The Bantu expansion is the name for a postulated major series of migrations or expansions of the original proto-Bantu language speaking group,[1][2] from its origins in modern day Cameroon (Central Africa) across much of sub-Sahara Africa, where it dominated over and displaced pre-existing hunter-gatherers and tribespeople.

The primary evidence for this expansion is linguistic - the languages spoken across Sub-Equatorial Africa are remarkably similar to each other, suggesting the common cultural origin of their original speakers. The linguistic core of the Bantu family of languages, a branch of the Niger–Congo language family, was located in the adjoining regions of Cameroon and Nigeria. However, attempts to trace the exact route of the expansion, to correlate it with archaeological evidence and genetic evidence, have not been conclusive; thus although the expansion is widely accepted as having taken place, many aspects of it remain in doubt or are highly contested.[3]

The expansion is believed to have taken place in at least two waves, between about 3,000 and 2,000 years ago (approximately 1,000 BCE to 1 CE). Linguistic analysis suggests that the expansion proceeded in two directions: the first went across the Congo forest region (towards East Africa),[4] and the second - and possibly others - went south along the African coast into Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola, or inland along the many south-to-north flowing rivers of the Congo River system. The expansion reached South Africa, probably as early as 300 AD.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12]

1 = 2000–1500 BC origin
2 = ca.1500 BC first migrations
     2.a = Eastern African,   2.b = Western African
3 = 1000–500 BC Urewe nucleus of Eastern African
47 = southward advance
9 = 500 BC–0 Congo nucleus
10 = AD 0–1000 last phase[13][14][15]

Theories on expansion

Initially archaeologists believed that they could find archaeological similarities in the ancient cultures of the region that the Bantu-speakers were held to have traversed; while linguists, classifying the languages and creating a genealogical table of relationships believed they could reconstruct material culture elements. They believed that the expansion was caused by the development of agriculture, the making of ceramics, and the use of iron, which permitted new ecological zones to be exploited. In 1966 Roland Oliver published an article presenting these correlations as a reasonable hypothesis.[16]

The hypothesized Bantu expansion pushed out or assimilated the hunter-forager proto-Khoisan, who had formerly inhabited Southern Africa. In Eastern and Southern Africa, Bantu speakers may have adopted livestock husbandry from other unrelated Cushitic- and Nilotic-speaking peoples they encountered. Herding practices reached the far south several centuries before Bantu-speaking migrants did. Archaeological, linguistic, genetic, and environmental evidence all support the conclusion that the Bantu expansion was a significant human migration.

Niger–Congo languages

The Niger–Congo family comprises a huge group of languages spread throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. The Benue–Congo branch includes the Bantu languages, which are found throughout Central, Southern, and Eastern Africa.

A characteristic feature of most Niger–Congo languages, including the Bantu languages, is their use of tone. They generally lack case inflection, but grammatical gender is characteristic, with some languages having two dozen genders (noun classes). The root of the verb tends to remain unchanged, with either particles or auxiliary verbs expressing tenses and moods. For example, in a number of languages the infinitival is the auxiliary designating the future.

A typical trait in the Niger-Kordofanian family as a group is the division of nouns. This has been juxtaposed with the gender system of the Indo-European languages.[17]

Pre-expansion-era demography

Before the expansion of farming and pastoralist African peoples, Southern Africa was populated by hunter-gatherers and earlier pastoralists.

Central Africa

It is thought that Central African Pygmies and Bantus branched out from a common ancestral population c. 70,000 years ago.[18] Many Batwa groups speak Bantu languages; however, a considerable portion of their vocabulary is not Bantu in origin. Much of this vocabulary is botanical, deals with honey collecting, or is otherwise specialised for the forest and is shared between western Batwa groups. It has been proposed that this is the remnant of an independent western Batwa (Mbenga or "Baaka") language.[19]

Southern Africa

Proto-Khoisan-speaking peoples, whose descendants have largely mixed with other peoples and taken up other languages; a few still live by foraging (often supplemented by working for neighbouring farmers) in the arid regions around the Kalahari desert, while a larger number of Nama continue their traditional subsistence by raising livestock in Namibia and adjacent South Africa.

Southeast Africa

Historically, Southeast Africa was once inhabited by southern Cushitic people, and the most predominant ones were people who the ancient Romans referred to as the "Azanians" who lived in lands stretching from Kenya to Tanzania. There were also other Cushitic tribes who were native to Tanzania, such as the Iraqw, Gorowa, Alagwa, Burunge, Asa, and Kw'adza. These Cushitic peoples were the predominant inhabitants of Southeast Africa until they were displaced by and/or assimilated into the Bantu speaking populations that eventually moved in, and today they are a minority in their own ancestral land.[20]

Parts of what are now Kenya and Tanzania were also primarily inhabited by agropastoralist southern Cushitic speakers from the Horn of Africa followed by a later wave of Nilo-Saharan herders.[21][22][23][24]


San rock art depicting a shield-carrying Bantu warrior. The movement of Bantu settlers, who migrated southwards and settled in the summer rainfall regions of Southern Africa within the last 2000 years, established a range of relationships with the indigenous San people from bitter conflict to ritual interaction and intermarriage.

c. 1000 BC to c. A.D 500 

It seems likely that the expansion of the Bantu-speaking people from their core region in West Africa began around 1000 BC. Although early models posited that the early speakers were both iron-using and agricultural, archaeology has shown that they did not use iron until as late as 400 BC, though they were agricultural.[25] The western branch, not necessarily linguistically distinct, according to Christopher Ehret, followed the coast and the major rivers of the Congo system southward, reaching central Angola by around 500 BC.[26]

It is clear that there were human populations in the region at the time of the expansion, and pygmies are their purer descendants. However, mtDNA genetic research from Cabinda suggests that only haplogroups that originated in West Africa are found there today, and the distinctive L0 of the pre-Bantu population is missing, suggesting that there was a complete population replacement. In South Africa, however, a more complex intermixing could have taken place.[27]

Further east, Bantu-speaking communities had reached the great Central African rainforest, and by 500 BC, pioneering groups had emerged into the savannas to the south, in what are now the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Zambia.

Another stream of migration, moving east by 3,000 years ago (1000 BC), was creating a major new population center near the Great Lakes of East Africa, where a rich environment supported a dense population. Movements by small groups to the southeast from the Great Lakes region were more rapid, with initial settlements widely dispersed near the coast and near rivers, due to comparatively harsh farming conditions in areas further from water. Pioneering groups had reached modern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa by A.D 300 along the coast, and the modern Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Transvaal) by A.D 500.[28][29][30]

From the 13th century to 17th century

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the relatively powerful Bantu-speaking states on a scale larger than local chiefdoms began to emerge, in the Great Lakes region, in the savanna south of the Central African rainforest, and on the Zambezi river where the Monomatapa kings built the famous Great Zimbabwe complex. Such processes of state-formation occurred with increasing frequency from the 16th century onward. They were probably due to denser population, which led to more specialised divisions of labour, including military power, while making outmigration more difficult. Other factors were increased trade among African communities and with European, and Arab traders on the coasts; technological developments in economic activity, and new techniques in the political-spiritual ritualisation of royalty as the source of national strength and health.[31]

Rise of the Zulu Empire (18th–19th centuries)

By the time Great Zimbabwe had ceased being the capital of a large trading empire, speakers of Bantu languages were present throughout much of southern Africa. Two main groups developed: the Nguni (Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi) who occupied the eastern coastal plains and the Sotho–Tswana who lived on the interior plateau.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, two major events occurred. The Trekboers were colonizing new areas of southern Africa, moving northeast from the Cape Colony, and they came into contact with the Xhosa, the Southern Nguni. At the same time major events were taking place further north in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal. At that time the area was populated by dozens of small clans, one of which was the Zulu, then a particularly small clan of no local distinction whatsoever. In 1816 Shaka acceded to the Zulu throne. Within a year he had conquered the neighboring clans, and had made the Zulu into the most important ally of the large Mtetwa clan, which was in competition with the Ndwandwe clan for domination of the northern part of modern-day KwaZulu-Natal.

See also


  1. ^ Clark, John Desmond; Brandt, Steven A. (1984). From Hunters to Farmers: The Causes and Consequences of Food Production in Africa. University of California Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-520-04574-2. 
  2. ^ Adler, Philip J.; Pouwels, Randall L. (2007). World Civilizations: Since 1500. Cengage Learning. p. 169. ISBN 0-495-50262-6. 
  3. ^ Berniell-Lee, Gemma; Calafell, Francesc; Bosch, Elena; et al. (2006). "Genetic and Demographic Implications of the Bantu Expansion: Insights from Human Paternal Lineages". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 26 (7): 1581–1589. doi:10.1093/molbev/msp069. PMID 19369595. 
  4. ^ Pollard, Elizabeth; Rosenberg, Clifford; Tignor, Robert (2011). Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World: From the Beginnings of Humankind to the Present. New York: Norton. p. 289. ISBN 978-0-3939-1847-2. 
  5. ^ Vansina, J. (1995). "New Linguistic Evidence and ‚The Bantu Expansion'". Journal of African History. 36 (2): 173–195. doi:10.1017/S0021853700034101. JSTOR 182309. 
  6. ^ Tishkoff, S. A.; Reed, F. A.; Friedlaender, F. R.; et al. (2009). "The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans". Science. 324 (5930): 1035–44. doi:10.1126/science.1172257. PMC 2947357Freely accessible. PMID 19407144. 
  7. ^ Plaza, S; Salas, A; Calafell, F; Corte-Real, F; Bertranpetit, J; Carracedo, A; Comas, D (2004). "Insights into the western Bantu dispersal: MtDNA lineage analysis in Angola". Human Genetics. 115 (5): 439–47. doi:10.1007/s00439-004-1164-0. PMID 15340834. 
  8. ^ Coelho, M; Sequeira, F; Luiselli, D; Beleza, S; Rocha, J (2009). "On the edge of Bantu expansions: MtDNA, Y chromosome and lactase persistence genetic variation in southwestern Angola". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 9: 80. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-80. PMC 2682489Freely accessible. PMID 19383166. 
  9. ^ De Filippo, C; Barbieri, C; Whitten, M; et al. (2011). "Y-chromosomal variation in sub-Saharan Africa: Insights into the history of Niger–Congo groups". Molecular Biology and Evolution. 28 (3): 1255–69. doi:10.1093/molbev/msq312. PMC 3561512Freely accessible. PMID 21109585. 
  10. ^ Alves, I; Coelho, M; Gignoux, C; et al. (2011). "Genetic homogeneity across Bantu-speaking groups from Mozambique and Angola challenges early split scenarios between East and West Bantu populations". Human Biology. 83 (1): 13–38. doi:10.3378/027.083.0102. PMID 21453002. 
  11. ^ Castrì, L; Tofanelli, S; Garagnani, P; et al. (2009). "MtDNA variability in two Bantu-speaking populations (Shona and Hutu) from Eastern Africa: Implications for peopling and migration patterns in sub-Saharan Africa". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 140 (2): 302–11. doi:10.1002/ajpa.21070. PMID 19425093. 
  12. ^ "Carte Blanche > M-Net". Beta.mnet.co.za. Archived from the original on 7 January 2012. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  13. ^ Bousman, C. Britt (June 1998). "The Chronological Evidence for the Introduction of Domestic Stock into Southern Africa". The African Archaeological Review. 15 (2): 133–150. JSTOR 25130649. 
  14. ^ "A Brief History of Botswana". Thuto.org. 2000-09-19. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  15. ^ Andrej, Isabella (1998). Historischer Überblick [Historical overview]. Matrilineal Societies: A study from an anthropological and historical perspective (Thesis) (in German). Vienna, Austria: University of Vienna. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  16. ^ Oliver, Roland (1966). "The Problem of the Bantu Expansion". The Journal of African History. 7 (3): 361. doi:10.1017/S0021853700006472. JSTOR 180108. 
  17. ^ Campbell-Dunn, G.J.K. (2004). Comparative Linguistics Indo-European and Niger-Congo (PDF) (Report). Christchurch, New Zealand: Penny Farthing Press. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  18. ^ Awad, Elias. "Common Origins of Pygmies and Bantus". CNRS International Magazine. Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Retrieved 27 November 2014. 
  19. ^ Bahuchet, Serge (1993). Hladik, C.M., ed. History of the Inhabitants of the Central African Rain Forest: Perspectives from Comparative Linguistics. Tropical Forests, People, and Food: Biocultural Interactions and Applications to Development. Paris: Unesco/Parthenon. ISBN 978-9-2310-2879-3. 
  20. ^ http://www.enzimuseum.org/after-the-stone-age/early-migrations-into-east-africa
  21. ^ Ehret, Christopher (1980). The Historical Reconstruction of Southern Cushitic Phonology and Vocabulary. Volume 5 of Kölner Beiträge zur Afrikanistik. Berlin: Reimer. p. 407. 
  22. ^ Ehret, Christopher (1983). Mack, John; Robertshaw, Peter, eds. Culture History in the Southern Sudan. Nairobi, Kenya: British Institute in Eastern Africa. pp. 19–48. ISBN 9781872566047. 
  23. ^ Ambrose, Stanley H. (1982). Ehert, Christopher; Posnansky, Merrick, eds. Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstructions of History in East Africa. The Archaeological and Linguistic Reconstruction of African History. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-5200-4593-4. 
  24. ^ Ambrose, S.H. (1986). "Hunter-gatherer adaptations to non-marginal environments: an ecological and archaeological assessment of the Dorobo model". Sprache und Geschichte in Afrika (SUGIA). 7 (2): 11. 
  25. ^ Vansina, Jan (1990). Paths in the Rainforest: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-2991-2573-8. 
  26. ^ Ehret, C. (2001). "Bantu Expansions: Re-Envisioning a Central Problem of Early African History". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 34 (1): 5–41. doi:10.2307/3097285. JSTOR 3097285. 
  27. ^ Beleza, Sandra; Gusmao, Leonor; Amorim, Antonio; Caracedo, Angel; Salas, Antonio (August 2005). "The Genetic Legacy of Western Bantu Migrations". Human Genetics. 117 (4): pp 366–375. doi:10.1007/s00439-005-1290-3. PMID 15928903. 
  28. ^ Ehret, Christopher (1998). An African Classical Age: Eastern and Southern Africa in World History, 1000 B.C. to A.D. 400. London: James Currey. [page needed]
  29. ^ Newman, James L. (1995). The Peopling of Africa: A Geographic Interpretation. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07280-5. [page needed]
  30. ^ Shillington, Kevin (2005). History of Africa (3rd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. [page needed]
  31. ^ Shillington (2005).

External links