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Who are the Bantu People?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “Bantu people” is used to describe the roughly 60 million Africans who speak languages in the Bantu language family. Given that there are approximately 400 of these closely related languages, it should come as no surprise that these people are incredibly diverse, and that societies and governments among Bantus can be radically different. Some people feel that the term may not be entirely appropriate, since it encompasses such a huge group of Africans; these individuals may prefer to identify individual communities instead.

It is estimated that the tribes that make up this group probably began migrating from Northern Africa around 3,000 BCE. They probably brought an assortment of skills with them, including the ability to farm and work metals such as iron, and this migration continued until around the fourth century CE. Many of these people settled south of the Congo River. Over time, a number of languages, including Swahili, Kirundi, Gikuyu, Tsonga, and Basaa, developed; many of these languages share the word “Bantu” for people, and except for a region in South-East Africa where Khoi-San is spoken, they cover Southern Africa.

Many of the great kingdoms of South Africa were ruled by Bantus, who tended to be highly resourceful and adaptable. Their culture subsumed those of other native Africans, although traces of earlier African peoples can be seen in some societies today. These kingdoms traded with people from other regions of the world, including the Europeans, and as Europeans started to colonize Africa, they pressured the existing Bantus to move. People who speak the languages in this family can be found in Rwanda, Angola, Burundi, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, among other nations in the southern part of Africa.

Around the 1920s, whites in South Africa started to use the term “Bantu.” Over time, the term began to be perceived as racially offensive, and many modern South Africans prefer to use the term “African” instead because of the connotations with apartheid South Africa. In other regions of Africa, some people use the term more freely, because it has not become as racially loaded as it has in South Africa.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Achi — On Mar 23, 2016

Bantu Speaking (Maragoli Tribe) from Western Kenya

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

child ............ oMwana

children........aVana

meat ............ iNyama

cow...............eNg'ombe

house...........iNyumba

face .............. iSura

rain ................ iMbura

Person......uMundu

People.....aVandu

By anon994313 — On Jan 30, 2016

The Tiv people of north central Nigeria

child ............ wan

meat ............ nyam

face .............. shiir

rain ................ wura

By anon993349 — On Nov 05, 2015

I am a bantu speaking from Kenya (Kikuyu tribe)

person- mundu

meat- nyama

cattle- ng'ombe

rain- mbura

child- mwana

Children- ciana

This is so similar anon970785 and

anon993167

By anon993167 — On Oct 27, 2015

le3e2b is from the Mozambique female line of Bantu. That's what my DNA came back! and am only 1/4 black.

By fidza18 — On Nov 03, 2014

person- munhu

meat- nyama

cattle- mombe

rain- mvura

This is similar to yours, anon970785.

By anon970785 — On Sep 20, 2014

I am a Wambo and live in Namibia and I am a bit worried about where we wambos come from because the Oshiwambo language that we speak no other African tribes speak. Why. in the whole Bantu speaking tribes of Africa, can no one else speak Oshiwambo?

Example of words we say:

a person ---omunhu

meat---------onyama

cattle --------ongobe

rain ---------omvula

water -------omeya

eat------------okulya

king/igwe------omukwaniilwa/ohamba

By anon949499 — On May 05, 2014

Does this article relate to the Somali Bantu as well?

By anon350920 — On Oct 09, 2013

@Anon 342530: The word "ntu" means person, and the prefix "Ba" is used by class 2 bantu to denote the plural. "Bantu," therefore means "people". The Bantu have migrated and multiplied all over Africa. The presence of the word Ntu or ndu in reference to a person is given as clue, in a modern language, that they are Bantu.

The modern speakers of Bantu, irrespective of where they are, abhor consonant clusters, and will almost always insert epenthetic vowels in any aberrant words, additionally all words end in vowels, e.g., the word America is fully compliant with bantu CV rules, but Washington is not! A typical Bantu will pronounce your capital as Washingtoni! I am a native Bantu, belonging to the babukusu cluster proximal to Mount Masaba otherwise known as Mount Elgon.

By anon342530 — On Jul 22, 2013

I am 19 year old African-American. I like to research Africa but something that always confuses me is these categories everyone seems to like to lump these people into. Can someone start by telling me if Bantu is a name they gave themselves or whether it's just another name created to push the whole divide and conquer thing that just stuck to these people?

By anon326500 — On Mar 22, 2013

We are the Bantu people. We are different from other African tribes in terms of our physical features, language, religion, way of life, etc. We are different from the nilotes, negros, pygmy, afroasians, Khoisan and afro Europeans.

If we say we are from Nigeria, then who built the kraals scattered all over southern Africa dating back thousands of years before Christ? This is a system of building we practiced until a white man came to find us doing it, then introduced us to their way of doing things. As you say, we were stock farmers. We had no boundaries. We lived and moved around this continent, especially around the fertile, southern part of this continent as the need arose to do so.

As the white man arrived, he found that some of our people were here (see the account of the early Dutch East Indian Company). The fact that most of our people were not here does not confirm the perception that we originated from the north. The evidence that we were always here is here before us. We are the only nation that built stone kraals in this part of the world.

I am a descendant of one of the most ancient kings who ruled in Benoni (south Mozambique to the eastern cape) about1080 AD by the name of Zwide, whose descendant is Thembu, the founder of the Thembu nation. This was long before a white man saw these shores. Zwide himself must have come from a lineage of kings who ruled before him.

We might not know how to write because it's not our way of doing things, but we have a culture of narrating our stories which we used to pass information from one generation to another. This is now likely to be replaced by writing and unfortunately, writing is done mostly by the people who colonized this part of the world for a long time and did not take seriously the kind of information indigenous people have about themselves and their surroundings.

By anon266444 — On May 05, 2012

What are the physical features that appear different?

By anon244317 — On Jan 31, 2012

What were their three kingdoms? Was it the Kongo, Zimbabwe, and Monomutapa?

By anon229362 — On Nov 13, 2011

Bantu is neither a racial or ethnic classification; it's a linguistic one. The different Bantu speaking groups are culturally similar since they speak similar languages and language is a big part of culture but Germanic speaking groups (e.g., the English, Germans, Swedes) are also culturally similar in this respect.

The proto-Bantu people originated in what is now south east Nigeria/northern Cameroon and slowly began migrating into central/southern/east Africa around 4000 years ago. The Bantu are of West African descent and typically belong to E2 haplogroups, also common among West African populations.

By anon111358 — On Sep 16, 2010

this is classic euro-science misinformation. it is preposterous to label that many people as an ethnic group. they would never do that with europeans or asians, but africans are fair game for this type of pseudo-science.

By anon40319 — On Aug 07, 2009

You matha is wrong. actually the Bantu people number more than 250 million. They spread across the area from Gabon to Kenya and the rest of central and southern africa. Actually Bantu is more than a term used for people with related languages. These people actually have physical features that are different from the west and north Africans. ddnh

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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