A mud hut reminiscent of the Early Iron Age. Image credit Pininterest.com

ZIMSEC O Level History Notes: Early Societies (Late Stone Age – Early Iron Age): Bantu Migrations

  • Bantu migrations are believed to have been caused by the use of iron
  • The Bantu are a group of about 300-400 enthinic groups from central and Southern Africa
  • They have linguistically linked languages that share characteristics and words
  • Examples of Bantu peoples from Southern Africa are the Shona, Ndau, Manyika, Chewa, Manyika, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Barwe
  • Because most of the languages are mutually compatible it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between a dialect e.g. Manyika and Zezuru
  • The Bantu migrated from the north but the term is confusing as it is to refer to a group of languages, variety of culture and to a racial group
  • The belief that the Bantu spread the use of iron as they migrated is known as the Migrationist Theory

The Migrationist Theory

  • The migrationist theory argues that the use of iron implements such as axes, hoes, spears and arrows  was spread by two groups
  • The first group of people to use iron believed to have come from eastern parts of Africa and founded the Kurale Early Iron Age economy located in parts of Malawi and Zambia.
  • They are believed to have been responsible for the spreading of Iron Age technology south of Zambezi river as evidenced by Ziwa, Zhizo and Gokomere cultures
  • and they also crossed the Limpopo into the Transvaal, Natal and the Cape.
  • The second group to spread the iron technology originated from the Congo Basin and moved to Zambia in the fourth century AD
  • and then in Zimbabwe some time later
  • These immigrants are believed to have spread cultures such as cattle keeping, hunting and cultivation of cereals probably formed the Sudanic-Cushitic- speaking peoples who lived east of the Congo forest.

Diffusionist theory

  • The Diffusionist theorists argue that the first farmers were different form the ‘race’ that did hunting and gathering
  • They also say that the Bantu language spread from a source from West Africa and its spread is not linked to migration of people
  • They state that the cultural change was a result of interaction and mutual borrowing from societies rather than migration
  • The spread of iron production and agriculture was because iron tools made it easier to do farming,
  • clear farming communities did not necessarily replace hunter-gatherer communities but the two co-existed for centuries.
  • This is until the iron communities started dominating and supplanted most of the hunter-gatherer communities

To access more topics go to the History Notes page.