By By S V V Nambala
September 2010
Other Articles
IN the 1860s, Wilhelm Heinrich Immanuel Bleek (1827-1875), a German linguist coined the term Bantu into his study of African languages.

Dr. Bleek used the term Bantu as a comprehensive term for all languages that are characterized by the word ntu and have similar characteristics. These languages are spoken from southern Cameroon, eastern Kenya and the southernmost tip of the continent. Moreover, the Bantu language belongs to the Niger-Congo language family.

In the course of history, the term Bantu has changed its application. Although the original usage was not to apply it to the people themselves, it was later adopted as a generic term to designate a specific race.

Today about two-thirds of Africans are referred to as of Bantu origin. Bantu race is not a stock race, but an offspring of other races. Some even suggest that the Bantu might have emerged from the Negro and Hermitic blood.

Before the application of the term Bantu to designate certain people, two other terms, Zenj and Kaffir were in use since about 880 AD. Zen was adopted by the writer Abou Zeyd-Hassan of Syraf. The name was in use until 1154 AD. Before the name fell into disuse in 1154 AD, it underwent a change. In that year an Arab writer Abou Abdallah el-Edrisi, called the Bantu by the double designation, Zenj and Kaffir.

The latter assumed the Bantu as having no religion. Kaffir in Arabic means “heathen”, similar to the Hebrew term “Pagan” or “Gentile.” Since the time of Edrisi, Kaffir superseded Zenj until it was again replaced by Bantu in the twentieth century. Today these terms, Zenj, Kaffir, Nigger and Bantu are not only viewed as pejorative, but offensive and illegal.

The Bantu are divided into three categories and each category has its own language, namely the Southern, Central and Eastern Bantu. It is of vital importance to note that humanity evolved in Africa and then spread out through the world.

The Bantu migration also took place in Africa. It is considered one of the largest migrations in human history. Between 2000 BC and 1800 AD, the Bantu started migrating from the south-western region of Nigeria and Cameroon. One group went toward the east (eastern Bantu) and the other toward the south (southern Bantu).

By the year 300 AD, some of the pioneering groups reached South Africa. In Angola, a large Bantu influx occurred between 1300 and 1500 AD. The Bantu influx from the Great Lakes of the fifteenth to the 15th to the 19th centuries came to as far as Namibia.

When the Bantu arrived in southern Africa, the San (food gatherers) and Khoisan people preceded them. It is estimated that the San (Bushmen), the last survivors of a Stone Age people, came to Southern Africa about 50 000 years ago. They were followed by the Khoi-Khoi people about 4000 years ago. Some writers suggested that the Khoikhoi people, too, lived in Southern Africa some 30 000 years ago.

The reasons for Bantu migration are diverse and differ from group to group. Causes of migration included overpopulation and social conflicts, slavery, civil wars, search for good livelihoods, adventures, accusations of witchcrafts, rebellion, jealousy and desire for booty. Royal family related migrations involved also elements of bickering, claims of precedence and strife. Wherever the Bantu settled, they introduced many things such agricultural skills and products such as millet and sorghum, iron smelting and iron tools.

Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize anyone as a Bantu because of high rates of intermarriage.

Fortunately, all human beings carry the African gene that will remind everyone that black is beautiful, and that Africa is the cradle of humanity.PF