Bantu peoples

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Bantu zones.png
Approximate distribution of Bantu peoples divided into zones according to the Guthrie classification of Bantu languages
Total population
over 350 million [1][2][3][improper synthesis?]
Regions with significant populations
Central Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa
Bantu languages (over 500)
predominantly Christianity, African Traditional Religion; minority Islam on southeast coast
Related ethnic groups
Other Niger-Congo-speaking peoples
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Bantu zones.png
Approximate distribution of Bantu peoples divided into zones according to the Guthrie classification of Bantu languages
Total population
over 350 million [1][2][3][improper synthesis?]
Regions with significant populations
Central Africa, Southern Africa, East Africa
Bantu languages (over 500)
predominantly Christianity, African Traditional Religion; minority Islam on southeast coast
Related ethnic groups
Other Niger-Congo-speaking peoples

Bantu peoples is used as a general label for the 300–600 ethnically and linguistically related ethnic groups in Africa [4][5] who speak Bantu languages.[6] They today inhabit a geographical area in Sub-Equatorial Africa (also sometimes referred to as Bantu Africa) stretching east and southward from Central Africa across the African Great Lakes region to East Africa and down to Southern Africa.[6] Bantu is itself a major branch of the Niger-Congo language family spoken by most populations in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are about 650 Bantu languages by the criterion of mutual intelligibility,[7] though the distinction between language and dialect is often unclear, and Ethnologue counts 535 languages.[8]

Between 2500–3000 years ago, speakers of the original proto-Bantu language group began a millennia-long series of migrations eastward from their original homeland in West Africa at the border of eastern Nigeria and Cameroon.[9] This Bantu expansion first introduced Bantu peoples to central, southern and southeastern Africa, regions where they had previously been absent from. The proto-Bantu migrants in the process assimilated and/or displaced a number of earlier inhabitants that they came across, including Khoisan populations in the south and Afro-Asiatic groups in the southeast.[10][11]

Individual Bantu groups today often include millions of people. Among these are as the Luba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with over 13.5 million people; the Zulu of South Africa, with over 10 million people; and the Kikuyu of Kenya, with over 6 million people. Although only around five million individuals speak the Bantu Swahili language as their mother tongue,[12] it is used as a lingua franca by over 140 million people throughout Southeast Africa.[13] Swahili also serves as one of the official languages of the African Union.

The word Bantu, and its variations, means "people" or "humans". Versions of this word occur in all Bantu languages; for example, as watu in Swahili; batu in Lingala; bato in Duala; abanto in Gusii; andũ in Kikuyu; abantu in Zulu, Runyakitara,[14] and Ganda; Vanhu in Shona; batho in Sesotho;and Vandu in some Luhya dialects.

Origins and expansion[edit]

Current scholarly understanding places the ancestral proto-Bantu homeland near the southwestern modern boundary of Nigeria and Cameroon ca. 4,000 years ago (2000 B.C.), and regards the Bantu languages as a branch of the Niger–Congo language family.[15] This view represents a resolution of debates in the 1960s over competing theories advanced by Joseph Greenberg and Malcolm Guthrie, in favor of refinements of Greenberg's theory. Based on wide comparisons including non-Bantu languages, Greenberg argued that Proto-Bantu, the hypothetical ancestor of the Bantu languages, had strong ancestral affinities with a group of languages spoken in Southeastern Nigeria. He proposed that Bantu languages had spread east and south from there, to secondary centers of further dispersion, over hundreds of years.

A Kikuyu woman in Kenya in a traditional regalia

Using a different comparative method focused more exclusively on relationships among Bantu languages, Guthrie argued for a single central African dispersal point spreading at a roughly equal rate in all directions. Subsequent research on loanwords for adaptations in agriculture and animal husbandry and on the wider Niger–Congo language family rendered that thesis untenable. In the 1990s Jan Vansina proposed a modification of Greenberg's ideas, in which dispersions from secondary and tertiary centers resembled Guthrie's central node idea, but from a number of regional centers rather than just one, creating linguistic clusters.[16]

1 = 2000–1500 BC origin
2 = ca.1500 BC first migrations
     2.a = Eastern Bantu,   2.b = Western Bantu
3 = 1000–500 BC Urewe nucleus of Eastern Bantu
47 = southward advance
9 = 500 BC–0 Congo nucleus
10 = 0–1000 AD last phase[17][18][19]

It is unclear exactly when the spread of Bantu people began from their core area as hypothesized ca. 5,000 years ago. By 3,500 years ago (1500 B.C.) in the west, Bantu communities had reached the great Central African rain forest, and by 2,500 years ago (500 B.C.) pioneering groups had emerged into the savannahs to the south, in what are now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Zambia. Another stream of migration, moving east, by 3,000 years ago (1000 B.C.) was creating a major new population center near the Great Lakes of Southeast Africa, where a rich environment supported a dense population. Movements by small groups to the southeast from the Great Lakes region were more rapid, with initial settlements widely dispersed near the coast and near rivers, due to comparatively harsh farming conditions in areas farther from water. Pioneering groups had reached modern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa by A.D. 300 along the coast, and the modern Northern Province (encompassed within the former province of the Transvaal) by A.D. 500.[20]

A Makua mother and child. The Makua are the largest Bantu group in Mozambique, a predominantly Bantu country.

Before the expansion of farming and herding peoples, including those speaking Bantu languages, Africa south of the equator was populated by neolithic hunting and foraging peoples. Some of them were ancestral to modern Central African forest peoples (so-called Pygmies) who now speak Bantu languages. Others were proto-Khoisan-speaking peoples, whose few modern hunter-forager and linguistic descendants today occupy the arid regions around the Kalahari desert. Many more Khoekhoe and San descendants have a Coloured identity in South Africa and Namibia, speaking Afrikaans and English. The small Hadza and Sandawe populations in Tanzania comprise the other modern hunter-forager remnant in Africa.

Early Iron Age findings in Southeast and Southern Africa

Over a period of many centuries, most hunting-foraging peoples were displaced and absorbed by incoming Bantu communities, as well as by Ubangian, Nilotic and Central Sudanic communities in northern Central and Southeast Africa. The Bantu expansion was a long series of physical migrations, a diffusion of language and knowledge out into and in from neighboring populations, and a creation of new societal groups involving inter-marriage among communities and small groups moving to communities and small groups moving to new areas.

After their movements from their original homeland in West Africa, Bantus also encountered in Southeast Africa peoples of Cushitic origin. As cattle terminology in use amongst the few modern Bantu pastoralist groups suggests, the Bantu migrants would acquire cattle from their new Cushitic neighbors. Linguistic evidence also indicates that Bantus likely borrowed the custom of milking cattle directly from Cushitic peoples in the area.[21] Later interactions between Bantu and Cushitic peoples resulted in Bantu groups with significant Cushitic admixture and culturo-linguistic influences, such as the Herero herdsmen of southern Africa.[22][23]

On the coastal section of Southeast Africa, another mixed Bantu community developed through contact with Muslim Arab and Persian traders, leading to the development of the mixed Arab, Persian and African Swahili City States.[24] The Swahili culture that emerged from these exchanges evinces many Arab and Islamic influences not seen in traditional Bantu culture, as do the many Afro-Arab members of the Bantu Swahili people. With its original speech community centered on the coastal parts of Tanzania (particularly Zanzibar) and Kenya—a seaboard referred to as the Swahili Coast—the Bantu Swahili language contains many Arabic loan-words as a consequence of these interactions.[25]

The earliest Bantu inhabitants of the Southeast coast of Kenya and Tanzania encountered by these later Arab and Persian settlers have been variously identified with the trading settlements of Rhapta, Azania and Menouthias [26] referenced in early Greek and Chinese writings from 50 CE to 500 CE,[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34] ultimately giving rise to the name for Tanzania.[35][36] These early writings perhaps document the first wave of Bantu settlers to reach Southeast Africa during their migration.[37]

Between the 14th and 15th centuries, Bantu states began to emerge in the Great Lakes region in the savannah south of the Central African rainforest. In Southern Africa on the Zambezi river, the Monomatapa kings built the famous Great Zimbabwe complex, the largest of over 200 such sites in Southern Africa, such as Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manyikeni in Mozambique.[38][39][40] From the 16th century onward, the processes of state formation amongst Bantu peoples increased in frequency. This was probably due to denser population (which led to more specialized divisions of labor, including military power, while making emigration more difficult); to increased interaction amongst Bantu communities with Chinese, European, Indonesian and Arab traders on the coasts; to technological developments in economic activity; and to new techniques in the political-spiritual ritualization of royalty as the source of national strength and health.[41] Some examples of such Bantu states include: in Central Africa, the Kongo Kingdom,[42] Lunda Empire,[43] and Luba Empire [44] of Angola, Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo; in the Great Lakes Region, the Buganda [45] and Karagwe [45] Kingdoms of Uganda and Tanzania; and in Southern Africa, the Mutapa Empire,[46] Rozwi Empire,[47] and the Danamombe, Khami and Naletale Kingdoms of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.[46]

Present demography[edit]

The Bantu family is divided into hundreds of individual groups comprising a population of over 350 million people (approximately half the population of Sub-Saharan Africa) predominating demographically, culturally, linguistically and politically in a contiguous zone throughout all of Sub-Equatorial Africa, [48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55] specifically all the nineteen nations of Central, Southeast and Southern Africa,[56] also sometimes referred to as Bantu Africa:[57][58][59][60] Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Swaziland.[61] In Kenya and Uganda there are also significant remaining ancestral Nilo-Saharan communities, as these countries were the final points of the Bantu migration, and this cultural diversity has often led to ethnic conflict over the years for political and cultural dominance.[62][63][64][65] Remaining ethno-cultural diversity following the Bantu migration is also arguably the trigger for much of the violence in the Great Lakes region, with pastoralist and historically most probably Nilo-Saharan communities such as the closely related Batutsi (Tutsi), Banyankole (Ankole), Bahima (Hima), Banyamulenge, Bahororo and Banyaruguru[66] (who likely only later adopted Bantu languages) in historical conflict over the struggle for political representation and land with the Bantu migrants in the region.[67][68][69][70][71][72][73]

The Islands of Africa also include some Bantu communities, including in the Indian Ocean states of Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius off the southeastern coast of Africa as well as São Tomé and Príncipe off the southwestern seaboard, however non-Bantu extraneous cultural elements predominate due to the migration of French, Portuguese, Arab, Indian and Southeast Asian settlers.[74][75] There are also a few remaining Bantu communities in southern Cameroon, the major original dispersal point of the Bantu migration, comprising approximately 27 percent of the population of the country.[76] The most notable of these communities include the Beti-Pahuin, Bulu (a subgroup of Beti-Pahuin), Fang (a subgroup of Beti-Pahuin), Maka and Njem.[76]

The Iraqw have traditionally been viewed as remnants of the Neolithic Afro-Asiatic peoples who introduced domesticated plants and animals to the southeastern Great Lakes region.[77] Most of these early northern migrants are believed to have been absorbed by later movements of Bantu and Nilotic peoples.[77]

Territories and regions[edit]

All of the nineteen Bantu countries are also (often overlapping) members of various regional organizations in Sub-Equatorial Africa. Among these are, most notably, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for the countries in Southern Africa,[78] the East African Community (EAC) for the countries in the Great Lakes Region,[2] and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) for the countries in Central Africa.[3] These regional organizations variously promote regional co-operation and economic, political and social integration amongst their members.

Countries and territoriesArea
(per km²)
Capital and/or Largest CityGDP (PPP) (Total)GDP per capita (PPP)CurrencyMembership in Major Regional OrganizationsMajor Ethnic Groups
 Democratic Republic of the Congo2,345,40975,507,30829.3Kinshasa$25.575 billion$368Congolese francSADC, ECCASLuba (18%), Mongo (17%), Kongo (12%)
 South Africa1,221,03752,981,99142.4Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial), Cape Town (legislative); Largest city: Johannesburg$595.700 billion$11,525South African RandSADCZulu (23.8%), Xhosa (17.6%)
 Tanzania945,20344,927,92347.5Dodoma; Largest city: Dar es Salaam$73.859 billion$1,566Tanzanian ShillingSADC, EACSukuma (16%), Nyamwezi (4%)
 Kenya581,30944,037,65667.2Nairobi$77.14 billion$1,802Kenyan ShillingEACKikuyu (22%), Luhya (14%)
 Uganda236,04035,873,252137.1Kampala$50.439 billion$1,414Ugandan ShillingEACBaganda (16.9%), Banyankole (9.5%)
 Mozambique801,59023,929,70828.7Maputo$26.257 billion$1,169Mozambican MeticalSADCMakua (26.1%), Shangana (11.3%)
 Angola1,246,70018,498,00014.8Luanda$128.288 billion$6,346KwanzaSADC, ECCASOvimbundu (36%), Ambundu (25%), Kongo (13%)
 Malawi118,48416,407,000128.8Lilongwe$14.265 billion$857KwachaSADCChewa (32.6%), Lomwe (17.6%), Yao (13.5%)
 Zambia752,61814,309,46617.2Lusaka$23.967 billion$1,721Zambian KwachaSADCBemba (21.5%), Tonga (11.3%)
 Zimbabwe390,75712,973,80826.0Harare$7.731 billion$589VariousSADCShona (82%), Ndebele (14%)
 Rwanda26,33812,012,589419.8Kigali$16.937 billion$1,592Rwandan FrancEACHutu (84%), Tutsi (15%)
 Burundi27,83410,888,321391.2Bujumbura$5.488 billion$625Burundian FrancEAC, ECCASHutu (85%), Tutsi (14%)
 Republic of the Congo342,0004,492,68912.8Brazzaville$19.41 billion$4,700Central African CFA FrancECCASKongo (48%), Sangha (20%), Teke (17%)
 Namibia825,4182,182, 8522.5Windhoek$17.737 billion$8,160Namibian DollarSADCOvambo (49.8%), Kavango (9.3%)
 Botswana581,7302,029,3073.4Gaborone$33.388 billion$17,596PulaSADCTswana (79%), Kalanga (11%)
 Lesotho30,3551,936,18168.1Maseru$4.277 billion$2,244LotiSADCSotho (99.7%)
 Gabon267,6671,640,2865.5Libreville$25.91 billion$16,800Central African CFA FrancECCASFang (28.6%), Punu (10.2%)
 Swaziland17,3641,403,36268.2Lobamba (royal/legislative), Mbabane (administrative)$6.345 billion$5,900South African Rand, Swazi LilangeniSADCSwazi (97%)
 Equatorial Guinea28,050704,00124.1Malabo$19.6 billion$26,400Central African CFA FrancECCASFang (85.7%), Bubi (6.5%)
Total, Bantu Africa10,785,903376,735,70034.9Largest cities: Kinshasa, Johannesburg, Nairobi$1.172 trillion$3,111VariousSADC, EAC, ECCASVarious


Use of the term "Bantu" in South Africa[edit]

A Zulu traditional dancer in Southern Africa.

In the 1920s relatively liberal white South Africans, missionaries and the small black intelligentsia began to use the term "Bantu" in preference to "Native" and more derogatory terms (such as "Kaffir") to refer collectively to Bantu-speaking South Africans. After World War II, the racialist National Party governments adopted that usage officially, while the growing African nationalist movement and its liberal white allies turned to the term "African" instead, so that "Bantu" became identified with the policies of apartheid. By the 1970s this so discredited "Bantu" as an ethno-racial designation that the apartheid government switched to the term "Black" in its official racial categorizations, restricting it to Bantu-speaking Africans, at about the same time that the Black Consciousness Movement led by Steve Biko and others were defining "Black" to mean all racially oppressed South Africans (Africans, Coloureds and Indians).

Examples of South African usages of "Bantu" include:

  1. One of South Africa's politicians of recent times, General Bantubonke Harrington Holomisa (Bantubonke is a compound noun meaning "all the people"), is known as Bantu Holomisa.
  2. The South African apartheid governments originally gave the name "bantustans" to the eleven rural reserve areas intended for a spurious, ersatz independence to deny Africans South African citizenship. "Bantustan" originally reflected an analogy to the various ethnic "-stans" of Western and Central Asia. Again association with apartheid discredited the term, and the South African government shifted to the politically appealing but historically deceptive term "ethnic homelands". Meanwhile the anti-apartheid movement persisted in calling the areas bantustans, to drive home their political illegitimacy.
  3. The abstract noun ubuntu, humanity or humaneness, is derived regularly from the Nguni noun stem -ntu in isiXhosa, isiZulu and siNdebele. In siSwati the stem is -ntfu and the noun is buntfu.
  4. In the Sotho–Tswana languages of southern Africa, batho is the cognate term to Nguni abantu, illustrating that such cognates need not actually look like the -ntu root exactly. The early African National Congress of South Africa had a newspaper called Abantu-Batho from 1912–1933, which carried columns in English, isiZulu, Sesotho, and isiXhosa.

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