Damas was born into a middle class mulatto family in French Guyana in 1912. After he went to Paris to pursue university studies, Damas became a founding member of the négritude movement. I discovered this French-speaking analogue of the Harlem Renaissance while studying for the French AP exam when I was in high school. Sister Dymphna had to make a special trip to the Library of Congress to find the négritude writers’ poems that were on the syllabus!
Even though Sister couldn’t tell me much about Damas or his friends, Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor, I was thrilled to learn that there were whole countries full of black people who spoke French. I didn’t understand until later that “La Grande France” imposed French language and culture on its colonial subjects by force. The négritude writers expressed the discomfort they felt with the pressure to “assimilate” and become “black Frenchmen” and I could relate to poems like Damas’ “Hoquet” because I had experienced similar pressure to speak “proper” English instead of the black dialect that my grandparents and cousins spoke in rural Virginia.
This video was supposed to be part of my first blog post back in April, but it took a lot longer to edit than I had anticipated. I am glad to have it ready in time for Black History month and I hope it will effectively illustrate why I chose the name “Limbé Dolls.”