THE BANTU CULTURE.doc - THE BANTU CULTURE Although the...

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THE BANTU CULTUREAlthough the Bantu speakers introduced an Iron Age and an agriculture civilization into aNeolithic hunting and gathering society, their way of life came to vary greatly from place toplace.Part of this is through the influence of the people with whom they came in contact, andpartly because of the relentless pressure of environment.The Bantu of the Congo basin, therefore, developed different ideas of economy andstatecraft from those of the cattle-rearing Bantu of the East African high plains; those of theSwahili coastal communities did not exhibit great similarity either sociologically or ethnicallywith the dwellers of the Great Lakes country. There were many common traits as well, born of acommon ancestry and the uniformity of man's instinctive response to the exigencies of everydayliving. The basic economic occupation of the Bantu continued to be the agriculture they hadbrought with them, although with differing techniques geared to geographic location.In the Congo savanna the classic slash-and-burn cultivation continued, with fields usedon a rotating basis for a few short years, then abandoned until a slow regeneration restored theirfertility. Such wasteful methods insured shifting settlements and a low density of population.However, in some areas there were important variations; for example, the Lozi in the Zambeziflood plain learned to build complex irrigation systems.In addition, they introduced a new rangeof crops, such as millet, bananas, yams, and taros representing the Malaysian imports.One major variation was the stock raising economy practiced in the grazing country eastof the Great Lakes, which stretched from the upper Nile Valley to the plains of South Africa. Inthis vast area, environment dictated an economy based mainly on livestock, and in the strugglefor existence, cattle ceased to be merely a food supply and became fundamental to the wholeway of life of these people. Cattle represented wealth and social position, they were used tocement ties and redistribute wealth among kin, they played a ritual role in all major moments ofhuman existence--birth, puberty, marriage, and death.Trade supplemented the agricultural pursuits of most societies dominated or influencedby the Bantu. The Rhodesian gold mines of the Karanga led very early to an important IndianOcean trade conducted by Swahili and Arab merchants. Trade was well developed among theCongo people where craft specialization gave rise both to a range of products and the need toexchange them. Basketry, weaving, pottery, ironwork, and woodcarving were widespread, andmany other specialists including hunters, sculptors, or boat builders put an economic value onmanual skills and created a market for labor.

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West Africa, Mali Empire, Songhai Empire, Kingdom of Mali

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