Friday, January 02, 2009

A tiger does not declare his tigritude, nor live in Africa.

Last night Iris, reading a book on French linguistics, came upon the word "tigritude." She asked me what it meant, and I Googled it. I came upon several references to a "Nigerian Proverb" stating that, "Un tigre ne proclame pas sa tigritude." (A tiger does not declare/proclaim/shout his tigritude.)

This stuck me as a useful saying, but something about it wasn't quite right. It took me until just now to remember. There are no tigers in Africa. Haven't been for at least a million years. Either that saying was handed down from before the time Homo sapiens existed, or it isn't a traditional saying from Nigeria.

I looked it up again, in more detail, and it is actually a quote, from the Nigerian author Wole Soyinka, whom Iris of course has read but I had never heard of.

It is funny how many people, including "proverb dictionaries" have labeled various versions of it as traditional Nigerian wisdom. Is "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," an ancient Russian proverb?


Ayoola said...

The proverb is not a traditional African or Nigerian proverb but rather a modern proverb Nigerian or African proverb coined by Professor Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, a Nobel Laureate in the field of Literature.

It originated because Fracophone Africa writers and poets continuously over laboured their writings with the phrase and concept; Negritude (or blackness). Soyinka admonished them by letting them know that all the noise about Negritude was unnecessary as it is a nature and need not be proclaimed, thus A tiger need not proclaim or shout its Tigritude.

Take note also that modern proverbs tend to be universal and not limited to immediate environmental cognition of the originators. Furthermore traditional proverbs are often translated inaccurately. For example "Ekun" in Yoruba Language of Western Nigeria would translate to lion or tiger or cougar or lepard or cheetah. A translator of a proverb with such metaphor could choose any of them.

Nurain A. Dopo said...

Ayoola! You are spot on.
Negritude was a phenomenon developed and championed by Afro-Francophone writers led by Leopold Senghor of Senegal. The concept simply stresses the pride of blackness. You can equate it with the "black is beautiful" theme of African-Americans in the 1960s.

Tigritude, however, was Wole Soyinka's answer to Negritude. He thought that the idea that African writers spend time promoting pride of blackness was not important so he coined the phrase " a tiger does not shout or [proclaim] its tigritude. That, I assume, was his critique of the the concept of Negritude....

For me, the concept of negritude was important and it had to be pursued. Remember this was the moment when the continent of Africa was beginning to come out of colonialism and Africans where demanding freedom from the former colonial masters.

So in short. Senghor and his fellows were right and Soyinka misread the big picture. Yes, a tiger shouts and proclaims its tigritude when it roars.

CHEZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CHEZ said...

I do not think Soyinka misread the 'big picture'. In effect, he narrates that action speaks louder than voice. Let your opponent see you coming. You do not have to proclaim that you are what you are. Africans should focus on 'actioning' out and not crying out. Let the oppressor see you coming, thereby producing an element of surprise. There is no stopping you then. It will take 'him' (the oppressor) some time to plan against your action. If you proclaim without the element of surprise, you could be prevented before you act. No tiger should go about proclaiming its tigritude - you will spoil/drive the kill.