Bantu (bănˈtōˌ) [key], ethnic and linguistic group of Africa, numbering about 120 million. The Bantu inhabit most of the continent S of the Congo River except the extreme southwest. The classification is primarily linguistic, and there are almost a hundred Bantu languages, including Luganda, Zulu, and Swahili. Few cultural generalizations concerning the Bantu can be made. Before the European conquest of Africa the Bantu tribes were either pastoral and warlike or agricultural and usually pacific. There were some highly developed Bantu states, including Buganda in present-day Uganda. Possibly under the fear of European encroachment, several additional Bantu states developed in the 19th cent., notably among the Zulu and the Sotho. Other well-known Bantu tribes include the Ndebele (Matabele) and the Shona. In South Africa, the term Bantu is commonly used to refer to the native African population, which was subject to the policies of apartheid.

See W. M. MacMillan, Bantu, Boer, and Briton (rev. ed. 1963); W. C. Willoughby, The Soul of the Bantu (1928, repr. 1970); E. J. Murphy, The Bantu Civilization of Southern Africa (1974).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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