The Bantu people.

The Bantu expansion

The Bantu are thought to have originated from the the area of Nigeria/Cameroon, and started their expansion East and South about 5,000 years ago (3,000 BC). They reached the equatorial rain forest 3500 years ago, entering what is now Uganda, 3000 years ago. It is people of this ancestry that comprised the bulk of the slaves transported across the Atlantic, and most black Americans can trace their ancestry to West and West-central Africa.

Bantu farming

The success of the Bantu was to do with farming. In a pattern repeated the world over throughout history, the farming people expand relatively quickly into lands occupied by hunter gatherers, displacing them, and  absorbing a small number of them into their population.  Prior to 3000 BC the population of sub Saharan Africa looked like the Khoisan people. The Bantu underwent a recent, massive, population explosion and are now numerically superior. If you went back in time 5,000 years, they would only be a few hundred thousand Bantu people learning to farm on the Western side of Africa. Bantu speakers w number about 60 million, and most of of sub Saharan Africa now speaks some version of the Niger-Congo language family.

This was different to how farming spread in Europe. Although some new population arrived in Southern Europe, most of the old population remained, they simply adopted farming. This was not the case with the Bantu expansion. The neolithic hunter gatherers, although they implemented pastoralism, failed to implement agriculture and were mostly displaced. They are now marginalised to areas where agriculture is not possible, like deserts and scrub land. The Bantu brought their language with them, and their spread can be seen below. You can see how the original Khoisan people (palest brown) have been engulfed by the spread of the Bantu people (light brown). 

 The Bantu brought their cattle and goats with them, and finally carried the technology of iron into Southern Africa, iron arriving in Southern Africa about 400 AD. The exact date of iron working starting in Africa is unclear to say the best, but the first widely recognised smiths In sub Saharan Africa were the Nok people of Nigeria. There’s an interesting read called ‘Iron roads in Africa’ that claims multiple independent discoveries of iron working, but the evidence is  open to criticism due to the common use of fossil charcoal, which can give a false age, and a poor standard of archaeology.  

Igbo kids, Nigeria.                                  Kikuyu woman, Kenya.

Boys, Mozambique.       Ugandan children.

Bantu DNA

Prehistoric and historic traces in the mtDNA of Mozambique: insights into the Bantu expansions and the slave trade

A sample of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) from the southeastern African population of Mozambique has been shown to have affinities with populations both to its north and south. From the north came sequences that may have been involved in the Bantu expansion (from western, through eastern, to southern Africa), such as members of haplogroups L3b, L3e1a and a subset of L1a. The dating of the major component of Mozambican mtDNAs, the subset L2a of haplogroup L2, displayed an age range compatible with the Bantu expansion. The southern influence was traced by the presence of sequence types from haplogroup L1d, a probable relict of Khoisan-speaking populations that inhabited the region prior to their displacement by the Bantu-speaking incomers. Within historicaltimes, the forced displacement of Mozambicans as part of the slave trade, mainly documented as being to the Americas, generated a differential input of eastern African sequences into the mtDNA pools of the Americas and of Europe, as testified to by the greater number of sequence matches between Mozambique and the Americas, compared to those between Mozambique and Europe

Genetic substructure in South African Bantu-speakers: Evidence from autosomal DNA and Y-chromosome studies.

The extent of genetic differentiation between seven South African Bantu-speaking groups (Zulu, Xhosa, Tsonga/Shangaan, Southern Sotho, Pedi, Tswana, and Venda) was assessed from coancestry coefficients (FST) estimated from autosomal serogenetic, DNA, and Y-chromosome DNA haplotypes. The overall FST obtained from the autosomal data was 0.002, and that from the Y chromosome data was 0.014. The genetic relationships between groups examined were inferred from their cluster affinities in phylogenetic trees constructed from the genetic distances between them. Both autosomaland Y-chromosome DNA studies reveal that 6 of the 7 South African Bantu-speaking groups cluster according to their linguistic groupings, the exception being the Tsonga, who do not cluster with other Nguni language speakers, but rather with the Venda who live close to them. This suggests that the invading Shangaan-speakers, whose Nguni language was adopted by the Tsonga, did not have a major effect on the Tsonga gene pool, and that gene flow from the Venda into the Tsongamay have been considerable. Genetic distances were found to correlate with geographic distances between the regions where each group’s apparent population density is the highest. Linguistic distances were also found to correlate with genetic distances, but linguistic and geographic distances showed no correlation. Together, these results suggest that linguistic and some genetic differentiation took place before the groups (or their forerunners) reached their present-day locations, and that further genetic change occurred after their arrival.
American journal of physical anthropology  

Insights into the western Bantu dispersal: mtDNA lineage analysis in Angola

Africa is the homeland of humankind and it is known to harbour the highest levels of human genetic diversity. However, many continental regions, especially in the sub-Saharan side, still remain largely uncharacterized(i.e. southwest and centralAfrica). Here, we examine the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in a sample from Angola. The two mtDNA hypervariable segments as well as the 9-bp tandem repeat on the COII/tRNA(lys) intergenic region have allowed us to allocate mtDNAs to common African haplogroups. Angola lies in the southern end of the putative western branch of the Bantu expansion, where it metthe local Khoisan populations. Angolan mtDNA lineages show basically a Bantu substrate with no traces of Khoisan lineages. Roughly, more than half of the southwestern mtDNApool can be assigned to west Africa, approximately 25% to central Africa and a significant 16% to east Africa, which points to the western gene pool having contributed most to the mtDNA lineages in Angola. We have also detected signals of extensive gene flow from southeast Africa. Our results suggest that eastern and western Bantu expansion routes were not independent from each other, and were connected south of the rainforest and along the southern African savannah. In agreement with historical documentation, the analysis also showed that the Angola mtDNA genetic pool shows affinities with the African lineages from Brazil, the main American destination of the slaves from Angola, although not all lineages in Brazil can be accounted for by the Angolan mtDNA pool.

Phylogenetic and phylogeographic analysis of African mitochondrial DNA variation

A very technical paper, as a pdf. document.

Back-migration into Cameroon

An alternative explanation, not considered by the authors is that mtDNA, known to be involved in energy production, is subject to strong selection in different natural environments, and therefore, there may have been selection against Eurasian mtDNAafter its initial introduction into the population.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Early View (Articles online in advance of print)

MtDNA variation in North Cameroon: Lack of asian lineages and implications for back migration from Asia to sub-Saharan Africa
Valentina Coia et al.

The hypervariableregion-1 and four nucleotide positions (10400, 10873, 12308, and 12705) of the coding region of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) were analyzed in 441 individuals belonging to eight populations (Daba, Fali, Fulbe, Mandara, Uldeme, Podokwo, Tali, and Tupuri) from North Cameroon and four populations (Bakaka, Bassa, Bamileke, and Ewondo) from South Cameroon. All mtDNAs were assigned to five haplogroups: three sub-Saharan (L1, L2, and L3), one northern African (U6), and one European (U5). Our results contrast with the observed high frequencies of a Y-chromosome haplogroup of probable Asian origin (R1*-M173) in North Cameroon. As a first step toward a better understanding of the evident discrepancy between mtDNA and Y-chromosome data, we propose two contrasting scenarios. The first one, here termed “migration and asymmetric admixture,” implies a back migration from Asia to North Cameroon of a population group carrying the haplotype R1*-M173 at high frequency, and an admixture process restricted to migrant males. The second scenario, on the other hand, temed “divergent drift,” implies that modern populations of North Cameroon originated from a small population group which migrated from Asia to Africa and in which, through genetic drift, Y-chromosome haplotype R1*-M173 became predominant, whereas the Asian mtDNA haplogroups were lost.


It’s quite interesting that an ancient European Berber mitochondrial DNA lineage (U6) has been carried South by the Bantu expansion. This probably spread South into the founder Bantu population during the last Saharan pluvial period, about 12,000 to 4,000 years ago, when the Sahara was a grassland.





50 responses to “The Bantu people.

  1. Very very nice! I’m prepping Lecture Notes for my uni Hist and Geography of Languages class, in search information about Bantu expansion, and came across your Blog.
    What do you know about a southward expansion of the Nilotics? Mufwene, in his The Ecology of Lang Evolution (2001, pp. 180-182) book, says that such a migration occurred four to 700 years ago. Is there any genetic research on this?
    Thank you! Looking forward to reading more when I have the time!
    jack wendel

  2. omg this site was so totally freakin awesome

  3. the bantu people are from the 12 tribes of israel…mainly from levi western bantus and simeon eastern bantus read deut 28 chapter and genesis 49 chapter

    the other african tribes of isreal is judah the amhara and sephardim jews and dan the moorish berbers and falashim jews and like the bantus
    these african jews carries the e y-dna haplo groups …just wanted to mention that peace!!!

  4. Igbo are not Bantu – Thank you.
    Igbo language is not Bantu.

    • Of course, Igbo, Bassa, Mbeti are all Bantu.

    • I can confirm scientifically that Igbos are originate from the Bantus people from genetic experiment done on more than 20 Ibos at Geneva’s Lab: Language does not determine your source of origin but your DNA lineage. Take a DNA test at this Lab and you will be surprised who your cousins are!

      • Dr. John Ibekwe, MD (USA)

        Thank you for posting this authentic information.This information will help to stop the falsehood that Igbos are Jewish in origin. Any tracing of the origin of any people without DNA evidence is empty. In your write-up, you even gave the contact of the DNA laboratory in Geneva. Thank you. I am happy that as an Igbo man, I am one of the Bantus – a great racial group. Even, the archeological geography of the original homeland of the Bantus seems to be the Igboland – “the ancestral proto-Bantu homeland is near the southwestern modern boundary of Nigeria and Cameroon. Greenberg argued that Proto-Bantu, the hypothetical ancestor of the Bantu languages, had strong ancestral affinities with a group of languages spoken in Southeastern Nigeria. In essence, the Igboland is the ancestral homeland of the Bantus. The Igbos should be happy with this.

  5. Bantus are far ,far bigger than igbos.It will be an honor for igbos to be bantus not the reverse.Who are igbos anyway?Who know igbos?What have they achieved?Where is the Igbo Mandela?

    • Be nice. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

    • Dr. John Ibekwe

      Hi Kossinaa,
      The Igbos are bantus and the Igbos are better off as Bantus. Igbo is probably the original homeland of the Bantus before Bantus migration. On the other, Igbos are a great people. Think of Olaudah Equiano- the slave who became bigger than life. There are so many of them in terms of achievement. Think of Dr. Azikiwe and etc. Nelson Mandela is great but do not forget that he is just an accident of history. By the original plan of the South African government, he would have died forgotten in Robbins Island Prison. It was the fear of the White South Africans about Mugagbe’s revolution spilling into South Africa that prompted the Apartheid South Africa to release Mandela to negotiate peace with the blacks in South Africa. Mandela was a tool by by which White South Africans bought their freedom from an impending bloodshed.
      All the same, I am happy that Igbos are Bantus. This settles the arrogance and ignorance of those Igbos who claim to originate from Isreal’
      Good luck to you.

  6. Bantus are the seeds of all the first greatest civilisations in the world.The proto -sumerians were basically one offshot of bantus.The sumerians called their land Ki/a/Ngi or Land(ki/chi/chie) of the gods(Ngi).But Ki/chi (land) or Ngi/Ngai are bantus world for land and God(kikuyu).Sumerians used the term Mulu for human being.Only a bantu group can use Mulu/Mutu for human being.The founder of the egyptian empire Menes AHA(Mwene AHA to be exact)was a pure bantuman.Menes is the greek translation of Mwene,the supreme titlte given to all bantus empire builders:The Mwene Kongo built the kingdom of Kongo,The Mwene Mutapa built Great Zimbabwe,The Mwanangana(Chibida Ilunga) built both the Lunda (Congo) and the Chokwe(Angola) kingdoms.Bate kwetu!

  7. By the way,there are no link between bantus and jews.Bantus are pure africans.Mathilda37 browse Google for proto-bantus&sumerians and Mwene kongo,Mwene mutapa

    • What is this with Bantus and Jews?

      Bantus were just a tiny population clustered in West Africa when the Sumerians were buliding cities-the two have no connection.

  8. Bantus arent jews.Jews are semitic and whites .Bantus are pure africans and they have no connection with jews

  9. Dear Mathilda37
    Before saying “bullshit” be sure of what you are talking about coz many whites people talk about things they dont know when it comes to africa history.They think they know more than africans themselves.I am pretty sure I know more than you about african cultures,religions ,languages and traditions .Because of egypt special in the world civilisation,many white people always try to dismiss the influence of blacks in the making of egyptian civilisation.But like it or not,blacks african cultures are the only cultures in the world that can explain all aspects of egyptian civilisation.It makes me loath when I see “eminent” egyptologists traduising “Osiris” by “ausar” or Menes by “Meni”.This is typical example who have no idea of the culure they are dealing with.For your information,Osiris is the greek translation of OSARE.OSARE=OSA(god )+RE(RA).Osiris means the one the attrubuts of God and the brillance of the Sun.I challenge any one in the world to come up with a better translation of the world OSIRIS

  10. I think you got an issue with black people and you are using “anthropology” to settle scores.I am not anthropologist but I think I know more than you about african history coz I am french -educated and french people tend to be more cultivated than english people.You should read people like Marcel Griaule dans ” dieu de l`eau” or Amelineau the great french egyptologist.After that we can talk.I mentionned jews in relation to bantus coz “israel villa” wrote that bantus are one of the 12 tribes of israel.That is why I wrote what I wrote.Ask you shall receive!If you dont know it is not a sin to ask

    • I have black family, which is why I have an interest in Africa. I know a fair bit about African pre history.

      Bantus have nothing to do with teh Jews, they are about the least related people to the Jews on the planet.

      • Then how do you explain the little village occupied by the Al Bassa between Lebanon and Israel? Where are they from? What is theri connection with the Palestinians?

  11. If bantus are a “tiny population” why do you bother studying them?Find something else to do .

  12. Africans know more about “their” history because they are African? Does a dog know more about its own medical condition than the vet?

  13. For somebody who have “black family” you have a funny way of talking about blacks.I dont know if you know to read coz I was the one who wrote that bantus have nothing to do with jews.And it is not me who is saying that bantus are related to jew:It is jewish scholars themselves who say that.The lembas of Zimbabwe were DNA tested by israelis to find out if they carry the “cohen” gene.Results showed that the percentage of “cohen” gene in the lembas was higher than in the askenazis.Just google for lembas of zimbabwe.I am not jew and I will never be jew and I dont care for jews

    • Yes I saw a documentary on that-something to do with looking for the lost ark of the covenant. It was from a Semitic population moving down into Africa and settling there. These guys are not your average Bantu for y chromsomes though.

  14. Bantus are not “dog” if I follow your analogy.They are the first race to grace the earth and you are albinos.So we know who we are!You should spend your time researching about the 1000 years your ancestors spent in caves instead and forget about the bantus business.We dont need dumbass people like to know about our culture.

    • Kossina, some Europeans were living in cities about 7,000 years ago, and in small huts about 30k ago in Europe. You are a dumbass who knows nothing about history.

  15. kossina: I dont think you do understand the analogy.

  16. Whatever you like

    I am astonished!!! The colours of racism and intolerance are many indeed. I am of African origin and Africans (or any others) do not necessarily know more about their own culture and history than others who dedicate themselves to study the world in its variety in many fields. The worls is one and humanity is one. There are no “races” (but there is racism). As for the French who knows it all because he believes that “french people tend to be more cultivated than english people” try not to be arrogant. My grand-mother always said instruction is not education. How true! The discussion about the origins and spread of the Bantus is a massive one. In it there are many eminent scholars involved (alas, even great African scholars). I always find easy answers elusive. The Blog tried to give a balanced view indicating relevant sources and if we are going to get somewhere it will certainly be through a sensible attitude a lot of hard work and research and not through impressions based in beliefs and certainly not looking at the colour of ones’ skin and accusing all the world of being against us. I am not French nor English, I am a human being and as for the colour of my skin is a bit on the dark side (OK, very dark) and if there are issues where that matters (a alot) it is not in this one. Mathilda you should have indicated the sources of your map. Kossina, the whole world was made up of “tiny populations” and some of them grew into big ones others did not. They are all important and worth studying. Bantuman get yoursel some real education and a little bit of instruction, for good measure. Israel Villa, the 12 tribes of Israel and the theory that the whole humanity has stemmed from them lacks evidence. Nice myth though as many others from the old testament.

  17. kossinaa: What do you think about somali and ethiopian people. Are we ALBINOS to? Cuz’ we ain’t Bantu.

  18. Does aren’t Igbo kids, their Yoruba.

  19. Well !By now everybody in the world knows that igbos are descendants of jews.An igbo lady called chioma met king david of israel on her way to the “holy city” of jerusalem.At least yorubas are proud to be africans.

  20. Salut!
    Whatever you like // March 23, 2009 at 3:10 pm
    “There are no “races” (but there is racism).”
    Your miserably, funny if there is no “race” there can not be “racism”…..No,there are many different species(at present) ,You comment is good prove 🙂
    So they are the Great Zimbabwe state owners………..

  21. Please forgive my choice of words here; but I must say that I find the discussions on the issue of Bantu so embarrassingly ridiculous.

    The human race is just like a tree stem with several branches. Israelis are but one of those many branches and so are the Bantu people. I don’t subscribe to the idea that the Igbos, Bantu and so on are from the Israeli branch of the human race tree stem, just as I do not accept that each race developed on its own as evolution theory tries so hard to assert.

    I believe that the whole essence of our contributions here should be for enlightenment and education and anything outside this misses the point.

  22. Terrible pity the relatively harmless Bushmen were not left to occupy Africa.

    • Terrible pity the relatively harmless Bushmen were not left to occupy Africa

      God, the poor souls got hunted down like vermin by the Europeans and the Bantu. I think the Bantu killed most of them.

  23. Interesting that someone posted the idea that the sumerians are an offshoot of the proto-bantu. This idea seems to be spreading over the net and originated in the beginning of the 20th century in South Africa. The most recent reincarnation of it is in the Afterword of the African history book When We Ruled by Robin Walker, 2006, Every Generation Media

    • sumerians are an offshoot of the proto-bantu

      Not likely, since at about the time the sumerians were building their cities the bantu were atiny population on the west coast of Africa.

  24. Funny, I thought I answered this one already, unless my post was removed. The answer Mathilda gave is a bit like saying `when Sanskrit was spoken in Indian civilisation the Germanics were occupying a small corner of northern Europe. The two peoples do not have a historical connection`. This would be a false statement because the linguistic evidence shows that they both share a common ancestor which has been called by linguists Proto-Indo-European. There is linguistic evidence that has recently been published that shows Sumerian to be related to Proto-Bantu, meaning they shared a common ancestor. Engage the evidence or hide.


  25. Actually I saw something about Kikuyus having a lot of Semitism in their dna from an Axum migration 800-900 years ago. Even the dietary practices are largely Jewish. At the same time I saw something about sharing haplogroup J with Japanese.
    ‘Japanese’ ‘AF346989′ ‘D’
    ‘Japanese2′ ‘AF346990′ ‘D’
    ‘Kikuyu’ ‘AF346992′ ‘L1′
    Having heard the language I’m convinced its an E.African bantu language. Maybe someone who understands the significance of this can comment coherently?

  26. There is a lot of misleading information here. Firstly, most slaves to the Americas were not taken from Bantu lands. Some Bantu were taken from Angola and Congo regions, but most came from West Africa where there are no Bantu speaking people. For example, there are Igbo people pictured here, who are certainly not a Bantu speaking people.

    I am a linguist rather than a geneticist and I cast doubt upon the supposed migration from Cameroon of the Bantu people. The logistics of transversing the Congo river basin and thick forest by a supposedly agricultural people is dubious. And the oral histories of East African Bantu peoples says differently – that they once were pastoralists and hunters as well as being agriculturalists. They have fairly convincing unanimous consensus that they came from the North, from a place called Miziri which we must associate with Misri/Egypt and that they were led out of a land of plagues and drought by a leader who crossed a body of water by magical means. That should sound familiar… This is a story which has various forms by Bantu tribes in East Africa, where there is little Jewish presence, suggesting perhaps the Exodus story was a common mythology of a number of peoples, of which the Jewish version is but one version.

    If we look at evidence of diet… staple crops such as sorghum and finger millet are native to eastern Africa, while non-sweet bananas came from south east Asia. These were the staples of east Africa before the arrival of maize. Yams from west Africa, are used less in the east. Cattle is also important to east African Bantu and the Ankole Longhorn is native to the Great Lake region again, not West Africa.

    To Mwaura, Kikuyu is indeed a Bantu language, which is closely related to Meru, Embu, Kamba, Gusii, Kuria and Maragoli. I don’t know of any relation with Japan. These languages have a different phonology and tonal pattern to surrounding Bantu languages, and is more similar with Central Cushitic and Omotic languages from western Ethiopia. But they certainly are Bantu in grammar and vocabulary. As for relationship with Semites… Kikuyus are known for being good at business and are consequently hated by neighboring less entrepreneurial Nilotic tribes which has led them to be compared with Jews, but I don’t believe there is anything more than that. They certainly don’t observe the same dietary laws that Jews do.

  27. I’m Igbo and we have done alot in reference to the person who said who are we? Come to my blog and find out:

  28. people help those child’s

  29. The success of the Bantu was to do with farming. In a pattern repeated the world over throughout history, the farming people expand relatively quickly into lands occupied by hunter gatherers, displacing them, and absorbing a small number of them into their population

  30. I was listening to Zambian music and I was so amazed how alot of words sounded very familiar to most east-african bantu dilects.
    Everybody here probably knows more than I know , but it’s a shame that in general ABantu ( bantu- in my african language means peaple) find it so hard to embrass diversity. Igbo, Bantu, Jew, Gentile, White whatever else there is, we are all a human race.

  31. Those aren’t Igbo kids, their Yoruba kids from the Yoruba town of Igbo-Ora.

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