If you are an African American you could have DNA from Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu Peoples

By Luther Wilkins (MSV)

About this Region

Extending through the heart of Africa, our Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples region winds through tropical rainforest, humid savanna, and semi-arid desert. Starting about 3,000 years ago, Bantu-speaking peoples spread from an area around the border of modern-day Cameroon and Nigeria through much of sub-Saharan Africa in one of the greatest migrations in human history. Today the region is home to unrivaled ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Cameroon, Congo & Southern Bantu Peoples

Primarily located in: Angola, Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Republic of the Congo, Sao Tome and Principe, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Also found in: Burundi, Central African Republic, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Madagascar, Mali, Rwanda, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda

Extending through the heart of Africa, our Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples region winds through tropical rainforest, humid savanna, and semi-arid desert. Starting about 3,000 years ago, Bantu-speaking peoples spread from an area around the border of modern-day Cameroon and Nigeria through much of sub-Saharan Africa in one of the greatest migrations in human history. Today the region is home to unrivaled ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Early History

Central Africa’s Congo Basin and Cameroon have been home to human populations for at least 30,000 years, and more than 250 different ethnic groups can be found in the area today. Many are considered Bantu peoples. Bantu (meaning “people”) refers to a group of Niger-Congo languages that trace their origin back to the western border of modern Cameroon and Nigeria. The Bantu language group is among the world’s most diverse, with more than 500 languages. More than 310 million people speak a Bantu language.

Bamileke dancers in Batié, West Province, Cameroon. Photo by Anya Lothrop

Bantu Migrations

The earliest Bantu were a Stone Age people who farmed yams and oil palms. They lived on the edges of forests where resources were rich and they could supplement their diet with bushmeat. As their population grew, members of the Bantu-speaking group began one of the greatest migrations in human history somewhere around 1500-1000 B.C. Today, the migrants are usually divided into two groups.

The Eastern Bantu learned how to grow grains as they migrated east toward the Great Lakes region—modern-day Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. There they learned how to smelt iron and make a kind of steel. Reliable tools combined with farming and herding skills led to growing populations, which kept Bantu groups moving south and, in some cases, back west toward the Atlantic Ocean.

The Western Bantu moved south from Cameroon along the west coast of Africa in the same time frame as the Eastern Bantu, ending up in what we know today as Angola and Namibia. Recent genetic studies suggest that the ancestors of both the Eastern and Western Bantu first moved south before splitting into two groups.

The Bantu homeland in the Cameroon/Congo area and routes of migration

Bantu Kingdoms

A 19th-century illustration of a traditional village of Zulus, a Bantu group in southern Africa

Bantu communities flourished and became powerful as they began to specialize in trades, trade with Arabs and other merchants, and develop standing armies. The Baganda state in the Great Lakes region became so powerful that when the British took control of Uganda 900 years later, they made the Baganda their colonial administrators and overlords of smaller kingdoms in the area.

To the south lay the Great Zimbabwe civilization, with its fortress architecture and wide reach, formed by early Shona settlers. The Shona displaced the hunter-gatherer Bushmen tribes and remained dominant from about 500 to 1500 A.D. Even farther south, Zulu clans consolidated into a kingdom under the military leadership of Shaka and his successors, battling the Afrikaners and holding the British at bay for a time during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.

Ruins of the Great Zimbabwe civilization

Many of the kingdoms along Africa’s east coast or with river access developed sophisticated trading networks with Portuguese, Arab, and Indian merchants. Landlocked kingdoms exchanged goods with other African kingdoms and groups, many of which had embassies and ambassadors.

The Defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 by Alphonse de Neuville. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift took place during the Anglo-Zulu War

The Slave Trade

While much of southeastern Africa was spared the worst effects of the transatlantic slave trade, West and Central Africa, including the area from Cameroon through Angola, was not. More than half of all Africans enslaved in the Western Hemisphere came from West-Central Africa. Portuguese merchants began taking slaves from the west coast of Cameroon in the 15th century. Many individuals from the coastal regions of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea ended up in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina.

Slaves being transported, 19th-century engraving

European Colonization

Cameroon escaped colonial rule until 1884, when treaties with tribal chiefs brought the area under German domination. The French signed a treaty with a local Bateke chief that put an area including the modern Republic of the Congo under their control in 1880, and in 1885, King Leopold II of Belgium annexed the Congo Free State as his own personal colony. Meanwhile, the Bantu kingdoms that spanned eastern and southern Africa faced relentless European attempts at colonization backed by armies, money, and technology to exploit African resources. Britain controlled the largest chunks of the region, including South Africa, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Bechuanaland (Botswana), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Kenya, Uganda, and Zanzibar.

Independence

After decades of resistance, a wave of independence movements swept Africa in the 1960s and ’70s, and most of the countries in this region took back their independence.

While their progress has often been hindered by poverty, war, corruption, political and ethnic strife, disease, and limited access to education and medical care, these countries are culturally vibrant, highly diverse, resource-rich, and eager for the opportunity.

Uganda turned around one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates through education. South Africa has modern banking, transportation, and manufacturing sectors that can build nearly everything it needs. Namibia has remained a peaceful multiparty democracy since its independence from South Africa in 1990. Angola and Mozambique, not many years free from brutal civil wars, have economies growing at double-digit rates.

The people of this region share a genetic thread spanning thousands of miles and thousands of years. Part of that genetic inheritance, as the region’s history shows, is a deep resilience.

Please note that genetic ethnicity estimates are based on individuals living in this region today. While a prediction of genetic ethnicity from this region suggests a connection to the groups occupying this location, it is not conclusive evidence of membership to any particular ethnic group.

Did you know?

Archaeologists have found Chinese porcelain, Persian beads, and Arab coins among Great Zimbabwe ruins.

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