Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Bantu (i.e. Aba-ntu, men, people), a Zulu-Kafir term, now used to designate all African races of Bantu speech. With the exception of the Hottentot-Bushman domain, they occupy all the southern half of the continent from about lat. 4° or 5° N. southwards to Kafirland, and from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean. The Bantu peoples are in general Negroid, rather than true Negroes, the constituent elements being mainly the Negro and the Hamite, whose various interminglings present every shade of transition between these two extremes. Hence there is no clearly marked Bantu physical type, and this term has consequently rather a linguistic than an ethnological value. Bantu is, therefore, strictly analogous in meaning to such names as Aryan and Malayo-Polynesian, which similarly imply linguistic unity in the midst of great physical diversity. All the innumerable dialects current throughout the whole of the vast Bantu domain appear to be more or less closely related both in structure, phonetics, and vocabulary, and are all certainly sprung from a common Bantu mother tongue, differing fundamentally from all other known forms of speech. It is distinguished by some remarkable grammatical features, of which the most characteristic is a certain alliterative harmony, somewhat analogous to the vocalic harmony of the Finno-Tatar system. The alliteration is caused by the repetition, in a slightly modified form, of the same prefixed element before all words of the sentence in grammatical concord. Hence the inflection in Bantu is mainly initial, not final, as in most other systems. All nouns are classed according to their proper pronominal prefix, of which there appear to have been at least sixteen in the organic Bantu language; it follows that all adjectives and other words of the sentence in agreement with, or dependent on, the noun are liable to sixteen initial changes, according to the several classes of nouns with which they may occur. Thus the adjective kulu, great, becomes om-kulu, with ntu or any other noun whose class prefix is umu: umu-ntu om-kulu, a great man; in the same way it becomes en-kulu with kose, a chief, whose class prefix is in: in-kose en-kulu, a great chief, and so on. The principle is somewhat like the final concordance for gender in the Aryan languages, as in the Latin domin-us me-us bon-us; domin-a me-a bon-a, etc. The most marked, or at least the best known members of the Bantu linguistic family are the Ki-Swahili of the east coast, largely affected by Arabic influences; the Zulu-Xosa (Zulu-Kafir) of the south-east coastlands, one of the purest and best preserved of all Bantu tongues; the Se-chuana of which the Se-Suto is a mere variety, current throughout Basuto and Bechuanaland; the Ova-Herero of Damara and Ova-Mpo Lands; the Banda and Congo of Portuguese West Africa; the Mpongwe and Bakalai of the Gaboon and Ogoway basins; Ki-Ganda and Ki-Nyoro of the Lakes Victoria and Albert Nyanza; Ki-Rua, Ki-Lunda, and Ki-Lobo of the Congo basin; Chinyanja of Lake Nyassa.