Explore Bantu Social History through Language, Maps, Oral Tradition, Ethnography, and Art

This project involves collection, analysis, digital mapping, and interpretation of historical linguistic data relating to more than seventy Bantu-speaking societies living across Eastern and Central Africa. It is an examination of the structures and cultural ideas underpinning the world's Bantu speakers constructed across time and space.

We have discovered that words are a portal into how people lived in past societies; therefore, we have studied the history and meanings of words people once spoke, in order to understand what they did, produced, and valued historically. Words—along with artifacts—from communities' oral, written, and visual productions provide the materials that we have used for historical reconstructions.

Our own work has focused on family relations and generational education and status. This project in particular is funded by an NEH collaborative grant: Expressions and Transformations of Gender, Family, and Status in Eastern and Central Africa 500-1800 CE (RZ-249953-16). This has culminated in several scholarly products, including a book entitled Family before Gender: A History of Central and Eastern Africa, c. 500-1900 and how historically matrilineages underpinned the way communities determined organization and inheritance.

This collaboration is centered on questions about lineage and gender as dimensions of authority, identity, belonging, and worldview historically. It builds on the esteemed work of colleagues who have undertaken historical studies of gender in Africa to interrogate epistemological assumptions. We collected new sets of linguistic data and focused on spheres related to the above inquiries for approximately seventy societies across Zambia, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Mozambique. We have produced a history examining how historically matrilineages underpinned the way communities determined organization, inheritance, and social authority. We leverage our prior individual work in Africa for a comparative trans-regional analysis and expand the geographic and linguistic scope.

This website invites curious people, scholars, teachers and students to explore our language evidence along with oral traditions, photos of relevant art, dictionaries, missionaries’ reports, archaeological studies and ethnographic collections of the Bantu speaking people in the Bantu Matrilineal Belt.