By Jeremy Rich Ph.D. MA BA
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Extra resources for A Workman Is Worthy of His Meat: Food and Colonialism in the Gabon Estuary
Still others landed jobs as manual laborers for Libreville employers. By the early twentieth century neighborhoods like Atong Abé and Lalala had become home to Fang households. Indigenous communities adjusted to European and African immigrants. First they asserted their equality with French residents of the colony. When the colonial government restructured French Congo in 1910 into a federation of colonies dubbed French Equatorial Africa, lawmakers incensed Libreville townspeople by passing the hated indigènat code, which allowed administrators wide latitude to ﬁne, jail, and punish Africans.
The Great Depression led timber workers without employment to move to Libreville, much to the annoyance of administrators seeking to expel them back to rural areas. 113 A member of an Nzebi clan from southern Gabon, he walked in 1959 to Kango and then Libreville after hearing “they killed people” at the timber camps. Others made a living from trade. 114 Mpongwe women claimed property rights and rented out houses to Africans and Europeans alike. Though Mpongwe and Fang men sat on “customary” African courts, some the gabon estuary and the atlantic world 19 women did ﬁnd recourse to the law to end marriages and to defend their rights.
87 Thanks to their dependents, some female Mpongwe slave owners enjoyed leisure time unimaginable to Fang women, who were expected to bear children and handle most farming tasks and were often married off at a very young age. Big men marrying many wives, a common practice among Mpongwe traders and clan chiefs prior to French occupation, became less frequent by the late nineteenth century. Possible reasons for this decline include the decisions of younger men and women to work as traders or as the mistresses of Europeans far from Libreville; the increased participation of townspeople in Catholic and Protestant congregations; and the relative independence of free Mpongwe women.