ORIGIN AND EXPANSION OF THE BANTU
Bantu is used as a general label for the 300-600 ethnic groups in Africa who speak the Bantu languages, distributed from Cameroon east across central Africa and eastern Africa to Southern Africa. The bantu family is fragmented into hundreds of individual groups, none of them larger than a few million people (the largest being the Zulu with some 10 million).The bantu language-Swahili with its 5-10 million speakers is of super-regional importance as tens of millions fluently command it as as a second language.
The word `Bantu’, and its variations, means `the 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;`andu’ in Kikuyu;`abantu’ in Zulu,Runyakitara and Ganda;`vanhu’ in Shona and `vandu’ in some Luhya dialects.
Current scholarly understanding places the ancestral proto-bantu homeland near the southwestern modern boundary of Nigeria and Cameroon, around 4000 years ago (2000 BC),and regards the Bantu languages as a branch of the Niger-Congo family.
Knowledge of iron had made its way into West Africa by the fifth century BC, long after the region had mastered agriculture. With the knowledge of iron, they were able to make iron tools for agriculture such as hoes as well as arrows and spears which they used for hunting and warfare. The use of iron tools in crop production consequently led to rapid uincrease3 in population therefore necessitating the need to migrate in search for more land to settle on and on which to carry out agriculture.
About the time of Christ, this migration began as negroid people from the central Benue river valley around the present day border between Nigeria and Cameroon pushed south and south east into the forest of the Congo river basin. These Bantu speakers seem to have been relatively few in number perhaps only several hundreds-but they were able to move quickly through the rainforest via the Congo drainage system until they emerged at the southern fringe of the forest in what is today the Luba country of northern Katanga. From this point, a lightly wooded area unlike their original homeland along the Benue, the Bantu apparently developed rapidly in numbers and expanded in all directions-moving southward across the Zambezi to form the civilization that produced present day Zimbabwe, pushing eastward into the high plains where they fanned out in a complex movement that enveloped the plateau and the coast of East Africa, and doubling back through the forest to absorb the pygmy people of Congo. With iron spears, they would have been formidable both as warriors and hunters, and their iron implements would have effected a revolution in cultivation, even in East Africa where cereals were probably already known. Thus they were in a position both to attract and assimilate other people, imposing upon them their language until the population of Africa south of the Equator had been converted substantially into iron age speakers of the Bantu.
The extent and the rate of advance of the Bantu migrants is difficult to da5te with any precision. They may have reached the east African coast near Cape Delgado by the fourth century AD. In the person of Claudius Ptolemy’s. Iron workers were in the Zambezi valley early in the Christian era, and the savanna north of the Zambezi contained agriculturalists perhaps as soon as the first century AD. Below the Zambezi there were very early iron sites while a full scale iron-age culture was established between the Zambezi and Limpopo by the end of the fourth century. There is no assurance that all this was the 2work of the early Bantu settlers; however, the most plausible alternative is that these iron-age sites resulted from an infiltrating Bantu economy and culture by rtesid3ent bushmanoid peoples wit5h t5he prospect of Bantu settlers soon to follow. Indeed, during the ensuing centuries the record of Bantu...
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