|Regions with significant populations|
|African Great Lakes, Central Africa, Southern Africa|
|Bantu languages (over 535)|
|Predominantly Christianity, traditional faiths; minority Islam|
Bantu peoples are the speakers of Bantu languages, comprising several hundred indigenous ethnic groups in Africa, spread over a vast area from Central Africa across the African Great Lakes to Southern Africa.
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 (roughly 30% of the population of Africa, or roughly 5% of the total world population). About 60 million speakers (2015), 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 Hutu of Rwanda and Burundi (25 million), the Shona of Zimbabwe (15 million as of 2018 [update] ), the Zulu of South Africa (12 million as of 2005 [update] ), the Luba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (7 million as of 2010 [update] ), the Sukuma of Tanzania (9 million as of 2016 [update] ), the Kikuyu of Kenya (8.1 million as of 2019 [update] ) or the Xhosa people of Southern Africa (8.1 million as of 2011).
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 (as Bâ-ntu) 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 *ba- categorizing "people", and the root *ntʊ̀ - "some (entity), any" (e.g. Zulu umuntu "person", abantu "people", into "thing", izinto "things"). There is no native term for the peoples who speak Bantu languages, because they are not an ethnic group. People speaking Bantu languages refer to their languages by ethnic endonyms, which did not have an indigenous concept prior to European contact for the larger ethno-linguistic phylum named by 19th century European linguists. 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 R.K.Herbert and R. Bailey in Rajend Mesthrie (ed.), Language in South Africa (2002),
The root in Proto-Bantu is reconstructed as *-ntʊ́. Versions of the word Bantu (that is, the root plus the class 2 noun class prefix *ba-) 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, Lusoga, Zulu, Xhosa, Runyakitara,and Luganda; wandru in Shingazidja; abantru in Mpondo and Ndebele; bãthfu in Phuthi; bantfu in Swati and Bhaca; banhu in kisukuma; 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.
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 (the area of modern-day Cameroon). They were supposedly spread across Central, Eastern and Southern Africa in the so-called Bantu expansion, a comparatively rapid dissemination taking roughly two millennia and dozens of human generations during the 1st millennium BC and the 1st millennium AD,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 shape and course of the Bantu expansion remains debated. 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, with one wave moving across the Congo basin towards East Africa, and another moving south along the African coast and the Congo River system towards Angola. Genetic analysis shows a significant clustered variation of genetic traits among Bantu language speakers by region, suggesting admixture from prior local populations.
According to the early-split scenario as 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 dense populations. 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. Recent archeological and linguistic evidence about population movements suggests that pioneering groups would have had reached parts of modern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa sometime prior to the 3rd century AD along the coast, and the modern Northern Cape by AD 500.
Under the Bantu expansion migration hypothesis, various Bantu-speaking peoples would have assimilated and/or displaced many earlier inhabitants, with only a few modern peoples such as Pygmy groups in central Africa, the Hadza people in northern Tanzania, and various Khoisan populations across southern Africa retaining autonomous existence into the era of European contact. Archeological evidence attests to their presence in areas subsequently occupied by Bantu-speakers. Bantu-speaking migrants would have also interacted with some Afro-Asiatic outlier groups in the southeast (mainly Cushitic),as well as Nilotic and Central Sudanic speaking groups. Cattle terminology in use amongst the relatively few modern Bantu pastoralist groups suggests that the acquisition of cattle may have been from Central Sudanic, Kuliak and Cushitic-speaking neighbors. Linguistic evidence also indicates that the customs of milking cattle were also directly modeled from Cushitic cultures in the area. Cattle terminology in southern African Bantu languages differs from that found among more northerly Bantu-speaking peoples. One recent suggestion is that Cushitic-speakers had moved south earlier, and interacted with the most northerly of Khoisan-speakers who acquired cattle from them, and that the earliest arriving Bantu-speakers in turn got their initial cattle from Cushitic-influenced Khwe-speaking people. Under this hypothesis, larger later Bantu-speaking immigration subsequently displaced or assimilated that southernmost extension of the range of Cushitic-speakers.
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. Not far from the Mutirikiwi 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 (which led to more specialized divisions of labor, including military power, while making emigration more difficult); 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.examples of such Bantu states include: the Kingdom of Kongo, Anziku Kingdom, Kingdom of Ndongo, the Kingdom of Matamba the Kuba Kingdom, the Lunda Empire, the Luba Empire, Mbunda Kingdom, Yeke Kingdom, Kasanje Kingdom, Empire of Kitara, Butooro, Bunyoro, Buganda, Busoga, Rwanda, Burundi, Ankole, the Kingdom of Mpororo, the Kingdom of Igara, the Kingdom of Kooki, the Kingdom of Karagwe, Swahili city states, the Mutapa Empire, the Zulu Kingdom, the Ndebele Kingdom, Mthethwa Empire, Tswana city states, Mapungubwe, Kingdom of Eswatini, 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 Indian Ocean 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 Bantu migrations, and centuries later, the Indian ocean slave trade, 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 (Bantu) 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.
(millions, 2015 est.)
|% Bantu||Bantu population|
(millions, 2015 est.)
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||77||80%||76||B, C, D, H, J, K, L, M||Bakongo, Mongo, Baluba, numerous others ( Ambala, Ambuun, Angba, Babindi, Baboma, Baholo, Balunda, Bangala, Bango, Batsamba, Bazombe, Bemba, Bembe, Bira, Bowa, Dikidiki, Dzing, Fuliru, Havu, Hema, Hima, Hunde, Hutu, Iboko, Kanioka, Kaonde, Kuba, Komo, Kwango, Lengola, Lokele, Lupu, Lwalwa, Mbala, Mbole, Mbuza (Budja), Nande, Ngoli, Bangoli, Ngombe, Nkumu, Nyanga, Bapende, Popoi, Poto, Sango, Shi, Songo, Sukus, Tabwa, Tchokwé, Téké, Tembo, Tetela, Topoke, Ungana, Vira, Wakuti, Yaka, Yakoma, Yanzi, Yeke, Yela, total 80% Bantu)|
|Tanzania||51||95%||c. 45||E, F, G, J, M, N, P||Abakuria, Sukuma, Nyamwezi, Haya, Chaga, Gogo, Makonde, Ngoni, Matumbi, numerous others (majority Bantu)|
|South Africa||55||75%||40||S||Nguni (Zulu, Hlubi, Xhosa, Southern Ndebele, Swazi), Basotho (South Sotho), Bapedi (North Sotho), Venda, Batswana, Tsonga, Kgaga (North Sotho), total 75% Bantu|
|Kenya||46||60%||37||E, J||Agikuyu, Abaluhya, Maragoli, Akamba, Abagusii, Ameru, Abakuria, Aembu, Ambeere, Taita, Pokomo, Taveta and Mijikenda, numerous others (60% Bantu)|
|Mozambique||28||99%||28||N, P, S||Makua, Sena, Shona (Ndau), Shangaan (Tsonga), Makonde, Yao, Swahili, Tonga, Chopi, Ngoni|
|Uganda||37||80%||c. 25||D, J||Baganda, Basoga, Bagwere, Banyoro, Banyankole, Bakiga, Batooro, Bamasaba, Basamia, Bakonjo, Baamba, Baruuli, Banyole, Bafumbira, Bagungu (majority Bantu)|
|Angola||26||97%||25||H, K, R||Ovimbundu, Ambundu, Bakongo, Bachokwe, Balunda, Ganguela, Ovambo, Herero, Xindonga (97% Bantu)|
|Malawi||16||99%||16||N||Chewa, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde|
|Zambia||15||99%||15||L, M, N||Nyanja-Chewa, Bemba, Tonga, Tumbuka, BaLunda, Balovale, Kaonde, Nkoya and Lozi, about 70 groups total.|
|Zimbabwe||14||99%||14||S||Shona, Northern Ndebele, Bakalanga, numerous minor groups.|
|Cameroon||22||30%||6||A||Bulu, Duala, Ewondo, Bafia Bassa, Bakoko, Barombi, Mbo, Subu, Bakwe, Oroko, Bafaw, Fang, Bekpak, Mbam speakers 30% Bantu|
|Republic of the Congo||5||97%||5||B, C, H||Bakongo, Sangha, Mbochi, Bateke|
|Botswana||2.2||90%||2.0||R, S||Batswana, BaKalanga, Mayeyi 90% Bantu|
|Equatorial Guinea||2.0||95%||1.9||A||Fang, Bubi, 95% Bantu|
|Gabon||1.9||95%||1.8||B||Fang, Nzebi, Myene, Kota, Shira, Puru, Kande.|
|Namibia||2.3||70%||1.6||K, R||Ovambo, Kavango, Herero, Himba, Mayeyi 70% Bantu|
|Swaziland||1.1||99%||1.1||S||Swazi, Zulu, Tsonga|
|Comoros||0.8||99%||0.8||E, G||Comorian people|
|Sub-Saharan Africa||970||c. 37%||c. 360|
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 (Bantus, Khoisan, Coloureds and Indians). In modern South Africa due to its connection to apartheid the noun has become so discredited that it is only used in its original linguistic meaning.
Examples of South African usages of "Bantu" include:
The Bantu languages are a large family of languages spoken by the Bantu peoples in the southern half of Africa. They form the largest branch of the Southern Bantoid languages.
The Cushitic languages are a branch of the Afroasiatic language family. They are spoken primarily in the Horn of Africa, with minorities speaking Cushitic languages to the north in Egypt and the Sudan, and to the south in Kenya and Tanzania. As of 2012, the Cushitic languages with over one million speakers were Oromo, Somali, Beja, Afar, Hadiyya, Kambaata, Saho, and Sidama.
The Khoisan languages are a group of African languages originally classified together by Joseph Greenberg. Khoisan languages share click consonants and do not belong to other African language families. For much of the 20th century, they were thought to be genealogically related to each other, but this is no longer accepted. They are now held to comprise three distinct language families and two language isolates.
Niger-Congo is a hypothetical language family spoken over nearly the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa. It unites the Mande languages, the Atlantic-Congo languages, and possibly several smaller groups of languages that are difficult to classify. If valid, Niger-Congo would be the world's largest in terms of member languages, the third-largest in terms of speakers, and Africa's largest in terms of geographical area. It is generally considered to be the world's largest language family in terms of the number of distinct languages, just ahead of Austronesian, although this is complicated by the ambiguity about what constitutes a distinct language; the number of named Niger-Congo languages listed by Ethnologue is 1,540.
Swahili, also known by its native name Kiswahili, is a Bantu language and the native language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of East and Southern Africa, including Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, some parts of Malawi, Somalia, Zambia, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Comorian, spoken in the Comoros Islands, is sometimes considered a dialect of Swahili, although other authorities consider it a distinct language. Sixteen to twenty percent of Swahili vocabulary is Arabic loanwords, including the word swahili, from Arabic sawāḥilī. The Arabic loanwords date from the contacts of Arabian traders with the Bantu inhabitants of the east coast of Africa over many centuries. Under Arab trade influence, Swahili emerged as a lingua franca used by Arab traders and Bantu peoples of the East African Coast.
The languages of Africa are divided into several major language families:
Xhosa also isiXhosa as an endonym, is a Nguni Bantu language and one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Xhosa is spoken as a first language by approximately 8.2 million people and by another 11 million as a second language in South Africa, mostly in Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and Northern Cape. It has perhaps the heaviest functional load of click consonants in a Bantu language, with one count finding that 10% of basic vocabulary items contained a click.
Southern Ndebele, also known as Transvaal Ndebele or South Ndebele, is an African language belonging to the Nguni group of Bantu languages, spoken by the Ndebele people of South Africa.
Khoisan, or according to the contemporary Khoekhoegowab orthography Khoe-Sān, is a catch-all term for those indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, who don't speak one of the Bantu languages, combining the Khoekhoen and the Sān or Sākhoen.
The Bantu expansion was a major series of migrations of the original Proto-Bantu-speaking group, which spread from an original nucleus around West-Central Africa across much of sub-Saharan Africa. In the process, the Proto-Bantu-speaking settlers displaced or absorbed pre-existing hunter-gatherer and pastoralist groups that they encountered.
The Abagusii is an East African ethnic group with diverse origins that largely and inevitably originate from the Neolithic Agropastoralist and hunter/gatherer inhabitants of present-day Kenya particularly former Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces of Kenya. These Neolithic Agropastoralists were of the same stock as the ancestors of the modern Nilotes, Omotics and Cushites as well as the ancient East African hunter/gatherers similar to Ogiek and are the original progenitors of the majority of the modern Abagusii people. However, a minority of the Abagusii are believed to have been assimilated from the Luhya and Olusuba speaking Suba people (Kenya) that are believed to have migrated from the West of Lake Victoria that is present-day Buganda and Busoga in 1800s hence originally from Central Africa/West Africa by the way of Bantu expansion. The majority of Abagusii are closely related to the Maasai, Kipsigis, Abakuria, and Ameru of Kenya. They also have close linguistic relationship with Ngurimi, Rangi, Mbugwe, Simbiti, Zanaki and Ikoma people. However, a lot of evidence from studies of East African Bantu languages and anthropology suggests that the Abagusii and the mentioned related tribes emerged from the neolithic Agropastoralists and hunters/gatherers of East Africa believed to have come from the North of Mt. Elgon. The Abagusii traditionally/natively inhabit Kisii County and Nyamira County of former Nyanza Province of Kenya as well as parts of Kericho County and Bomet County of the former Rift Valley province of Kenya. The Abagusii are also found in other regions of geographical Western Kenya including former Nyanza Province such as Homa Bay County, and the rest of Luo-Nyanza as well as the rest of Kenya through recent migrations in post-colonial Kenya. There is also a significant diaspora population of Abagusii in countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa among other countries within and outside Africa. The Abagusii speak Ekegusii language which is classified together with the Great Lakes Bantu languages. However, the inclusion of Abagusii in the Bantu language group is a subject of debate given that studies on East African Bantu languages have found the Ekegusii together with Kuria, Simbiti, Ngurimi, Rangi and Mbugwe languages to be far distinct from the typical Bantu in terms of structure and tense aspect. Mogusii is culturally identified as their founder and patriarch. The Abagusii are however, unrelated to the Kisi people of Malawi and the Kissi people of West Africa, other than the three very distinct communities having similar sounding tribal names. The traditional occupation of Abagusii in pre-colonial Kenya included hunting and gathering, pastoralism/herding and cereal, fruit (pumpkin) and root crop farming forms of Agriculture with pastoralism being the dominant occupation of Abagusii in pre-colonial Kenya. Today the Abagusii have adopted other forms of agriculture through interaction with the European colonists that introduced new crops and new cultivation methods to Gusiiland and Kenya as a whole with the same applying to the other African countries/communities. Some of these factors have ensured farming to be the most dominant economic activity among Abagusii as opposed to pre-colonial Kenya where they were pre-dominantly pastoralists and hunters and gatherers.
Khwe is a dialect continuum of the Khoe family of Namibia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and parts of Zambia, with some 8,000 speakers.
Hadza is a language isolate spoken along the shores of Lake Eyasi in Tanzania by around 1,000 Hadza people, who include in their number the last full-time hunter-gatherers in Africa. It is one of only three languages in East Africa with click consonants. Despite the small number of speakers, language use is vigorous, with most children learning it, but UNESCO categorizes the language as vulnerable.
Kenya is a multilingual country. The Bantu Swahili language and English, the latter being inherited from colonial rule, are widely spoken as lingua franca. They serve as the two official working languages. Including second-language speakers, there are more speakers of Swahili than English in Kenya.
South African Bantu-speaking peoples are the majority of Black South Africans. Occasionally grouped as Bantu, the term itself is derived from the word for "people" common to many of the Bantu languages. The Oxford Dictionary of South African English describes its contemporary usage in a racial context as "obsolescent and offensive" because of its strong association with white minority rule with their Apartheid system. However, Bantu is used without pejorative connotations in other parts of Africa and is still used in South Africa as the group term for the language family.
The population of Africa has grown rapidly over the past century and consequently shows a large youth bulge, further reinforced by a low life expectancy of below 50 years in some African countries. Total population as of 2020 is estimated at more than 1.341 billion, with a growth rate of more than 2.5% p.a. The total fertility rate for Sub-Saharan Africa is 4.7 as of 2018, the highest in the world according to the World Bank. The most populous African country is Nigeria with over 206 million inhabitants as of 2020 and a growth rate of 2.6% p.a.
The Prehistory of South Africa lasts from the Middle Stone Age until the 17th century. Southern Africa was first reached by Homo sapiens before 130,000 years ago, possibly before 260,000 years ago. The region remained in the Late Stone Age until the first traces of pastoralism were introduced about 2,000 years ago. The Bantu migration reached the area now South Africa around the first decade of the 3rd century, over 1800 years ago, largely displacing the indigenous Khoisan population.Early Bantu kingdoms were established by the 11th century. First European contact dates to 1488, but European colonization began in the 17th century.
Tanzania is a multilingual country. There are many languages spoken in the country, but no one language is spoken natively by a majority or a large plurality of the population. Swahili and English, the latter of which was inherited from colonial rule, are widely spoken as lingua francas. They serve as working languages in the country, with Swahili being the official national language. There are more speakers of Swahili than of English in Tanzania.
Taita Cushitic is an extinct pair of South Cushitic languages, spoken by Cushitic peoples inhabiting the Taita Hills of Kenya, before they were assimilated into the Bantu population after the Bantu Migration into East Africa. Evidence for the languages is primarily South Cushitic loanwords in the Bantu languages Dawida and Saghala, as well as oral traditions of the Dawida and Saghala.
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