The Bantu migration

The “Bantu migration” is the name given to a massive movement of peoples which took place some time in the first millennium BCE. Leaving a region in what today is eastern Nigeria and Cameroon, people speaking Bantu languages began moving south- and eastward, eventually settling in much of central and southern Africa. This explains why many people here speak related languages today. There are some 450 Bantu languages and the Bantu speakers make up a third of Africa’s population. Because of this shared heritage, many Africans have similar myths, religious beliefs and social practices.

The migrations seem to have been spontaneous movements, not invasions, but exactly why they took place is less clear. Some scholars suggest that it was due to overpopulation while others cite disease or changes in the climate. The Bantu people knew how to work iron and this allowed them to make better tools and more deadly weapons. The iron tools, in turn, made it possible to cut down trees and open up new fields. The original populations of these parts of Africa were hunters and gatherers, not farmers, and they were either assimilated into the Bantu population or forced to eke out a living in more inhospitable places. [Read more:People of the forest“]

All Bantu people share a belief in a supreme God who usually is associated with the sky. The world was not created but it is eternal. What human beings do can easily upset the order of nature and god can easily show his displeasure with humans. In Bantu cultures veneration of the dead plays a prominent role. Spirits of dead people linger on in this world and can influence the lives of the living, at least as long as the dead still are remembered. Many Bantu folktales feature speaking animals — cunning hares, sneaky hyenas, patient turtles and powerful lions. “Ubuntu” is a shared political principle which African politicians occasionally invoke in their rhetoric. It is usually translated as “humanity,” or the notion that “I am because we are.” Ubuntu implies that we all belong together; that we ourselves are diminished when others are humiliated or oppressed.

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