In Africa, people from around 500 different ethnic backgrounds speak a common Bantu language and are hence, loosely termed as Bantu people. These languages are a branch of the Niger-Congo language families and are some of the most widely used languages in Africa. This Buzzle post brings to you an overview of the history of Bantu people.
Did You Know?
During the apartheid era in South Africa, the term ‘Bantu’ was used by white people to refer to the natives, which gave it a racial connotation.
For centuries, lines have been drawn between people under several pretexts which include religion, caste, customs, and traditions. Boundaries were also drawn on linguistic basis. The list is not limited to just these few factors, social segregation keeps going on and on along with being aided by regular additions.
Society is divided into several classes or categories, which can have results varying from minor discrimination to violence and terrorism. In face of this, it is a welcome change to see a language or a group of languages which unifies as one the people of various backgrounds.
This role is played by the Bantu languages that are a branch of Niger-Congo language family. Almost one-third of the African population comprise Bantu people, i.e., people who use Bantu languages to converse. Such extensive is the use of these languages that Swahili, a Bantu language, is an official language of many African nations.
Origin of Bantu People
The origins of the Bantu languages can be traced back to almost four thousand years, sometime during the second millennium before the current era. Bantu people originated in areas which today consists of the south-western parts of Nigeria and Cameroon in Africa. It was from here that they migrated to other parts of the African Continent.
Religion of Bantu People
Traditionally, the basic beliefs of Bantu people had been polytheistic. However, the beliefs soon started moving towards monotheism. Today, the religion of a majority of Bantu people is Christianity. Some follow traditional African religions, while there are also a few Bantu people who follow Islam.
Expansion of Bantu People
The expansion of Bantu people started with their migration to central, southern, and eastern parts of the African continent. This trend, that began sometime around 1500 BCE, continued for close to a millennium, until they had reached the southern parts of Africa in the 3rd century of the current era. A major cause for migration of Bantu people was the development in the field of agriculture. With development in agricultural techniques, the amount of land that was used for farming started to expand, leading to a decrease in the land that people could live on. This was also because of the widespread use of iron during the Iron age, which saw them use some of advanced technologies of the times. Another reason for migration was the conflicts between various tribes. They also had to face natural calamities and diseases, which prompted them to explore other habitable locations. The Arab invasions also played a role in the migration of Bantu people to other parts of Africa.
Effects of Bantu Migrations
As with any expansion, the significant effect of Bantu migrations was the break out of fights between them and the locals over territorial claims. Many of the locals were forced to leave their habitation, which meant many cultures, traditions, and languages ceased to exist. On the other hand, the local systems that remained had blended with the migrant ones. This caused various cultures and ideologies to combine with one another, which in turn gave birth to new civilizations in various parts of Africa. This also helped the various Bantu languages to reach far and wide across the entire continent.
There are well over 500 Bantu languages and a few more dialects in these languages that bring the many million Bantu people together. Talk about similarity with a flavor of variety!