Bantu peoples

Bantu peoples are the speakers of Bantu languages, comprising several hundred indigenous ethnic groups in sub-Saharan Africa, spread over a vast area from Central Africa across the African Great Lakes to Southern Africa. Linguistically, these languages belong to the Southern Bantoid branch of Benue–Congo, one of the language families grouped within the Niger–Congo phylum.
The total number of languages ranges in the hundreds, depending on the definition of "language" or "dialect", estimated at between 440 and 680 distinct languages. The total number of speakers is in the hundreds of millions, ranging at roughly 350 million in the mid-2010s. About 60 million speakers, divided into some 200 ethnic or tribal groups, are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone.
The larger of the individual Bantu groups have populations of several million, e.g. the Shona of Zimbabwe,
the Zulu of South Africa the Luba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Sukuma of Tanzania, or the Kikuyu of Kenya.

Origin of the Name Bantu

Abantu is taken from the great descendent called Ntu, Ntu the father of Nguni and the great descendent of Yeye Godongwane Hhamu and Abraham. The word Bantu for the language families and its speakers is an artificial term based on the reconstructed Proto-Bantu term for "people" or "humans". It was first introduced by Wilhelm Bleek in 1857 or 1858, and popularised in his Comparative Grammar of 1862.
The name was coined to represent the word for "people" in loosely reconstructed Proto-Bantu, from the plural noun class prefix :wikt:Appendix:Swahili noun classes#M-wa class|*ba- categorizing "people", and the root *ntʊ̀ - "some, any".
There is no native term for the group, as populations refer to their languages by ethnic endonyms but did not have a concept for the larger ethno-linguistic phylum. Bleek's coinage was inspired by the anthropological observation of groups self-identifying as "people" or "the true people". That is, idiomatically the reflexes of *bantʊ in the numerous languages often have connotations of personal character traits as encompassed under the values system of ubuntu, also known as hunhu in Chishona or botho in Sesotho, rather than just referring to all human beings.
The root in Proto-Bantu is reconstructed as *-ntʊ́. Versions of the word Bantu occur in all Bantu languages: for example, as bantu in Kikongo and Kituba; watu in Swahili; anthu in Chichewa; batu in Lingala; bato in Kiluba; bato in Duala; abanto in Gusii; andũ in Kamba and Kikuyu; abantu in Kirundi, Zulu, Xhosa, Runyakitara, and Ganda; wandru in Shingazidja; abantru in Mpondo and Ndebele; bãthfu in Phuthi; bantfu in Swati and Bhaca ; banu in Lala; vanhu in Shona and Tsonga; batho in Sesotho, Tswana and Northern Sotho; antu in Meru; andu in Embu; vandu in some Luhya dialects; vhathu in Venda and bhandu in Nyakyusa.


Origins and expansion

Bantu languages are theorised to derive from the Proto-Bantu reconstructed language, estimated to have been spoken about 4,000 to 3,000 years ago in West/Central Africa.
They were supposedly spread across Central, Eastern and Southern Africa in the so-called Bantu expansion, a rapid dissemination during the 1st millennium BC, in one wave moving across the Congo basin towards East Africa, in another moving south along the African coast and the Congo River system towards Angola. This concept has often been framed as a mass-migration, but Jan Vansina and others have argued that it was actually a cultural spread and not the movement of any specific populations that could be defined as an enormous group simply on the basis of common language traits.
The geographical origin of the Bantu expansion is somewhat open to debate. Two main scenarios are proposed, an early expansion to Central Africa, and a single origin of the dispersal radiating from there, or an early separation into an eastward and a southward wave of dispersal.
In terms of migration, genetic analysis shows a significant clustering of genetic traits by region, suggesting admixture from local populations.
According to the early-split scenario described in the 1990s, the southward dispersal had reached the Central African rain forest by about 1500 BC, and the southern Savannahs by 500 BC, while the eastward dispersal reached the Great Lakes by 1000 BC, expanding further from there, as the rich environment supported a dense population. Possible movements by small groups to the southeast from the Great Lakes region could have been more rapid, with initial settlements widely dispersed near the coast and near rivers, due to comparatively harsh farming conditions in areas farther from water. Under the migration hypothesis, pioneering groups would have had reached modern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa sometime prior to the 3rd century AD along the coast, and the modern Northern Province by AD 500.
Under the Bantu expansion migration hypothesis, the Bantu peoples would have assimilated and/or displaced a number of the presumed earlier inhabitants that they came across, such as Pygmy and Khoisan populations in the centre and south, respectively. They would have also encountered some Afro-Asiatic outlier groups in the southeast, as well as Nilotic and Central Sudanic groups.
As cattle terminology in use amongst the few modern Bantu pastoralist groups suggests, it is plausible that the acquisition of cattle was from their Cushitic-speaking neighbors. Linguistic evidence also indicates that the custom of milking cattle was also directly from Cushitic cultures in the area.
Later interactions between Bantu-speaking and Cushitic-speaking peoples resulted in groups with significant complexity, such as the Tutsi and Hutu of the African Great Lakes region; and culturo-linguistic influences, such as the Herero herdsmen of southern Africa.

Later history

Between the 9th and 15th centuries, Bantu-speaking states began to emerge in the Great Lakes region and in the savannah south of the Central African rain forest. On the Zambezi river, the Monomatapa kings built the Great Zimbabwe complex, a civilisation ancestral to the Kalanga people.
Comparable sites in Southern Africa, include Bumbusi in Zimbabwe and Manyikeni in Mozambique.
From the 12th century onward, the processes of state formation amongst Bantu peoples increased in frequency. This was probably due to denser population ; 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.
Some examples of such Bantu states include: in Central Africa, the Kingdom of Kongo, the Kuba Kingdom, the Lunda Empire, the Luba Empire, Tooro, Bunyoro, Buganda,
Busoga, Rwanda, Burundi, Ankole and in Southern Africa, the Mutapa Empire, the Zulu Kingdom, the Ndebele Kingdom, Mapungubwe, the Kingdom of Butua, Maravi, Danamombe, Khami, Naletale, Kingdom of Zimbabwe and the Rozwi Empire.
On the coastal section of East Africa, a mixed Bantu community developed through contact with Muslim Arab and Persian traders, Zanzibar being an important part in the Arab slave trade.
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 Zanzibar, Kenya, and Tanzania – a seaboard referred to as the Swahili Coast – the Bantu Swahili language contains many Arabic loan-words as a result of these interactions.
The Arab slave trade also brought Bantu influence to Madagascar,
the Malagasy people showing Bantu admixture, and their Malagasy language Bantu loans.
Toward the 18th and 19th centuries, the flow of Zanj slaves from Southeast Africa increased with the rise of the Omani Sultanate of Zanzibar, based in Zanzibar, Tanzania. With the arrival of European colonialists, the Zanzibar Sultanate came into direct trade conflict and competition with Portuguese and other Europeans along the Swahili Coast, leading eventually to the fall of the Sultanate and the end of slave trading on the Swahili Coast in the mid-20th century.

List of Bantu groups by country

CountryTotal population
% BantuBantu population
ZonesBantu groups
Democratic Republic of the Congo7780%62B, C, D, H, J, K, L, MBakongo, Mongo, Baluba, numerous others
Tanzania5190%?c. 45E, F, G, J, M, N, PSukuma, Nyamwezi,Haya,Chaga,Gogo,Makonde,Ngoni,Matumbi, numerous others
South Africa5575%40SNguni, Basotho, Bapedi, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Kgaga, total 75% Bantu
Kenya4680%37E, JKikuyu, Luhya, Maragoli, Kamba, Kisii, Meru, Kuria, Aembu, Ambeere,Taita, Pokomo, Taveta and Mijikenda, numerous others
Mozambique2899%28N, P, SMakua, Sena, Shona, Shangaan, Makonde, Yao, Swahili, Tonga, Chopi, Ngoni
Uganda3770%?c. 25D, JBaganda,Basoga,Gwere,Banyoro,Nkole,Kiga,Tooro,Masaba,Samia,Konjo,Bafumbira,
Angola2697%25H, K, ROvimbundu, Ambundu, Bakongo, Chokwe, Lunda, Ganguela, Ovambo, Herero, Xindonga
Malawi1699%16NChewa,Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde
Zambia1599%15L, M, NNyanja-Chewa, Bemba, Tonga, Tumbuka, Lunda, Luvale, Kaonde, Nkoya and Lozi, about 70 groups total.
Zimbabwe1499%14SShona, Ndebele,tjiKalanga, numerous minor groups.
Cameroon2230%6ABulu, Duala, Ewondo,Bassa,Bakoko,Barombi,Bankon, Subu,Bakwe,Oroko, Fang, Bekpak, 30% Bantu
Republic of the Congo597%5B, CKongo, Sangha, M'Bochi, Teke
Botswana2.290%2.0R, STswana or Setswana, Kalanga, Yeyi 90% Bantu
Equatorial Guinea2.095%1.9AFang, Bubi, 95% Bantu
Gabon1.995%1.8BFang,Nzebi,Myene, Kota, Shira, Puru, Kande.
Namibia2.370%1.6K, ROvambo, Kavango, Herero, Himba, Yeyi 70% Bantu
Swaziland1.199%1.1SSwazi, Zulu, Tsonga
Somalia141ESomalian Bantu
Comoros0.899%0.8E, GComorian people
Sub-Saharan Africa970c. 37%c. 360

Use of the term "Bantu" in South Africa

In the 1920s, relatively liberal South Africans, missionaries, and the small black intelligentsia began to use the term "Bantu" in preference to "Native". After World War II, the National Party governments adopted that usage officially, while the growing African nationalist movement and its liberal 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 non-European South Africans.
Examples of South African usages of "Bantu" include:
  1. One of South Africa's politicians of recent times, General Bantubonke Harrington Holomisa, is known as Bantu Holomisa.
  2. The South African apartheid governments originally gave the name "bantustans" to the eleven rural reserve areas intended for nominal independence to deny indigenous Bantu South Africans 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 Xhosa, Zulu, and Ndebele. In Swati 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, Zulu, Sotho, and Xhosa.