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Who Are the Bantu People?

The Bantu people are mostly found in southern, central and eastern Africa. They comprise about a third of Africa’s total population whose languages have similarities. Within these over 400 languages, some words and expressions are similar, but the people are very diverse culturally and are actually more different than similar.

The term Bantu means people and through mutual intelligibility, all the Bantu languages have a similar sounding term that also means people. The similarities in Bantu languages occur in both vocabulary and language structure. Bantu languages use affixes which must agree with each other on both the noun, verb and qualifiers. The plural also changes the prefix. Words generally end with vowels and conform to the (vowel-)consonant-vowel sound patterns. Reduplication (repetition) of words is very common too and is used to emphasise the increase or lowering of intensity and frequency of an action.

It is believed that over 5000 years ago, people of similar ethnicity migrated from northern Africa. They were skilled in metalwork and agriculture and settled from eastern Cameroon all the way down to South Africa. The Bantu were known for being highly resourceful and easily adapted to whatever environment they settled into.

The largest Bantu populations are the Shona found in Zimbabwe who make over 85% of that country’s population (over 10 million) followed by the Zulu of South Africa. In South Africa, the term Bantu can be derogatory as it carries connotations of apartheid. Swahili is fast growing in popularity as an official business Bantu language for in eastern Africa, but most people use it as a second language.

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