By Jeremy Rich Ph.D. MA BA
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Additional resources for A Workman Is Worthy of His Meat: Food and Colonialism in the Gabon Estuary
The manner in which Mpongwe people ate expressed volumes on how rooted domestic slavery had become in their society. Where Mpongwe people saw labor-saving techniques and hospitality, missionaries and administrators saw degeneration. For a people deemed incorrigibly lazy by so many observers, Mpongwe people constructed a food supply system that, even with some serious drawbacks, remained in place until the arrival of Fang migrants in the Gabon Estuary by the 1880s. How Mpongwe people obtained food in the nineteenth century and the ways in which slavery inﬂuenced consumption patterns can be reconstructed from a foundation of missionary reports, ofﬁcial correspondence, accounts by travelers, and oral traditions.
Some Mpongwe pillaged shipwrecked French vessels. French ofﬁcers obtained legal rights from the famed Mpongwe trader Rapontchombo during 1839. Rapontchombo agreed to accept claims of French the gabon estuary and the atlantic world 9 authority but encouraged ofﬁcers to set up a base among his Agakaza clan rivals on the north side of the river. 52 While Rapontchombo was left to conduct his affairs without interference in the 1840s, Europeans took a much sterner view toward other clan chiefs. Bouet-Willaumez and other French military men distrusted Agakaza leaders who had raided and robbed several French vessels.
European ﬁrms scoured Gabon searching for ivory, rubber, and dye wood, and they needed Mpongwe intermediaries. French commandants slowly extending their reach from Libreville also relied on Mpongwe interpreters and ofﬁce workers. One result of this evolution was the ﬂow of foreign goods and hard currency in Libreville. By the 1870s European money was in common use. 78 It is little wonder that Mpongwe people repeatedly expressed their view of themselves as civilized people worthy of legal equality with any French citizen.
A Workman Is Worthy of His Meat: Food and Colonialism in the Gabon Estuary by Jeremy Rich Ph.D. MA BA