The Rev. Robert Nassau, who first landed in West Africa in 1861, spent the following 30+ years in this region, as a religious official and graduate of Princeton University. And while there is much to be criticized in these early years of missionary service in Africa, there is also a great deal of knowledge and perspective towards local people that can be considered.
For example, the growth of ethnographic theory and fieldwork techniques, which took place during the same period, borrowed heavily from the work of missionaries: the importance of learning local languages and viewing indigenous perspectives from local points of view, are two key methodologies adopted in ethnographic fieldwork – though, reduced from several decades in the 19th century to about 12 months today.
Regarding changes over the years between 1890 and 1900, Rev. Nassau is highly critical of European powers and associated merchants, while also assuming that indigenous Africans would, ultimately, ‘progress’ from native to Christian:
… in the ten years that have since passed, a stranger would find some of them [general features of tribal groups] are no longer exact. Foreign authority has removed or changed or sapped the foundations of many native customs and regulations, while it has not fully brought in the civilization of Christianity.
The Rev. Nassau had few kind words regarding the activities of colonials in the regions of West Africa in which he worked and traveled:
The result in some places, in this period of transition, has been almost anarchy, — making a despotism, as under Belgian misrule in the so-called Kongo ” Free ” State ; or commercial ruin, as under French monopoly in their Kongo-Francais ; and general confusion, under German hands, due to the arbitrary acts of local [European] officials and their brutal black soldiery…
I read many books on other parts of Africa, in which the same customs and religion prevailed. I did not think it reasonable to dismiss curtly as absurd the cherished sentiments of so large a portion of the human race. I asked myself : Is there no logical ground for the existence of these sentiments, no philosophy behind all these beliefs ?
1 began to search; and thenceforward for thirty years, wherever I travelled, wherever I was guest to native chief, wherever I lived, I was always leading the conversation, in hut or camp, back to a study of the native thought [my underlining].
Source – Fetichism in West Africa; Forty Years’ Observation of Native Customs and Superstitions, by the Rev. Robert Hamill Nassau, M.D., S.T.D. for Forty Years a Missionary in the Gabun District of Kongo-Francaise. University Press, Cambridge, U.S.A. 1904
Below are links related to some of the findings of the Rev. Nassau that are related to cuisine: