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Bernard Dadie. Image from Archy Worldys.

Bernard Dadié, Côte d’Ivoire’s best known writer and former Minister of Culture, has passed on at age 103, on 9 March 2019. His novels, plays and poetry—which have been described as attempting to connect the contemporary world, as shaped by colonialism, to messages in traditional African folktales—were inspiration for the Negritude movement, with his poem “Je Vous Remercie Mon Dieu” considered one of the black nationalist movement’s greatest anthems.

In 2016, aged 100, Dadié was unanimously voted winner of the inaugural, UNESCO-sponsored $50,000 Jamie Torres Bodet Award, for his contribution “to the development of knowledge and society through art, teaching and research in social sciences and humanities,” and later that year, he won the Grand Prix des Mécènes of the Grand Prix of Literary Associations.

Born on 10 January 1916 in Assinie, Côte d’Ivoire, Dadié went to school in Grand Bassam, Côte d’Ivoire, and at the famous Ecole William Ponty in Senegal. In 1947, he joined Côte d’Ivoire’s independence movement. In 1953, he co-founded, with Germain Coffi Gadeau and F. J. Amon d’Aby, the Cercle Culturel et Folklorique de la Côte d’Ivoire (CCFCI). Before independence was realised in 1960, he suffered a 16-month detention by the French colonial government. In 1977, he became the country’s Minister of Culture, a position he held until 1986.

Dadié’s work became the subject of renewed interest when the choral text of his poem, “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” (“Sèche Tes Pleurs“), a poem about returning to the continent, was used for a song of the same name in the the American composer John Williams’ music score for Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film Amistad.

Dadié’s books, as listed on his Wikipedia page, include Afrique debout (1950), Légendes africaines (1954), Le pagne noir (1955), La ronde des jours (1956), Climbié (1956), Un Nègre à Paris (1959), Patron de New York (1964), Hommes de tous les continents (1967), La ville où nul ne meurt (1969), Monsieur Thôgô-Gnini (1970), Les voix dans le vent (1970), Béatrice du Congo (1970), Îles de tempête (1973), Papassidi maître-escroc (1975), Mhoi cheul (1979), Opinions d’un nègre (1979), Les belles histoires de Kacou AnanzèCommandant Taureault et ses nègres (1980), Les jambes du fils de Dieu (1980), Carnets de prison (1981), and Les contes de Koutou-as-Samala (1982).

There have been tributes on social media, including from Côte d’Ivoire president Alassane Ouattara and the Congolese novelist Alain Mabanckou.

May he rest in peace.

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Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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