The Meaning of Bantu

The Meaning of Bantu

There is no universal definition for the meaning of the word bantu because Bantu people belong to the same language family but diverse ethnic groups. They are called bantu in Kikongo and Kituba; watu in Swahili; anthu in Chichewa; batu in Lingala; bato in Kiluba; bato in Duala; abanto in Gusii; andu in Kamba and Kikuyu; abantu in Kirundi, Zulu, Xhosa, Runyakitara, and Ganda; wandru in Shingazidja; abantru in Mpondo and Ndebele; bãthfu in Phuthi; bantfu in Swati and Bhaca ; banu in Lala; vanhu in Shona and Tsonga; batho in Sesotho, Tswana and Northern Sotho; antu in Meru; andu in Embu; vandu in some Luhya dialects; vhathu in Venda and bhandu in Nyakyusa.1

In Luganda, the word bantu has a prefix “ba” which means they; specifically denoting the species of human beings. It is not certain what the root “ntu” means although depending on the prefix, it can mean a person, (muntu) a thing, (kintu) or the state of being human (buntu). To have buntu is to have the empathy to behave humanely. Omuntu atalimu kabuntu is someone who is devoid of human empathy.

The etymology of the word Bantu has never been clearly identified, but a few theories have been put forward. The most popular being that because the prefix Ba means people and the root word tu means a parcel, Bantu means people in a parcel. Note that the Bantu believe that a person is spirit, meaning that the Bantu are spirits wrapped in parcels of flesh, while mu-ntu is a spirit wrapped in a parcel of flesh.

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. John 6:63

Omuntu afa mubili: tafa mwoyo; Luganda proverb.

Similarly, in Luganda, the prefix of theword of Bantu is Ba, meaning those people or the state of being – to be and the root is tu which means a parcel. Bantu can mean either those people (ba) or the beings (ba) in (n) a parcel (ttu). Ettu also means a bundle, or a wrapped gift or a womb carrying a child. Words deriving from ettu include ettuluba, ttuluba which means items the class or branch used to identify something.

It would appear that the etymological roots of all Luganda words derive from copular verbs which are used to describe sound, texture, movement, taste and colour.The copular verb be ttu, describes the sound of a landing movement,since a falling bundle makes the sound ttu, comparable to the English word ‘thud’. For example, effumu limufumise be ttu, enkonge yamukonye bwe ttu.

Abantubalamu magoma: gavugila aliwo. Luganda proverb.

Luganda copular verbs are generally associated with nature and our most intimate involvement with nature. Humanity’s closest association with the sound ttu is the heartbeat. The copular verb ‘ttu’ complements the movement of a heart. Omutima gukuba be ttuttu’, means that a heartbeat sounds likettuttu’. It is possible that Bantu derives from the ‘ttu’ of a heartbeat, to mean the people with a heartbeat. Other words deriving from ‘ttu’ include ntununsi (heartbeat).Bantu in that case would have the prefix ba (they) of ntu short for ntununsi (heartbeat).

This is, however, unlikely because the ‘ttu’ of a heartbeat is not unique to human beings and also refers toa parcel or bundle.

Humanity’s most marked visual difference from the rest of nature is our unique ability to walk on two legs. Human footsteps are equally distinct in sound from the footfalls of all other animals. The copular verb ‘ttu’ imitates the sound of footsteps falling on the ground which make the sound“ttu ttu”, hence words like ‘ttuttuttu’ which means to rush hastily. Other copular verbs for striking sounds are chu (stab), dudududu (thump), dwa (thunder), gudugudu (falling drum), ko ko (to knock), kwa (crack bones), ppya (dropped eggs), ppwa (slap), tta (to padlock), tto (raindrop). Although footsteps falling parcels and bundles are associated with other copular verbs such as ddu and ggu.

We can, therefore, infer that Bantu means ‘those who walk like ttu’. Since a delivered parcel makes the sound ‘ttu’, it would then appear that the ‘ettu’ of a parcel or bundle derives from the ‘ttu’ offootsteps, rather than the other way round, that footsteps derive from the ‘ttu’ of a parcel or bundle.

Muntu is the first person singular to mean person while omuntu ono means this person and omuntu oli means that person.Bantu is the second person plural meaning people while abantu bano means these people and abantu bali means those people. The prefixes omu and aba are only used to refer to people and never animals and or inanimate objects not being people.

Kintu is a thing while ekintu kino means this thing and ekintu ekyo means that thing. Bintu are things while ebintu bino means these things and ebintu ebyo means those things.

Another commonality shared by the Bantu people is their philosophy of ‘obuntu’. There have been several flawed attempts to translate the Bantu quality of having obuntu into English. Flawed because in Luganda, the word obuntu is merely a short form of obuntu bulamu. Obuntu means to be human, while bulamu means life. Obuntu bulamu is therefore to be alive (bulamu) to the quality of being human (obuntu).

Only one English word dignity2 attempts to describe the obuntu quality of being human. To have ‘obuntu’ isto conduct oneself with dignity; in a manner that is consciously aware (alive) of one’s humanness. To treat others with ‘obuntu’ isto treat them with dignity; in a manner is consciously aware (alive) of their humanness..

The word Bantu does not always mean people. Bantu may also refer to people who have ‘obuntu’ – those who behave with human dignity, those who have sympathy, kindness, courtesy, good manners, ethics and morals. That is why the Baganda will say of a cruel person, ‘oyo si muntu’, (inhuman) or of uncultured people, ‘taliimu ka buntu’ (animalistic), or of an unrefined person ‘muntu nsolo’ (beastly). Abantu in this case means the people who share in the ideology of ‘obuntu’, to the exclusion of all others, who are merely human animals and not consciously aware human beings.

That is, idiomatically the reflexes of bantu in the numerous languages often have connotations of personal character traits as encompassed under the values system of ubuntu, also known as hunhu in Chishona or botho in Sesotho, rather than just referring to all human beings.3

Matthew 7:12 is an unachievable restatement of the ‘obuntu’ philosophy.

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets, Matthew 7:12

Unachievable because it is humanly impossible to always treat others as you would want to be treated. Obedience to that Christian law demands that Christians must do unto others whatever they would like to be done unto them. However, there are not many Christians out there donating their hearts, since they would want the same to be done for them. In a word, it generates hypocrisy.

Abantu; baseesa gwaka. Luganda proverb.

Abantu; basiima bakyagaaya. Luganda proverb.

Abantu; mannyo ga mpisi; gaseka kungulu nga munda mulimu bussi. Luganda proverb.

A more achievable and ‘obuntu’ way of summarizing the ‘obuntu’ philosophy of Matthew 7:12 is to reconstruct it in negatives like the ancient Egyptian.4

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should not do to you, do ye even not so to them: for this is the law and the prophets, Matthew 7:12

Achievable because it is humanly possible to always not treat others as you would not want to be treated. Obedience to the ‘obuntu’ law demands that we must not do unto others whatever we would not like to done unto us. The world would be a much better place if each one of us were alive (mulamu) to the dignity of our own and others’ humanness (obuntu)omuntu mulamu.

The Bantu-Hebrew Language of Creation

Neither science nor religion have explained the origins of speech or the building blocks of language. Linguists hypothesize that speech and language were born from the human mimicry of natural sounds.

I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voices of other animals, and man’s own instinctive cries.5

However, the Biblical Creation suggests that man was created with not only the capability of speech, he also came equipped with a fully developed language. According to the Bible, God had a conversation with Adam and Eve conversed with the serpent.

Hebrew is the holy tongue, the language of the Biblical Creation. Literal Bible interpretation concludes that Hebrew is God’s divine language given to man in total contradiction of the evolution theory. To bridge the evolutionary gap, some Bible scholars explain that the Biblical Creation was symbolically expressed and ought not to be taken in a purely literal sense. However, this explanation remains untenable for failure to provide the symbolic significance of the ‘divine language’.

The proposition that Hebrew is the language of Creation infers that Hebrew is the language of God himself.

The significance of Hebrew as a language starts at creation itself. The entire creation in Genesis 1 was spoken into being through the words ‘And God said.’ The Biblical Creation constitutes of ten divine utterances in Hebrew from God, starting with ‘Let there be light’. The entire language of scripture is Hebrew, hence the wide spread belief that God’s language is Hebrew, and that the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet form the foundation of creation.

By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. Psalm 33:6

For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. Psalm 33:9

Language, especially Hebrew, has a theological significance in Judaism not commonly associated with language in any other religion. Three reasons account for this: (1) the Hebrew scripture’s depiction of the world’s being called into being through divine utterance, suggesting that Hebrew is the very language of creation, (2) the presence in scripture of verbatim quotations of God, again in Hebrew, and (3) the many acts of piety prescribed in scripture and rabbinic documents that require writing out and/or reciting a text, again, usually in Hebrew, sometimes in Aramaic.6

Fabre d’Olivet gives a more credible explanation on the origins of the Hebrew language. He argues that the Hebrew of Genesis is the pure idiom of the ancient Egyptians, learned during the four hundred years’ Hebrew sojourn in Egypt.

It is the tongue of a powerful, wise and religious people; of a thoughtful people, profoundly learned in moral sciences and friend of the mysteries; of a people whose wisdom and laws have been justly admired. This tongue separated from its original stem, estranged from its cradle by the effect of a providential emigration, an account of which is needless at the moment, became the particular idiom of the Hebrew people ; and like a productive branch, which a skillful agriculturist has transplanted in ground prepared for this purpose, so that it will bear fruit long after the worn out trunk whence it comes has disappeared, so has this idiom preserved and brought down to us the precious storehouse of Egyptian learning. 7

Attributed as the author of Genesis, Moses ‘was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, Acts 7:22. By the time of their exit from Egypt, the Habiru/Hebrews had become intimate with Egyptian knowledge; which they then modified to call their own.

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds. Acts 7:22

He insists that Moses made use of more ancient books and sacerdotal memoirs.

It is certain that Moses made use of more ancient books and perhaps of sacerdotal memoirs, as has been suspected by Leclerc, Richard Simon and the author of Conjectures upon Genesis. But Moses does not hide it ; he cites in two or three passages of the Sepher the title of the works which are before his eyes: the book of the Generations of Adam; the book of the Wars of the Lord; the book of the Sayings of the Seers. The book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua. The compiling of old memoirs the causing of them to be compiled by scribes as these writers have advanced, or indeed the abridging them as Origen supposed, is very far from that. Moses created in copying : this is what a real genius does.8

Several centuries before the coming of Jesus Christ, the Hebrews had become Jews who no longer spoke or understood the original Hebrew tongue. The original African/Hebrew Bible language was lost when the Bible’s Hebrew authors became Jews and Hebrew became a dead language.

Hebrew: this distinct idiom, entirely formed from a most highly perfected tongue, composed wholly of expressions universal, intelligible and abstract, delivered in this state to a sturdy but ignorant people, had, in its hands fallen from degeneracy to degeneracy, and from restriction to restriction, to its most material elements; all that was intelligible had become sentient; all that was universal had become particular.9

The linguistic link between Biblical Hebrew and Bantu languages has generally gone unnoticed, because the colonialist imposed the European alphabets on Bantu languages.

It is therefore unsurprising that Scholars, particularly those of European origin, have hardly remarked on the pronounced similarities between ancient Hebrew root words and Bantu words. This could be the result of their unfamiliarity with Bantu languages, or more probably the consequence of racial bias. Fortunately, despite his best efforts, the colonialist was unsuccessful in completely preventing Bantu languages from being spoken, and so Bantu languages remained intact.

In the few cases where the link between Biblical Hebrew and Bantu languages has been made, the link has been attributed to Arabic traders. Scholars have suggested that the Arabic traders who arrived on the African coast prior to the colonialist had a linguistic influence on Africans, the complete opposite of the much older influence of ancient Egypt on the rest of the world. This is not true – see section vii) on Ancient Bantu Hebrew Contact.

Since Hebrew is the language of creation; the Bantu language from which Hebrew derives its core vocabulary is therefore the language of creation; or at the very least, Bantu languages and ancient Hebrew have the same source – ancient Egypt. The Bantu people still speak the language of divine scripture.

The Hebrew language of creation has its roots in African Bantu languages. We begin to understand the divine creator when we acknowledge that the creation was created in an African language. The Bible has been alienated from its original language source, and in the process, we have been cut off from its true meaning. Humanity has thus been effectively deprived of not only its creator’s message, but also its creator.

The origins of Biblical Hebrew would not have been so contentious if only it could be proved that it had no linguistic ties with black Africa. Euro-centric scholars will grudgingly acknowledge Asiatic influence, but never black Africa. Ancient Egyptian civilization has attributed to the modern-day white occupants of Egypt, who occupied Egypt and displaced the native Egyptians in the same way white Americans occupied the Americas and displaced the native Americans.

Euro-centric scholars will concede that Ancient Egyptians spoke some sort of Afro-Asiatic language, but never a Bantu language. The truth is that no Bantu language has ever been studied with anywhere near the same level of detail accorded to Asiatic or European languages, and so any comparison between the two language families will yield flawed findings. This matter will finally be put to bed when Bantu people compile evidence to prove that Biblical Hebrew is similar, if not identical with, Bantu languages, and that its ties with Asiatic languages are much fewer than its ties with Bantu languages.

The Bantu Origins of the Hebrews

The Hebrews, also known as the Israelites, have both a religious and secular history. According to the Bible’s genealogy in the Old Testament, the biblical Hebrews date back to more than four thousand years ago. Archeological evidence has, on the other hand discovered no trace of the existence of the Biblical Hebrews prior to 900 BCE.

The first mention of Hebrew(s) in the Bible is Abram the Hebrew, Genesis 14:13, the original name of Abraham.

And there came one that had escaped, and told Abram the Hebrew; for he dwelt in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, brother of Eshcol, and brother of Aner: and these were confederate with Abram. Genesis 14:13.

Abram became Abraham in Genesis 17:5.

Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. Genesis 17:5.

Secular history on the other hand, traces the ancient Hebrews from two ancient nomadic clans that descended from the mountainous regions of Europe. One clan was from the Caucasus and the other from Arabia.

The group of wanderers from the Caucasus were called the Hurrians. An early document written by the ancient Sumerians during the reign of Shulgi (ca. 2150 BC) describes them thus;

unclothed people, who travel in dead silence, who destroy everything, whose men folk go where they will — they establish their tents and their camps — they spend their time in the countryside without observing the decrees of my king.” 10

The second group was the ancient Amorites, who the ancient Akkadians called, ‘Martu’. Ancient Sumerian and Akkadian documents refer to the ancient Amorites as savages, barbarians, and uncivilized people; whom they tried to keep out of their land. An early Akkadian document gives a glimpse;

The MARTU who know no grain…. The MARTU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains…. The MARTU who digs up truffles… who does not bend his knees [to cultivate the land], who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death…” 11

The ancient Egyptians called these groups of wanderers “Apir” or “Apiru” or “Habiru”. The modern term, Hebrew, comes from the Egyptian name “Habiru”.

Several Akkadian cuneiform texts mention the name “Apiru”. The ancient Akkadians referred to the Habiru (Hebrews) as “Habbatu,” which means a brigand or highway robber.

The Apiru/Habiru have also been described as

a loosely defined, inferior social class composed of shifting and shifty population elements without secure ties to settled communities who are referred to ‘as outlaws, mercenaries, and slaves’ in ancient texts.” 12

Clay tablets that date back to almost four thousand years ago indicate that the Hebrew people were originally known by the people of the ancient world as the ‘Hapiru,’ ‘Apiru’ and ‘Habiru,’ a word still in use today in almost all Bantu languages.

Records show that General Toth, a general of Pharaoh Thutmose the 3rd of Egypt (1440 BC), demanded that his horses be taken inside the city; lest they be stolen by a passing ‘Apir’, who were both foreigners and thieves. The Apir somehow coalesced into a group that acquired the ethnic characteristics of the Hebrew.

While they acknowledge the historical presence of the Habiru, Eurocentric scholars dispute that the word Hebrew derived from Habiru or that the Habiru bandit and unfederated settlers were the same as the Hebrews. They argue that the names Hebrew and Habiru only sound similar in English transliteration, and that they stem from different roots; with Hebrew deriving from the root “IBR and Habiru deriving from the root HBR. 13

However, these scholars have never established the historical presence of the Hebrews, who seem to be phantoms that appeared out of nowhere in the Bible. As for the root words “IBR and HBR, they mean the same thing in Bantu languages, since the letters I (“IBR for Hebrew) and E (EBR for Habiru) are commonly interchangeable depending on the Bantu dialect. The same goes for A and E, but in any Luganda, Hebrewwould derive from ‘ebweru’ (outside) while Habiru would derive from ‘ebali’14 (on the side). What’s more, the letter H is pronounced as ‘EH’ or ‘HE’ in Luganda, meaning that HBR and “IBR all have the same phonetics of EBR. Take note that there are no words with H in Luganda and it is only ever used an exclamation.

They cite Jonah 1:9 as proof that the Hebrews were not the same as the Habiru outcasts and fringe groups. The Book of Jonah is a narrative about Jonah who was told by God to go to Nineveh and prophesy. Jonah refused to go attempted to flee by on a ship.  A storm arose at sea and the sailors of his ship blamed Jonah who they cast overboard with the words;

I am an Hebrew; and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, which hath made the sea and the dry land. Jonah 1:9

According to them, this proves that the name Hebrew is connected with worship of the God of Israel and that the two were known to each other. This does not count for proof because it has no corelate in secular history, and also because the word ‘and’ was not in the original Biblical text. Rather, it was inserted by Biblical transcribers, instead of other options such as ‘but’.

Ancient Bantu Hebrew Contact

The indisputable similarities between Bantu and Hebrew word construction, vocalization, meaning and transliteration are proof that there must have been prolonged and intimate contact between ancient Bantu and Hebrew speakers.

There are only two possible hypotheses

Hypothesis 1: Bantu languages originated from ancient Hebrew.

Scenario A: During their migration/expansions, ancient Bantu speakers came into contact with ancient Hebrew/Shemitic speakers whom they intermingled with and/or intermarried to transform Bantu languages into Hebrew/Shemitic dialects.

Scenario B: Ancient Hebrew/Shemitic speakers migrated into Africa where Bantu languages were replaced with Hebrew/Shemitic dialects.

Scenario C: Bantu languages did not exist until the Hebrew/Shemitic speakers migrated into Africa where they introduced Hebrew/Shemitic dialects to Africans who lost their original African languages and fashioned the Bantu languages out of Hebrew/Shemitic dialects.

Hypothesis 2: Ancient Hebrew originated from Bantu languages

Scenario A: During their migrations, ancient Hebrew/Shemitic speakers came into contact with Bantu speakers whom they intermingled with and/or intermarried to transform their Hebrew/Shemitic dialects into Bantu languages. Bantu speakers are therefore Hebrew/Shemitic descendants.

Scenario B: Ancient Hebrew/Shemitic speakers migrated into Africa where their Hebrew/Shemitic dialects were replaced with Bantu languages.

Scenario C: Ancient Hebrew/Shemitic dialects did not exist until the Caucasian migration into Africa where the Caucasians lost their original Caucasian languages and fashioned the Hebrew/Shemitic dialects out of Bantu languages.

Problems with Hypothesis 1 Scenarios A – C

It is impossible that Bantu migrations expanded into Ancient Hebrew/Shemitic territories because there is no historical record of Bantu migrations out of Africa and return to Africa. Also, Bantu people are indigenous to Africa and there is equally no historical record of Ancient Hebrew/Shemitic speakers in Africa with whom the Bantu people could have come into contact to acquire Hebrew/Shemitic dialects.

The other Shemites Bantu people could have come into contact with are Arabs. However, Arabic linguistic influence does not extend beyond Swahili to indigenous Bantu languages. Moreover, Arabs arrived on the Eastern coast of Africa no earlier than the 8th century long after the Bantu migrations and expansions.

Problems with Hypothesis 2 Scenario A and B

Ancient Hebrew/Shemitic dialects did not exist prior to the Caucasian migration into Africa and being non-existent, it is impossible that they had any impact on pre-existing Bantu languages.

This leaves us with Hypothesis 2 Scenario C as the only possible source of the linguistic connection between ancient Hebrew/Shemitic dialects and modern day Bantu languages.

In fact, the origin or root of the word Hebrew is still a mystery to many scholars.

1 Visited 26th September 2020

2 All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Article 1, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

3 R.K.Herbert and R. Bailey in Rajend Mesthrie (ed.), Language in South Africa (2002)50

4 I have not committed wrongdoing against anyone. Confession one of the 42 Negative Confessions, Book of the Dead, Ancient Egypt. 

5 Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, (1871) 2 vols. London: Murray, p. 56.

6 26th September 2020

7 Fabre d’Olivet, The Hebraic tongue restored, 16.

8 Ibid, 28.

9 Fabre d’Olivet, The Hebraic tongue restored,17.

10 Howard West, Blood Prints of the Gods,| July 24, 2013, 50.

11 Ibid

12 Carol A. Redmount, ‘Bitter Lives: Israel in and out of Egypt’ in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed: Michael D. Coogan, (Oxford University Press: 1999)

13 Visited 29th November 2022.

14 The letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ in Luganda are only distinguishable in written form but they are phonetically the same.The ‘r’ sound does not exist in Luganda.

Even the bitterest fruit has sugar in it.

– Terry a O’Neal

The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.

– Molière

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