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The Bantu Migration (3500BC-1000BC): the irony of “them” and “us” thinking in Africa

“Bantu” is the academic category name for people of West Africa that initially lived between the regions of Cameroon and Nigeria. The name is a ‘broad brush’ grouping. Some theories propose that some migrants of this grouping traversed in groups and waves into the Congo and other basins. Their migration took them far to encounter some inhabitants on their routes. They were reported to have journeyed to parts of East Africa and South Africa. Their spread was slow, occurred in various waves and took them far away from their source. There is no consensus yet about why the migration happened. Being far away from their original birthplace and not immediately fitting into the culture of the new people they encountered, they were referred to as ‘The Bantus’ translating the people. This later became an ‘adopted identity.’

The Bantu Expansion

The Bantu expansion has been challenging to pin down to a specific line of thought or theory. There are two theories of Bantu expansion. One line of thinking claimed that a large group of the Bantus came out of a region from Cameroon and Nigeria heading eastward and after that split into two groups; one group led eastward and the other southward. This claim depicts the significant influence of the Bantus in the East and Central Africa. The second line of thought is that the expansion is caused by a single origin of the migration taking its root from Central Africa.

Clearly stated, the Bantu expansion depicts an influx of migrants of the substantive Bantu language speakers, who unabatedly spread from a source around West Africa to Central Africa by traversing the expanse of the sub-Sahara region of Africa. It is believed that the proto-Bantu speaking group displaced and sometimes integrated with inhabitants of the place. This might have included hunter-gatherers, fishers, and pastoralists. Language or linguistic influence across the path of Bantu migration is a clear pointer to this; the linguistic influence is traceable to the Cameroon and Nigeria which were the cultural origin of the original proto-Bantus. Though it is not clear the true and actual path of the Bantu expansion wave, efforts are still being made by archeology, linguistics, genetics, and history experts to establish the real facts. However, it is undeniable that there was a wave of Bantu migration from their cultural origin which eventually finds itself in across some regions of Africa.

The expansion according to linguistics explanations, the Bantu expansion were in three waves. The first and second waves occurred between 3500 BCE and 2000 BC. In the first wave, the Boans, ancestral Nyali and Nyong-Lomami migrated along rivers. In the second wave the Sangha-Nzadi migrated along rivers. The last wave was around 2,000 BCE to 1,000 BCE, approximately about 4,000 and 3,000 years ago. In this last wave, the Sangha-Nadi moved inwards away from rivers inland.

Some provable impacts of the Bantu migration

The effect of the Bantu Migration is numerous; there are both positive and negative impacts. Originally, Bantus were local farmers and hunter-gatherers in their native abode before their exploits. As they traveled along the coasts of River Niger Basin, they settled temporarily to farm because of the conduciveness of the area for farming.

As they traveled, they began to cohabit with the inhabitants and introduced their culture and arts to the people. The Bantus introduced the use of iron tools like knives and cutlasses to the people. For instance, iron-working, iron-smelting, and iron-smith in the interiors of Eastern of Africa (where stones and sticks were the known tools) have been credited to the Bantus.

The spread of agriculture and crops is one of the most significant impacts of the Bantus’ immigration. As they Bantus traveled along their path, they traveled carrying their indigenous crops along with them for propagation. The Bantus introduced black eyed peas, voandzeia and gourd. Yams, bananas, cassavas, and some other crops also were scattered to other regions through the Bantus.

The Bantus changed the concepts and mentality of the people they encountered from mere food gatherers to crop-cultivators.

Again, the Bantus were very diligent in embracing other people and their cultures. The Bantus also were influenced in the act of spreading their culture and language to the inhabitants. Throughout the Eastern Africa, the prefix ‘NTU” has come to stay which was the induction of the Bantus’ language. This made it easy for the Bantus to introduce their system of governance of having a centralized leader called ‘the King’ supported by a council of chiefs.
The Bantus impacted the inhabitants of everywhere they settled or traversed. They introduced the use of mud to build their huts or houses instead of the usual thatch houses the inhabitants were used to. In great measures, the Bantus impacted the inhabitants of the Eastern Africa culture, language, agriculture, and style of village or town settlement. The Bantu language group has impacted the various African languages in the paths of their migration. The Swahili language is deep-rooted in Bantus language.

Bantu expansion had great positive impacts on the inhabitants along the path of the migration waves, yet the Bantu expansion also had some adverse effects on some of the populace where they Bantus traversed or settled down.

One significant negative impact it had was the constant strife and wars between the Bantus and the local inhabitants. The Bantus were physically stronger and warrior-like. They tended to seize the inhabitants’ land for use forcefully. This led to many altercations and fighting with loss of lives and properties. There were several incidences between the Bantus and local inhabitants.

Cultural absorption was another issue that negatively characterized the Bantus expansion. Through inter-marriages, many inhabitants began to lose their cultural values at the expense of the Bantus’ culture.

The dramatic influence on the languages of the inhabitants was impressive. Many languages were inadvertently transformed in the line of the Bantu language.

Popular Bantu words in the English Language

Bantu words incorporated into English include Bomba, Bongos, Bwana, Candombe, Chimpanzee, Gumbo, Hakuna matata, Impala, Indaba, Jenga, Jumbo, Kalimba, Kwanzaa, Mamba, Mambo, Mbira, Marimba, Rumba, Safari, Samba, Simba and Ubuntu.

Cultural groups that developed from the Bantu migration

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Over 120 different ethnic groups today spanning 21 countries resulted from the interactions between Bantu migrants and cultures they found wherever they went.

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