozal river of the golden legend, its current carries gold, its current is bloodied. The River Manatuabón, has the golden legend, its current carries gold, its current is bloodied. The River Cibuco writes its name with golden letters, its current carries gold, its current is bloodied. Where the plantation (arboleda) sank its roots in the golden ground, there the branches drip blood, the plantation (arboleda) is bloodied.

Where the Indian’s brow frowned, whether on land or water, under the weight of the chains, in prison irons, there the land stinks of blood, and the water is bloodied.

Where the black broke his shoulders, whether on land or water, and the branding iron marked his body and the whip opened his back, there the land stinks of blood, the water runs bloodied.

Where the poor white suffered the horrors of the labor gang under the machete of the overseer and the account book of the working day
There the land is cursed, the water runs poisoned.

Glory to those Taino hands because they worked. Glory to those black hands because they worked. Glory to those white hands because they worked. From those hands was brought forth our homeland.

Glory to the hands that dig the mines. Glory to the hands that care for the livestock. Glory to the hands that sow the tobacco, the cane, and the coffee. Glory to the hands that work the roads. Glory to the hands that turn the wheels. Glory to all the hands of all the men and women who work.

And glory to the hands, all the hands that work today, because they build and from them shall come the newly liberated country. Praise! For them and for their homeland. Praise!

Group Discussion

The song “Oubao Moin” proposes to look at the past to start imagining transformations in society and (decolonial) futures, do you agree with these ideas?

How history, poetry, and the arts help to bring change in our individual and collective lives?