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Who are the Bantu People?

The Bantu people are a diverse group with a rich cultural tapestry, originating from West-Central Africa and spreading across the continent through remarkable migrations. Their languages and customs have significantly shaped African societies. Discover how the Bantu legacy continues to influence modern Africa, and consider what aspects of their heritage resonate most with you as you explore their enduring story.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

More than 60 million Africans are estimated to speak one of the estimated 400 Bantu languages.
More than 60 million Africans are estimated to speak one of the estimated 400 Bantu languages.

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.

It is theorized that the Bantu brought an assortment of skills with them as they migrated from Northern Africa, including farming.
It is theorized that the Bantu brought an assortment of skills with them as they migrated from Northern Africa, including farming.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the Bantu people, and where do they originate from?

The term "bantu" is often considered racially offensive in South Africa.
The term "bantu" is often considered racially offensive in South Africa.

The Bantu people are a large and diverse group of ethnolinguistic societies native to Central and Southern Africa. They are believed to have originated from the regions that are now Cameroon and Nigeria around 2,000 years ago. From there, they began a series of migrations known as the Bantu expansion, spreading their languages and culture across a vast area of Africa. This migration was one of the most significant in human history, shaping the linguistic and cultural landscape of the continent.

What languages do the Bantu people speak?

The Bantu people are found in Rwanda and other countries in southern Africa.
The Bantu people are found in Rwanda and other countries in southern Africa.

The Bantu people speak languages belonging to the Bantu language family, which is part of the larger Niger-Congo language group. There are over 500 Bantu languages spoken by Bantu communities, with Swahili, Zulu, and Shona being among the most widely spoken. Swahili, in particular, has become a lingua franca in East Africa and is spoken by tens of millions as a second language.

What are some common cultural practices among Bantu-speaking societies?

Bantu-speaking societies share several cultural practices, though there is also great diversity among them. Common elements include subsistence farming, cattle herding, and the importance of community and extended family structures. Many Bantu cultures have rich oral traditions, including storytelling, music, and dance. Traditional religions often involve ancestor worship and belief in spirits, although Christianity and Islam have also become widespread among Bantu-speaking peoples.

How did the Bantu expansion influence the African continent?

The Bantu expansion, which took place over thousands of years, had a profound impact on the African continent. It led to the spread of Bantu languages and agricultural practices, facilitating the growth of populated areas and complex societies. The expansion also resulted in the displacement and assimilation of other indigenous groups. The cultural and technological exchanges that occurred during this period laid the foundations for many of the political and social structures seen in Sub-Saharan Africa today.

What is the significance of the Bantu migrations in world history?

The Bantu migrations are significant in world history as they represent one of the largest and most consequential movements of people in prehistoric times. The migrations facilitated the spread of ironworking technology, agriculture, and the Bantu languages, which are among the most spoken language families in the world today. The cultural diffusion and population dynamics that resulted from the Bantu migrations have been compared to other historical movements such as the Indo-European migrations in terms of their lasting impact on human civilization.

Mary McMahon
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.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
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.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

Achi

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

anon994313

The Tiv people of north central Nigeria

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

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

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

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

anon993349

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

anon993167

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

fidza18

person- munhu

meat- nyama

cattle- mombe

rain- mvura

This is similar to yours, anon970785.

anon970785

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

anon949499

Does this article relate to the Somali Bantu as well?

anon350920

@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.

anon342530

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?

anon326500

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.

anon266444

What are the physical features that appear different?

anon244317

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

anon229362

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.

anon111358

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.

anon40319

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

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    • More than 60 million Africans are estimated to speak one of the estimated 400 Bantu languages.
      By: michaeljung
      More than 60 million Africans are estimated to speak one of the estimated 400 Bantu languages.
    • It is theorized that the Bantu brought an assortment of skills with them as they migrated from Northern Africa, including farming.
      By: branex
      It is theorized that the Bantu brought an assortment of skills with them as they migrated from Northern Africa, including farming.
    • The term "bantu" is often considered racially offensive in South Africa.
      By: Loic LE BRUSQ
      The term "bantu" is often considered racially offensive in South Africa.
    • The Bantu people are found in Rwanda and other countries in southern Africa.
      By: lesniewski
      The Bantu people are found in Rwanda and other countries in southern Africa.