King or Knave?: Félix Adende Rapontchombo and Political Survival in the Gabon Estuary


  • Jeremy Rich


In the late nineteenth century, the town of Libreville on the Gabon Estuary went through numerous changes as it moved from a marginal French naval base to become the capital of the rapidly expanding colony of French Congo.  European officials, through a combination of force and gifts, had managed to obtain control over the Gabon Estuary from Mpongwe clan chiefs in the 1840s. [2]  The French administration did relatively little to assert their authority before 1875. However, those clan chiefs who had enriched themselves as middlemen between African interior trade networks and Europeans purchasing slaves and ivory, lost both their monopoly over trade and control over their dependents.  As increasing numbers of Africans from other regions including migrating Fang clans from Northern Gabon settled in the area, the small collection of Mpongwe clans found themselves at odds with new rivals and an increasingly forceful colonial regime by the 1870s.