Hubert Freddy Ndong Mbeng is bom in 1971 in Gabon. Lift school in his fast year. "Les Matitis de Libreville" will be his first writing published in 1993 (Editions Sépia, France).
The 'Matitis' in Libreville are the informal popular suburbs of the capital.
Standing in the 'Matitis'
[published in RN 05 in June 1992, unpublished original text written in French translated by Victoria C. Koppel]
What is a matiti ? Normally you’d say a matiti is a family neighborhood. But if you want to be more exact, you’d say matitis were poor neighborhoods, low-class neighborhoods or once in a while you’d venture to call them “underworlds”.
Where are the matitis ? But it would be better to ask how to find a matiti in Libreville ? You stop on a residential street, brush past the first row of houses along the road and there’s the matiti, the deeper you go behind these houses along the road, the more it appears in its eternal costume, a vegetation of houses growing in all directions everywhere.
You stop on a residential street, you brush past the houses on along the road and there’s the matiti, in its eternal costume, appearing as you go deeper. A matiti appears, all the matitis appear : ALIBADENG, ATSI BE NTSOT, BOULBES, BELLE-VUE, CAMP DE BOY, ALIAS CDB, COCOTIERS, DERRIERE L’ECOLE NORMALE, DERRIERE L’ETAT MAJOR DE LA MARINE NATIONALE, GARE ROUTIERE, KINGUELE, LES ETATS-UNIS D’AKEBE, LIKOUALA, MOUSSAKA, NKEMBO, NDZENG-AYONG, PK5, PK6, PK7 ETC, PLAINE ORETY, PLEINE NIGER, RIO, SOTEGA, VENEZ VOIR and lots more, in fact.
Suddenly, you find yourself standing in a matiti. And of course, how did you get there ? You stopped on a residential street, you brushed past the first row of houses along the road. Standing in a matiti or better yet standing in a big city village. And suddenly you dare to move your feet, to circulate with the help of innumerable paths that wind their way in and out of here. And here, you start surveying, all around, old jugs, bags, tin cans empty of course, old shoes, car tires, broken radios, fans, freezers and T.V. sets. You take it in and take it all in the garbage lurking around houses even if there’s a mountain of garbage out back. But the path, it keeps going because in matitis there are no walls to divide the yards.
Then suddenly you meet three people, one has a Singer sewing machine on his head, one has an old sack containing all the tools of a good shoemaker, and the third has a board with a little sharpening machine painfully attached to it. These three people are Fix-fixes. A profession invented and exclusively reserved for Ghanian “brothers” who’ve come “to make a new life” in Libreville. And they make lots of money, especially Saturdays.
The Fix-fixes, walking tailors shoemakers and sharpeners who also move around the matitis with the help of innumerable paths they’ve learned and now know by heart because they’re here every day including Sunday. And waiting for someone who’ll yell :
- Hey man !!!
The Fix-fixes behind you, the path keeps on going. You pass a wrecked car not bothering to wonder how it could get all the way here from the road. Something grabs your eye on an old wooden house. It’s the little piece of paper that’s stuck up there with writing in bold letters saying “ROOM IN HOUSE TO RENT”, FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE PRINCE. Right next to this notice, another one. But on this one is written : VERY IMPORTANTE NOTICE. TO THE ATTENTION OF MILITANTS FOR THE RNB, THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF WOODCUTTERS. YOU ARE REMINDED THAT A SPECIAL SESSION WILL BE HELD TODAY IN THE USUAL PLACE. EVERYONE’S PRESENCE IS STRONGLY DESIRED. SIGNED : THE PRESIDENT OF THE CHAPTER. You leave behind the old wooden house with the two notices stuck up, then you walk over two planks which make a bridge where there’s often a toll. You take in a mountain, you pass two pubs face to face, then you land at the Malian’s. The time to mark a pause, catch your breath and especially to see how the people in the matitis file in and out of the Malian’s, the Maloche he’s called in matiti slang.
In matitis, the Malian is a profession invented and reserved exclusively not just for Malian “brothers”, but also for “brothers” from Burkina Faso, Guinea, Senegal, and Chad. They’ve all come “to make a new life” in Libreville. And the Malian is practically a noble profession, turning many of them into millionaires.
The Malian is a shopkeeper who stocks up in department stores in the city and retails at a profit in the matitis. People in the matitis go to him for half a loaf of bread butter chocolate or pâté ; a quart of oil ; a pound of chicken and turkey wings, half a pound of oxtail ; little bag of rice ; tins of mackerel and sardines ; bag of coffee ; piece of soap for the dishes, the laundry and the bath ; 'Chupa Chupa' candy and 'Bang Bang'chocolate ; ice cream ; small coco ; small 'Fanta' and small 'Orangina' but never alcohol because Omar Cissé, Touré, Lamine and the others are Muslims. Another thing you can find at the Malian’s is “Fo Kok Gue” the 25 Fr.CFA medicine that cures everything in the matitis. With the Malian there are two ways to pay, the “pay as you go” or, exclusively for those who’ve gained his confidence, the “good for” payable at the end of the month. In the latter case you have a tab at the Malian and every time you take a half loaf of bread, five sugar cubes for your dinner, you just say “Put it on my tab !”
From the neighborhood Malian, the path keeps on going because in matitis there are no walls or fences to divide the yards. You pass a lot covered in tall grass with a sign stuck in the middle saying “THIS LAND BELONGS TO MOUSSAVOU BENJAMIN ALL UNAUTHORIZED BUILDING FORBIDDEN”. And another one, but this time stuck on the side of an unpainted house. It’s a shame in the matitis that owners of real houses see no use in painting them. So all the houses are not only unpainted but also not roughcast.
On a sign stuck on the wall of a real house without paint and without roughcast, is written “AFRICAN BRAIDS EVERY DAY AT LOLA’S”. You go by a pub you pass another Malian you take it in then you land in the little market.
Salesgirl in the little market is about the only thing left for all the Gabonese women who couldn’t be secretaries. In the matitis the little market gives people back their purely rural eating habits. You see displayed on the tables in front of salesgirls, who are not only Gabonese, because the sisters who’ve come “to make a new life” in Gabon fit in here too. So, you see carefully displayed on the salesgirls’ tables, bananas, cassava, palm nuts, pimento, chocolate, eggplant, tuber root, cassava leaves, corn, peanuts and lots of other stuff. The salesgirls in the little markets in most cases go to the big market in Mont Bouët to stock up, and then retail at a profit here in the little market.
You leave the little market behind and take up the path which keeps on going 'til you get to a brickyard, most of which belong to “brothers” who’ve come “to make a new life” in Gabon but prefer to hire the dynamic “very very brothers” from Equatorial Guinea, who’ve also come “to make a new life”.
Right across from the Moussa Brothers’ brickyard, the Malians, there’s a 'Cut-Cut'. More than ever the “Brothers” who’ve crossed the forest and the plain know how “to make a new life” in the matitis. After the “Man Fix-fixes”, the Malians, the Cut-Cut what you’d call someone who has a Cut-Cut is someone who braises meat in a kind of oven in a big open fire. Braised meat that he sells in tiny little pieces. That’s how he earned the name Cut-Cut. The Cut-Cut might start working at dawn and go into the night. And these cut-cuts you get them for as little as 100 Fr.CFA, which could also be about ten cut-cuts at 10 Fr.CFA apiece. Especially for the breakfast, the lunch or even the dinner of a matiti man.
You leave behind the cut-cut and take up the path which, of course, keeps on going, a notice is stuck on the wall of a typical “old board on bottom, rusted iron on top” house : THE ORGANIZATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC OPPOSITION, THE COD INFORMS ACTIVISTS AND SYMPATHIZERS OF ALL POLITICAL PARTIES THAT A VERY IMPORTANT MEETING WILL BE HELD THIS VERY DAY IN THE BIG STADIUM, EVERYONE’S PRESENCE IS STRONGLY DESIRED, ANY TIME AFTER 4 PM. After the typical “old board on bottom, rusted iron on top” house you now get to the neighborhood Bedoumerie.
A Bedoumerie, someone else would say “at mama-cakes’ house”. The profession of bedoumerian concerns once again the people who crossed forest and plain coming “to make a new life” in Gabon. Here, you find the women, the bedoumerians are Malian or Senegalese but mostly Beninese and Togolese. At the Bedoumerie, the people in the matiti buy their bedoume, cake-like things sold for 25 Fr.CFA, banana flour cakes for 10 Fr.CFA. Everything at the local Bedoumerie is sun-up to sun-down. In the evening, especially, it’s not unusual to see the bedoumierian frying little pieces of fish, for sale of course.
The bedoumerian left behind, the path keeps on going because in matitis there are no fences or walls to mark off the yards. The path keeps going and right here someone announces you’re in another matiti now. Yet it’s the same path you took from the start, among so many others, and it keeps going. And you take in and take in more garbage lying around even if behind the houses people in matitis have holy like in the village garbage zones. The same path that keeps on going because in matitis there are no walls or fences to mark off the yards and on which you meet Fix-fixes in the middle of working, which passes in front of a house where there are political posters for activists and signs put up by shanty owners looking to rent a room or their whole house, the path that keeps going and lands you at the Malian, passes in front of a pub, surveys a mountain, goes over the planks which serve as pay bridge, leads to the little market, the brickyard, the Cut-cut, the Bedoumerie, the path that keeps going and where after all that someone says you’re in another matiti, the same path keeps on going...
Hubert Freddy Ndong Mbeng