Ancient Africa

Bantu Languages

Bantu languages are a set of somewhere in between 250-500 different languages. The word Bantu means “the people,” or “humans.” These languages are a traditional sub-branch of the Niger-Congo languages. They are spoken largely in the east and south of present-day Cameroon. 12 Bantu languages are spoken by more than 5 million people as a first language. Swahili, Shona, Kinyarwanda, Zulu, and Lingala are the top 5 most common Bantu languages spoken. Some of the other significant Bantu languages include Zulu spoken by 10 million people, Xhosa spoken by 7 million people, Sotho spoken by 5 million people, and Setswana spoken by 4 million people.

               Swahili or Kiswahili is the Bantu lingua franca, spoken by more than 80 million people across 8 countries and that number is still growing. The largest amount of speakers of the Bantu language. This is spoken mainly in Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, and Uganda. All Bantu languages are tonal except Swahili, tones are used to indicate different meanings. Swahili language has a lot of Arabic language influence.

Map of just some of the different Bantu languages and where they are spoken

Example of the Swahili language.

Bantu Migration

The Bantu migration began in about 1000 B.C.E. and ended in about 1700 A.D., although these dates are still in somewhat of a confusion. The Bantu migrated from the western part of Africa to near modern day Nigeria southward and eastward. They are spread out all over the southern half of Africa. Bantu also settled land and created great empires like Great Zimbabwe and the Zulu Kingdom. This was one of the largest human migrations in history. The reasoning behind why the migration occurred is unknown but thought to be because of the population increase.

Bantu Migration map