Senegal’s first President, Léopold Sedar Senghor, is considered one of the most influential Africans of the 20th century. As a poet, Senghor championed black identity through his literary works, and as a politician, he showed that democracy and stability was achievable in post-colonial Africa. Here’s your need-to-know guide.
Léopold Sedar Senghor was born in the small coastal town of Joal in 1906. The son of a prosperous Christian landowner, Senghor was raised as a Roman Catholic, attending a boarding school run by French missionaries before moving to Dakar in 1922 to train as a priest. Deemed unsuitable for the priesthood due to his African heritage, Senghor gained a place at the French lycée in Dakar, where his academic prowess was recognised with a scholarship to continue his studies in France. The young, gifted Senghor thus set off for Paris in 1928, beginning his “sixteen years of wandering”.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Senghor the intellectual
Léopold Sedar Senghor was not afraid of being a pioneer. In 1928, he became the first African to earn a French state scholarship to the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. Seven years later, he chalked off another achievement as the first African to obtain an ‘Agrégation’ degree (equivalent of a PhD) in French grammar.
During his studies, Senghor moved in literary and intellectual circles in Paris, sharing ideas on linguistics, politics and poetry with future French presidents (Georges Pompidou, Socialist President 1969-1974) and celebrated authors (including Paul Guth and Henri Queffélec). However, it was his collaboration with fellow poets of African descent, Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas, that gave birth to an international movement négritude.
Senghor the luminary
In his own words, Senghor described the negritude movement as “the sum of the cultural values of the black world as they are expressed in the life, the institutions, and the works of black men.”
Living in a French Empire rich in racism, the three poets used poetry (and later other literary tools) as a voice to celebrate black identity. Negritude was an assertion of distinctive African aesthetics and characteristics; a nostalgia for the traditions of the past and a champion of Pan-African values. Early works, such as Senghor’s Prière des Masks, were a prime example: highlighting the ancestral traditions of the African diaspora and calling on the “men of the dance” to “teach rhythm to the world”.
As such, the negritude movement acted as a soft rejection of colonial influence, raising black consciousness and rejecting the superiority of the ‘white man’. It changed the way the colonised felt about themselves and laid the foundations for independence.
Senghor the poet
Described as “anti-racist racism” by Jean-Paul Sartre, Senghor’s poetry was ‘pro-black,’ but not necessarily ‘anti-white’. An African nationalist, he did not reject European culture, but instead highlighted the differences between the two societies: the latter built out of separation and conflict, the former out of unity and rhythm.
Senghor believed rhythm to be instrumental to the African way of life. So much so that many of his poems are headed by the musical instruments he thought should accompany them. To New York, for example, was to be played with a jazz orchestra; in particular, a trumpet solo.
However, at the core of Senghor’s work was racial identity. From celebrating African traditionalism and culture to weaving Wolof and Serer into his poems, Senghor sought to inspire pride in the mother continent. In Femme Noire he depicts Senegal (Africa) as a ‘black woman’ that caressed and nurtured him. In one of his most famous poems, Dear White Brother (Poème à mon frère blanc), he settles the issue of ‘colour’:
Dear White Brother, When I was born, I was black, When I grew up, I was black, When in the sun, I am black, When I am ill, I am black, When I die, I will be black.
Whereas you, white man, When you were born, you were pink, When you grew up, you were white, When you’re in the sun, you are red, When you are cold, you are blue, When in fear, you are green, When you are ill, you are yellow, When you die, you will be grey.
Well then, of us two, who is the coloured one?
Senghor the ‘poet-politician’
The ideals of negritude underpinned Senghor’s movement into the political realm. In 1945, the new constitution of the French Fourth Republic allowed for African representation in the French Assembly. Senghor was duly elected for Senegal-Mauritania – the same year he published his first collection of poems, Chants d’Ombres (‘Shadow Songs‘).
Three years later, Senghor co-founded the Senegalese Democratic Bloc which would go on to win the Senegalese elections and instil Senghor in the Assembly from his own Senegalese party (previously elected on the French section of the Workers International (SFIO ticket)). He also published Hosties Noires (‘Black Victims‘), a collection of poems written while a prisoner in World War II, which highlighted the treatment of colonial soldiers conscripted to all-African units in the French Army.
Ever the pioneer, Senghor would go on to serve as the first African Minister in a French Government in the 1950s before becoming Senegal’s first president in 1960. He would serve for twenty years, before becoming the first African post-colonial leader to voluntarily step down.
A socialist, but not ridden with anti-Western ideology, Senghor maintained close ties with the ‘West’, which many believe laid the foundations for the country’s political stability – it remains one of the few African nations never to have had a coup. Meanwhile, after years of just one party, Senghor left Senegal with a multi-party system and fully-functioning elections; a democratic legacy where freedom of thought is valued.
Personally, Senghor inspired a country, a continent, a race. From Senegalese villager to Parisian intellectual, French Minister to Senegalese President, he epitomised what he preached: African self-determination. And, just because he was so proficient in doing so, he even bagged another ‘first’ in his retirement: first black man elected to the 16-member Académie Française in 1983. He died in 2001 aged 95.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.