Since masters worried that slaves might take advantage of their role in domestic labor to harm their owners, certain limits existed on demands they could place on their dependents. Colonial rule and the rise of European commerce in the Gabon Estuary added to the instability of Mpongwe food supply.
Slaves managed to gain a measure of independence. Some continued to farm, but their ability to sate the needs of the town left much to be desired, given the ubiquity of food shortages in Libreville from the s through the s. Masters did not turn to agriculture themselves to make up for the loss of slave labor—instead they chose to focus their efforts on obtaining foods from other Africans and Europeans. Slave labor and Atlantic commerce thus helped to create a food supply system that fostered consumption over production and favored trading enterprises over agriculture.
Newcomers, Food Supply, and the Colonial State, — Between and Libreville changed from being a tiny colonial outpost to become the administrative headquarters of French imperial ambitions in Central Africa. Visitors considered it a sleepy haven in a colony rife with violence. English tourist and collector Mary Kingsley rhapsodized on the friendly and quaint manners of Africans in town. Whites, blacks, [and men of] yellow, coffee or milky tint come there.
The ways townspeople obtained food underwent a series of transformations. Domestic slavery declined. The Atlantic slave markets closed forever. Townspeople left independent commerce behind to serve the needs of companies seeking rubber and timber. The sight of Fang-speaking women carrying baskets of manioc in Libreville, a rarity before the s, became part of daily life.
The presence of European companies and a more intrusive French government led to innovations in eating.
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The colonial government never managed to improve agricultural production and neglected to develop roads and infrastructure to assist African farmers. They too turned to Africans outside the Mpongwe community. Even so, problems continued to trouble the town. Other controversies came from the complex relationship between Mpongwe townspeople with Fang clans and West Africans. Mpongwe people stubbornly defended their privileges as the original inhabitants of Libreville against European and African rivals.
On occasion they worked to defend their rights as consumers against state interference and African producers. Port residents adapted older concerns of taste and status as their diets and their sources for food altered over time. Foreigners and Fang people coming from the interior posed a new set of challenges, but Mpongwe townspeople managed to defend their ways of consumption by taking advantage of their position as intermediaries between Africans and Europeans.
By making alliances with Fang people bearing food and asserting their right to imported foods at a fair price, Mpongwe women and men ensured their ability to eat without having to spend much time farming themselves. Just like their European neighbors, Mpongwe people bought their food and shirked agriculture. The long voyage on slow-moving ships from France and Senegal damaged many foodstuffs en route. All of this, Commandant, is not due to the climate but rather the terrible nature of these foodstuffs.
The acting commandant of the fort observed that he lacked both provisions and goods such as tobacco or soap, with which workers might barter for food. Some state employees stole food from government warehouses. By the post had begun growing rice and European vegetables near the fort. One possible source emerged in The plans did not succeed. Early on, some members of the settlement did till the soil willingly for the government. African troops from Senegal worked at manual labor as well as military tasks.
Male workers from the Kru coast of Liberia, used on European ships and in the British colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone, also arrived in numbers from onward. Even so their high value and their salary demands made them a very expensive option. The colonial government fared poorly. A collection of French and African judges handed out prizes for gardening, cooking, and arts and crafts. Though the fairs might have helped in a small way to create legitimacy for French rule among Libreville residents, they did not inspire radical changes in food supply.
Only one French settler attempted to sell manioc in the mids, and apparently he abandoned the job after several years. They continued to follow patterns of exchange set with Mpongwe villages by selling poultry and manioc to Europeans on occasion as well. Textiles, brandy, and particularly tobacco furnished the main forms of currency. Missionaries encountered the same troubles as the government—high prices and instability in food supply—but Catholics and Protestants split on whether missions should grow food themselves.
Protestant ministers initially planted breadfruit trees and sponsored farming but gave up on the practice by the s. Efforts rapidly included fruit trees, sugar cane, rice, cocoa and cotton. By the early s the mission also grew plantains and manioc to feed its workers and students. Unlike in South Africa, no class of Christian Africans using European farming techniques ever appeared in the Estuary.
Slaves, in need of patronage, also agreed to labor in missionary agriculture. But such measures had limits. They did not inspire many free people to grow large amounts of food for sale. Nor did breadfruit and other imported crops cultivated by missionaries become a major part of local diets. Evidence for this lack of success can be viewed in the rampant food shortages of the s. The Franco-Prussian war left the colony bereft of supplies between and The next decade did not begin much better, but the arrival of Fang immigrants would radically alter the food supply system between and Fang men had traded ivory and other goods in town since the s, and by they had started living with their families within a few miles of Libreville itself.
French commandants viewed the Fang as the saviors of the colony. West African workers were too expensive and often had too much else to do for their employers to be spared to grow crops. It would be up to Fang clans to better the situation. However, bloodshed among Fang would lead to setbacks. The coming of the Fang greatly changed the organization and dynamics of food supply to town. Scholars have shed much ink on Fang migrations from Cameroon into Gabon; I will not attempt to retrace disputes regarding the origins of Fang people.
During the early nineteenth century, as best it can be determined, a series of raids—either between Fang clans or from outsiders entitled uban in later traditions—drove many to migrate into northern 52 newcomers, food supply, and colonial state Gabon. Violence often erupted over commerce. Fang groups entering the Estuary differed substantially from Mpongwe peoples.
No institution of clan head existed in an organized fashion among villagers. Instead, clan members formed settlements of roughly one hundred people claiming membership in the same descent group or clan. No centralized leaders commanded more than several villages. Slavery did not exist in Fang society, although prisoners of war acted as marginal clients of households.
Fang food production relied primarily on farming, similar to that of Mpongwe households. Estuary Fang women planted crops of manioc, taro, various types of plantains, squash, yams, and more rarely sweet potatoes and corn. Fields required heavy weeding and vigilance against wild animals such as wild pigs or elephants. Some French observers believed Fang clans would move for frivolous and irrational reasons, but on close inspection frequent movement made sense for social, economic, and ecological reasons.
French commandants repeatedly invited their chiefs to come to town. Fang clan leaders from the s on sent boys to study at Sainte Marie and Baraka. Mission students learned to read French and acquired knowledge of trades such as shoemaking and carpentry. By the s Robert Nassau hired Fang men to do odd jobs such as cutting grass and carrying lumber to build houses. As forest products such as rubber and ivory became exhausted, villagers from the north and south Estuary banks turned to the food market as a source of income.
Until the eve of World War I near-continual skirmishes between Fang clans and with colonial authorities impeded both farming and delivery of produce to Libreville. The bewildering number of feuds and short-lived wars between Estuary Fang clans between the s and escapes measurement.
Raiding parties from other villages struck over marriage palavers and access to trade. Besides the constant battles between male clan leaders, French authority abetted the spread of violence. From the s until World War I state attempts to extract labor and taxes incited revolts. Guards often burned villages and molested village women in similar fashion to French colonial military operations elsewhere in Gabon. Although some women may willingly have left husbands with raiders to skip complicated bridewealth exchanges and the opposition of family members, others were taken by force.
The consequence [is] a great scarcity of food. In Foulabifong, where I resided, a woman palaver lasted over 10 months and the three adjoining towns were in a state of famine. During these feuds, many women are shot while walking the path. Armed men guarded women going to market. It is little wonder that villagers encountered adversity in their attempts to sell in Libreville. Mpongwe people had successfully made bonds with Fang groups, but internal disputes over gender and status along with opposition from the colonial government impeded farming.
West African workers and Vietnamese convicts provided new sources of labor as well as new foods. West African and Vietnamese Contributions to Libreville Cuisine Besides the arrival of Fang clans in the Gabon Estuary, another amendment to town life came with French expansion in the s. From to Libreville was the headquarters of the French empire in Central Africa. The colonial administration did spare the town one ill that came with the new colonial program; the concessionary companies that so brutally exploited much of the Gabonese countryside did not receive any territory in the Gabon Estuary region.
The new colonial order drew artisans, clerks, soldiers, and other skilled workers along with prisoners to Gabon. The government engineered a tragic migration of foreigners into Libreville. French Congo administrators won over the governor of Cochin-China to their plan. By only six remained in Gabon as the rest had died or returned home. Other state policies unrelated to food supply also affected African diets, especially the recruitment of foreign African labor.
The colonial government and private traders encouraged skilled male workers from West Africa to work in Libreville. Each group developed its specialties. Vili from Loango often worked as tailors or domestic servants; Senegalese men took jobs as carpenters and masons. Most skilled workers arrived without slaves, wives, or relatives and generally relied on others to produce and cook food for them. Their work schedules and their lack of land rights precluded agricultural labor. One Mende trader from Sierra Leone grew rice outside the town. By her industry, by her title of foreigner, by her knowledge, Miss Kate found between the black and white world a good situation.
Not surprisingly, urban newcomers, food supply, and colonial state 59 residents guarded their prerogatives as consumers to trade freely for foodstuffs without restrictions or obstacles from the colonial government. Libreville townspeople used creative methods to challenge state impositions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that succeeded in limiting the authority of administrators. Neither whites nor blacks have any security.
One is robbed with impunity. The natives are forced to work for various companies and food is robbed all along the beach. Missionaries and administrators recognized the willingness and skill townspeople often showed in challenging legal restrictions to their right to purchase food and control land. They obtained land titles, demanded reimbursement when runaway cattle from visiting ships damaged their crops, and received state money for land taken from them for Vietnamese cultivation.
The most dramatic rebuff to state controls came in In April the colonial administration in French Congo decided to place a high surcharge on a variety of imported goods, such as salt, alcohol, and tobacco. European traders tripled their prices on these goods immediately afterward. Imported alcohol played a major role in daily social life, marriage, and funeral rituals as well as being a means of exchange, particularly with Fang villagers. This item, still greatly feared among the Mpongwe community to this day, remains shrouded in mystery, and my informants had little to divulge on this topic.
Several informants warned me of its secrecy and danger. Baron Edouard de Mandat-Grancey, an aristocratic dandy who visited Libreville several days after the end of the boycott, mocked the event as grist for an opera buff. Infuriated by the Mpongwe chiefs since the mission could no longer feed its students, the priests at Sainte Marie closed the doors of the schools.
On May 14 several chiefs went to the mission to discuss the boycott with Bishop Adam of Libreville. The bishop declared that henceforth only Fang children would be admitted into the Catholic mission. By cutting off students from school, Adam offered a threat to their social advancement. They also reveal a concern among some Mpongwe men regarding the unwillingness of Mpongwe women to follow older gender conventions. Fang villagers from the Estuary found themselves at the mercy of urban consumers.
Mpongwe clan chiefs had discovered a way of augmenting their greatly diminished political power. Furthermore, the boycott served as a means of voicing different African and European concerns over Mpongwe women. Between and Mpongwe people recast changes in everyday life in their favor even with the arrival of new settlers and new colonial political institutions.
Through their command of local idioms of supernatural power and European bureaucracy, Libreville residents protected their rights as consumers against colonial impositions. While their numbers might have diminished and their independence had been severely curtailed, townspeople managed to guard their privileged position as consumers. While the political autonomy of townspeople may have diminished and events altered the ways townspeople obtained and consumed food, Libreville residents demonstrated their ability to adjust to new conditions.
Rather than increase their involvement with agricultural work, free people engaged in wage labor and made bargains with Fang villagers that ensured they could continue to consume food without giving up access to wage labor. Like other Libreville residents, European commandants and missionaries struggled to develop stable supplies of food. Besides the shortcomings of slave agriculture, these foreigners struck other obstacles: poor funding, occasional rows with Libreville residents, and the leopard man murders of the s.
Fang newcomers, food supply, and colonial state 63 migration bailed out European employers just as it did Mpongwe townspeople—they were saved from having to engage in food production themselves. For the French colonial government, the willingness of Fang vendors to risk attack by bringing food to market also liberated them from seriously encouraging agriculture. Just as townspeople and foreigners negotiated with Fang migrants to ensure their ability to buy meals, Libreville residents shaped the impact of colonial policies on their lives.
The boycott demonstrates the skill of some local people in recasting state laws viewed as unduly intrusive on daily life. Africans in Libreville succeeded in guarding their autonomy and asserting their demands on food supply. However, such consumption habits would put Libreville residents at dire risk if Fang villages faced oblivion, as the events from to would prove.
Famine in the Gabon Estuary, — Gabonese rural dwellers and townspeople alike became enmeshed in the global catastrophe of World War I. Besides the toll of combat, the population of the Gabon Estuary grappled with other losses in the wake of war: the collapse of international trade, the need for raw materials and manpower to support French needs in Europe, and the rarity of foreign supplies in the colony. Neither the pretensions of Mpongwe autonomy nor the freedom of Fang clan settlements survived intact during the war. The following decade signaled the explosion of the timber industry in the Estuary.
European capital and industry triumphed. Their heightened power over Africans proved instrumental in creating a famine in the gabon estuary 65 famine, much as French efforts to promote obligatory agricultural projects in West African colonies weighed heavy on rural people. The war also inspired new social and political movements in the Estuary. Fang clan leaders could no longer take up arms against state forces with any hope of victory.
The s put Libreville intelligentsia in better communication with leftists in France. The League of the Rights of Man lrm became a vehicle for townspeople to deliver their calls for reform. Food supply and distribution were two issues that united town and country in indignation against the colonial state. In comparison to the astounding toll that other catastrophic famines left in the twentieth century, the food crises of the Gabon Estuary between and are but a few drops in a deluge of catastrophes.
Food shortages in the Soviet Ukraine and Communist China killed millions, and many thousands died from the famines that struck the West African Sahel in the s and Ethiopia and Darfur in the following decade. Accurate estimates are impossible, but even if in terms of sheer numbers starvation in the Estuary did not reach the level of death in more widespread famines in other parts of the world, this certainly does not provide comfort to the Gabonese who survived this tragedy, nor does it excuse the appalling lack of concern for African lives shown by administrators and private companies.
The dearth that urban and rural people faced around Libreville came from radical economic changes combined with heavy rains and droughts that undermined food production and limited access to sustenance. Similar tragedies ensued in other parts of Gabon during the same period. The ability of townspeople to demand aid and change regarding food distribution illustrates the growing disparity between rural communities and Libreville. Urban people negotiated with the state for food supply; many timber camp workers and farmers simply died from hunger. Poverty had fundamentally changed from a shortage of food to a lack of access to labor, government aid, and money in the Estuary.
Though the Germans were driven out of northern Gabon by early , the war effort disrupted Fang settlements in the Estuary. First, the forcible recruitment of soldiers and porters for the French army took many men out of their villages. In early more than three thousand African troops who had fought in the German famine in the gabon estuary 67 colony arrived in town.
By July many Europeans and African residents of Libreville complained about the exorbitant amounts demanded by Fang suppliers. Fang farmers tried to sell food in Libreville, but obstacles stood in their way. African guards extorted payments from farmers before permitting them to continue toward the capital.
Their inability to farm left them unable to pay the annual head tax. People moved to Libreville rather than waste their time planting crops that would only be destroyed by pachyderms. A blight struck manioc plants in the Estuary. Instead the governor argued that European-style agriculture could triple manioc production and solve the crisis. Africans had other ideas. Libreville townspeople worked through numerous channels to undermine state food distribution policies based on force.
Martrou had even more reason to be dour as the war drew to a close. The year marked a nadir in the decline of local food production. The effects of limited exports, onerous demands on the local population, and the near-disappearance of imports brought the food supply system to an all-time low. Supplies of imported goods continued to dwindle while prices rose. By May no local foods reached the Libreville market. By late some Africans in the town had decided to take matters into their own hands.
Mpongwe clan chiefs and a rising group of educated intellectuals attempted to lower food prices. Their disparate protests included refusing to buy from English stores and writing telegrams to French human rights organizations. The Libreville Boycott of The boycott of January reveals a host of divisions within African communities in Libreville regarding food scarcity. The protest pitted Mpongwe townspeople against visiting Fang villagers and European traders. In turn, administrators at different rungs of the colonial hierarchy did not agree on solutions to the crisis.
Traditions of political power forged in the cauldron of Atlantic slavery could still be put to use against the dictates of French authorities.
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They could work side by side with European models of lobbying. Two years of famine had burdened the inhabitants of Libreville by the end of During the course of the war clan chiefs and mission-educated townspeople had already protested against high taxes and called for the establishment of a Mpongwe monarchy and the expulsion of foreign Africans. They took the successful boycott as their model. British traders, apparently unimpressed by the warnings, augmented prices for soap, cloth, and other commonly purchased merchandise. As a result all the blacks whether they are Libreville residents or the Pahouins who live in Libreville.
Fang farmers arriving in Libreville refused to disobey the Mpongwe chiefs. A British tourist found his Sierra Leone domestic servants unwilling to enter any stores without his presence. Though Guibet could not openly support the protesters, he concurred with their sentiments. The markets and the trading houses remained bereft of customers for three weeks.
On 28 January they met to discuss the effects of the protest. Morris won out. Fang residents of Libreville may also have weakened the resolve of the protestors. The movement did embarrass the administration to the point that Guibet was immediately transferred to Chad. Former Libreville administrator Charles Bobichon wrote to a friend that Guibet had received no support from Governor Marchand in the affair.
The incident also reveals much about the strategies of Libreville men in the early twentieth century. Idioms of power, linked directly to the heritage of slavery, continued to function in Libreville. The telegrams to French human rights organizations and the invocation of supernatural forces involved carefully crafted appeals to local and international audiences. Gabonese protesters had mastered the rhetoric of human rights, a staple of French republicanism at home, to pressure the colonial administration.
The role of Ndongo may suggest how Estuary Fang chiefs might have begun to take an active role in shaping Libreville affairs. Struggles over access to and supply of food among Mpongwe townspeople, Fang villagers, and the colonial administration would continue throughout most of the s. In most of these battles, townspeople won out. The Famine of — Another round of shortages ravaged Libreville in late and early The causes include a refrain of problems all too familiar in the Estuary: poor environmental conditions, harsh government policies, and competition over limited resources.
Several new elements entered the picture as well. The slow prewar growth of the timber industry accelerated dramatically after Such plans did not always impede protests. For example, some Fang villagers displeased with the lowering of sardine prices boycotted European consumers in February The town could not compete with African agents hired by the Consortium to purchase food for their workers.
Nothing comes, no manioc or bananas from the Como. The government closed down markets in Glass and in the outlying Fang village of Sibang to ensure that more food would come to the central market. The closing of the Sibang market was extremely inconvenient for them. When the market closed, their plantains spoiled as it took several days to unload a canoe and bring its contents to market.
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The Fang do not dare bring [food] directly for fear the Administration will take everything going to the market. From early 74 famine in the gabon estuary November through January African policemen found the corpses of famine victims strewn about in abandoned trading houses and huts around the city. Through this order the governor tried to control competition between timber camps and city residents.
Marchand also threatened to cut off labor recruitment to timber camps that did not grow food. The governor-general accepted these orders initially as emergency measures. As usual, African townspeople had no representatives in attendance. They called for strict controls over village food production. Administrator Moesch, head of Libreville and the Estuary in late , received the full support of Governor Marchand and his successor Cadier.
Africans and missionaries objected to the policy on the grounds that the administration had taken control over food supply. Just as in the boycott, educated townspeople again battled state authorities through political lobbying to protect their endangered lifestyle and diets. African Protests and Colonial Food Supply Policy Mpongwe intellectuals again pulled together to protest state policies on food, and this time townswomen took to the forefront of protests as well. Moesch ordered African policemen to disperse the crowd and imprisoned several women for several weeks.
The prisoners have right to food and we believe. Not all townspeople supported the women; gender tensions around female autonomy and agriculture made their presence felt. An anonymous group of women wrote to the governor-general requesting the liberation of the jailed women. They complained about the imprisonment of African women, restrictions on food purchase in Libreville, and the lenient treatment of several Europeans accused of killing Africans in the Estuary.
After receiving the letters the minister of colonies in Paris ordered an inquiry. Moesch and newly installed governor Cadier, asked to explain the protests, replied that the women warranted reprimand. Governor-General of French Equatorial Africa Antonetti, after an investigation, annulled the order of 10 December and criticized 76 famine in the gabon estuary the treatment of the protesters.
Perhaps emboldened by their victory, the lrm also acted to defend the interests of other Libreville and Estuary residents by again raising questions of human rights and republican ideals. Another protest, mounted on behalf of Mpongwe trader Charles Mouheha, sheds light on food supply to Libreville. Not allowed to trade in food, Mouheha turned to the lrm for aid. Although the end result of this protest is unknown, African townspeople again moved around colonial bureaucratic channels to protect free trade.
Other Africans used letters to challenge state policies or European planters. However, their letters generally concerned individual cases rather than general attacks on colonial food regulation. Some residents of Obello, a small Fang town on the south bank of the Estuary, received orders from administrator Charbonnier to move to the larger town of Mavoul in late If it is like that, our village will come to Libreville to work for the whites. Although they eventually backed off, the ringleaders of the protest demonstrated the effectiveness of the lrm in presenting food supply as a human rights issue.
Writing formed one strategy employed by townspeople. Just as their determination brought about the end of harsh controls over food sales by the state, their activities would continue to disrupt the small world of Gabonese politics throughout the decade of the s. While rural people began to have their voices heard, urban residents continued to dominate negotiations of food supply. Riot, Recovery, and Rain, — After the governor-general ended tight controls, more food came into Libreville on a regular basis.
Manioc and bananas began to reappear at markets. First, European and African camp owners still paid better prices than could be had in the Libreville market. Heavy rains in the summer and fall of washed away complacency. We had as much rain in these months as in May. From this, our gardens produced nothing. Beware of the famine next year! One wonders if the end of the world has not come! Food vanished from both the city and the timber camps by June. Much like Estuary farmers without state connections, timber camp workers died thanks to their inability to obtain food from their employers.
Governor Bernard, in a report sent to the governor-general in December, attacked his Gabonese subjects.
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The head of the lrm in France sent a telegram to the governor-general criticizing Pechayrand. The Gabonese administration had a terrible reputation in high colonial circles. The position of governor had changed hands eleven times between and In the summer of administrator Tastevin—the very same so despised by missionaries—took the place of the unlamented Pechayrand.
No major famines struck the Estuary region after , but periodic food shortages caused adversity in town. Native foods are 80 famine in the gabon estuary still rare and remain at a high price especially where timber commerce is intense. However, the undertaking of our work has become just about normal. Owners and managers agreed to allow the families of workers to live at the camps to grow food and also handed out more imports.
After townspeople stopped voicing complaints on food supply and softened their public disagreement with the administration. Few Fang could write, and even those who did had little ability to refuse the commands of state authorities. Population movement, the establishment of canton and village chiefdoms that reigned over people without regard for clan, and a sense of impotence appear time and again in oral interviews I conducted with older Fang Estuary residents in and Few of the survivors of the s famines still lived, and their children recalled a reluctance of older people to tell them about those days of adversity.
Though many of my informants famine in the gabon estuary 81 had heard of the calamity, I heard only a few detailed oral accounts of the famine either in Libreville or elsewhere in the Estuary. A central theme in stories of the famine was the disintegration of mutual obligations. Roughly twenty years after the horrors of the great famine era had come to an end, an older relative spoke with a young man named Ndoutoume Nkobe Justin about the hardships of the past. You look out only for yourself. Another man recalled a story told to him by his stepfather.
During the famine, the stepfather had visited some relatives searching for food and passed through villages where rotten corpses lay strewn about. No one was left to bury the dead. In the topsy-turvy world of the famine, the power of elders was undone and family members neglected to support one another. Fang communities take great pride in holding elaborate funeral and mourning ceremonies, but starvation victims passed away without any fanfare.
Households had to surrender food to soldiers. Forced labor details that could last up to several months awaited those who could not pay taxes in money. Some men starved to death after their travail ended. Guards, often from other parts of Gabon or from other French colonies, enforced the commands of administrators. Fang men told stories of how these soldiers violated gender and generation conventions with impunity —ordering younger brothers to hit their elders or even raping Fang women with their husbands bound underneath their beds.
It is little wonder that new religious traditions like bwiti made headway during these decades of disappointment. Though most rural people were in a pitiable condition, a few individuals favored by the colonial administration enhanced their power. At the tail end of the famine in mid, Tastevin accused Fang canton chiefs Abogho Nze and Eyeghe Ndong of corruption and abuses of power. Thus higher ranking members of the colonial administration recognized that their food supply demands required aid from African intermediaries.
The instability of the era seems to have constrained the ability of Fang women to follow successfully the example of female market entrepreneurs elsewhere. Presently there is no transportation to the eBook shop. The particular books in a eBook shop can be downloaded quickly, sometimes for free, at times for a fee. Not merely that, the online variation of books are generally much cheaper, because publication houses save on their print plus paper machinery, the advantages of which are transferred to customers. Further, the particular reach of the e book shop is immense, allowing a person living in Australia to source out to a publication house in Chicago.
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The period — is well covered by a large range of official and missionary sources from Gabon, France, and the United States, complemented by a few interviews collected in Libreville. Throughout the seven chapters of the book there is a strong emphasis on food shortage and the constant difficulties faced by colonial officials in supplying foodstuffs for Libreville. The neglect of the Gabon hinterland by colonial administrators came long before the oil boom in the country.
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Colonial administration never or very poorly supported farmers and preferred to rely on imported French food. Chapter 4 on famine in the Gabon Estuary between and is particularly illuminating on this point. Food shortages resulted from a combination of climatic changes, consequences of the First World War, heavy impositions by the government on local labor, and the arrival in the s of timber companies along with their own significant food demands. Rich suggests that probably a quarter of the population disappeared.
Interestingly, townspeople reacted vigorously to such a desperate situation by boycotting shops as a means of lowering prices or by petitioning—often successfully—French deputies in order to demand the replacement of unpopular local administrators. Changing food consumption is another central issue of the book.