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357
BANTU LANGUAGES


south-west corner of Africa, their farther advance was checked by two causes: first, the concentration in a healthy, cattle-rearing part of Africa of the Hottentots (themselves only a superior type of Bushman, but able to offer a much sturdier resistance to the big black Bantu negroes than the crafty but feeble Bushmen), and secondly, the arrival on the scene of the Dutch and British, but for whose final intervention the whole of southern Africa would have been rapidly Bantuized, as far as the imposition of language was concerned.

The theory thus set forth of the origin and progress of the Bantu and the approximate date at which their great southern exodus commenced, is to some extent attributable to the present writer only, and has been traversed at different times by other writers on the same subject. In the nearly total absence of any historical records, the only means of building up Bantu history lies in linguistic research, in the study of existing dialects, of their relative degree of purity, of their connexion one with the other and of the most widely-spread roots common to the majority of the Bantu languages. The present writer, relying on linguistic evidence, fixed the approximate date at which the Bantu negroes left their primal home in the very heart of Africa at not much more than 2000 years ago; and the reason adduced was worth some consideration. It lay in the root common to a large proportion of the Bantu languages expressing the domestic fowl—kuku (nkuku, ngoko, nsusu, nguku, nku). Now the domestic fowl reached Africa first through Egypt, at the time of the Persian occupation—not before 500 to 400 B.C. It would take at that time at least a couple of hundred years before—from people to people and tribe to tribe up the Nile valley—the fowl, as a domestic bird, reached the equatorial regions of Africa. The Muscovy duck, introduced by the Portuguese from Brazil at the beginning of the 17th century, is spreading itself over Negro Africa at just about the same rate. Yet the Bantu people must have had the domestic fowl well established amongst themselves before they left their original home, because throughout Bantu Africa (with rare exceptions and those not among the purest Bantu tribes) the root expressing the domestic fowl recurs to the one vocable of kuku.[1] Curiously enough this root kuku resembles to a marked degree several of the Persian words for "fowl," and is no doubt remotely derived from the cry of the bird. Among those Negro races which do not speak Bantu languages, though they may be living in the closest proximity to the Bantu, the name for fowl is quite different.[2] The fowl was only introduced into Madagascar, as far as researches go, by the Arabs during the historical period, and is not known by any name similar to the root kuku. Moreover, even if the fowl had been (and there is no record of this fact) introduced from Madagascar on to the east coast of Africa, it would be indeed strange if it carried with it to Cameroon, to the White Nile and to Lake Ngami one and the same name. It may, however, be argued that such a thing is possible, that the introduction of the fowl south of the equator need not be in any way coincident with the Bantu invasion, as its name in North Central Africa may have followed it everywhere among the Bantu peoples. But all other cases of introduced plants or animals do not support this idea in the least. The Muscovy duck, for instance, is pretty well distributed throughout Bantu Africa, but it has no common widely-spread name. Even tobacco (though the root "taba" turns up unexpectedly in remote parts of Africa) assumes totally different designations in different Bantu tribes. The Bantu, moreover, remained faithful to a great number of roots like "fowl," which referred to animals, plants, implements and abstract concepts known to them in their original home. Thus there are the root-words for ox (-ñombe, -ombe, -nte), goat (-budi, -buzi, -buri), pig (-guluba), pigeon (-jiba), buffalo (nyati), dog (mbwa), hippopotamus (-bugu, gubu), elephant (-jobo, -joko), leopard (ngwi), house (-zo, -do, -yumba, -anda, -dago, -dabo), moon (-ezi), sun, sky, or God (-juba), water (-ndi, -ndiba, mandiba), lake or river (-anza),[3] drum (ngoma), name (-ina or jina), wizard (nganga), belly, bowel (-vu, -vumo), buttocks (-tako); adjectives like -bi (bad), -eru (white); the numerals, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 and 100; verbs like fwa (to die), ta (to strike, kill), la (da) or lia (di, dia) (to eat). The root-words cited are not a hundredth part of the total number of root-words which are practically common to all the spoken dialects of Bantu Africa. Therefore the possession amongst its root-words of a common name for "fowl" seems to the present writer to show conclusively that (1) the original Bantu tribe must have possessed the domestic fowl before its dispersal through the southern half of Africa began, and that (2) as it is historically certain that the fowl as a domestic bird did not reach Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 B.C., and probably would not have been transmitted to the heart of Africa for another couple of hundred years, the Bantu exodus (at any rate to the south of the equatorial region) may safely be placed at a date not much anterior to 2100 years ago.

The creation of the Bantu type of language (pronominal-prefix) was certainly a much more ancient event than the exodus from the Bantu mother-land. Some form of speech like Fula, Kiama (Tern), or Kposo of northern Togoland, or one of the languages of the lower Niger or Benue, may have been taken up by ancient Libyan, Hamite or Nilotic conquerors and cast into the type which we now know as Bantu,—a division of sexless Negro speech, however, that shows no obvious traces of Hamitic (Caucasian) influence. We have no clue at present to the exact birth-place of the Bantu nor to the particular group of dialects or languages from which it sprang. Its origin and near relationships are as much a puzzle as is the case with the Aryan speech. Perhaps in grammatical construction (suffixes taking the place of prefixes) Fula shows some resemblance; and Fula possesses the concord in a form considerably like that of the Bantu, as well as offering affinities in the numerals 3 and 4, and in a few nominal, pronominal and verbal roots. The Timne and cognate languages of Sierra Leone and the north Guinea coast use pronominal prefixes and a system of concord, the employment of the latter being precisely similar to the same practice in the Bantu languages; but in word-roots (substantives, numerals, pronouns, verbs) there is absolutely no resemblance with this north Guinea group of prefix-using languages. In the numerals 2, 3, 4, and sometimes 5, and in a few verbal roots, there is a distinct affinity between Bantu and the languages of N. Togoland, the Benue river, lower Niger, Calabar and Gold Coast. The same thing may be said with less emphasis about the Madi and possibly the Nyam-Nyam (Makarka) group of languages in Central Africa though in none of these forms of speech is there any trace of the concord. Prefixes of a simple kind are used in the tongues of Ashanti, N. Togoland, lower Niger and eastern Niger delta, Cross River and Benue, to express differences between singular and plural, and also the quality of the noun; but they do not correspond to those of the Bantu type, though they sometimes fall into "classes." In the north-west of the Bantu field, in the region between Cameroon and the north-western basin of the Congo, the Cross river and the Benue, there is an area of great extent occupied by languages of a "semi-Bantu" character, such as Nki, Mbudikum, Akpa, Mbe, Bayoñ, Manyañ, Bafut and Banshō, and the Munshi, Jaráwa, Kororofa, Kamuku and Gbari of the central and western Benue basin. The resemblances to the Bantu in certain word-roots are of an obvious nature; and prefixes in a very simple form are generally used for singular and plural, but the rest of the concord is very doubtful. Here, however, we have the nearest relations of the Bantu, so far as

  1. In Luganda and other languages of Uganda and the Victoria Nyanza, and also in Runyoro on the Victoria Nile, the word for “fowl" is enkoko. In Ki-Swahili of Zanzibar it is kuku. In Zulu it is inkuku. In some of the Cameroon languages it is lokoko, ngoko, ngok, and on the Congo it is nkogo, nsusu. On the Zambezi it is nkuku; so also throughout the tribes of Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika, and most dialects of South Africa.
  2. “From this statement are excepted those tongues classified as “semi-Bantu.” In some languages of the Lower Niger and of the Gold Coast the word for “fowl " is generally traceable to a root kuba. This form kuba also enters the Cameroon region, where it exists alongside of -koko. Kuba may have arisen independently, or have been derived from the Bantu kuku.
  3. Whence the many nyanza, nyanja, nyasa, mwonza, of African geography.