The Bantu migration refers to the movement across the African continent of the various speakers of Bantu languages. Over several millennia, the Bantu have migrated in all directions, carrying the Iron Age into many areas of Africa. Anthropologists speculate that Bantu and semi-Bantu peoples migrated east and intermingled with Sudanese blacks. They had reached as far as Madagascar by 700 A.D., and the area the Bantu currently occupy includes approximately one- third of the African continent. Prior to their migration, approximately 2,000 years ago, the areas of central and southern Africa were dominated by the Pygmies and the San (Bushmen).
Starting in the second millennium B.C.E., they moved into the rain forest zones south and to the east, and then to the Savannah regions straddling the Congo River. The Congo and other rivers were an important path of migration. It took another 1500 years for the Bantu to migrate throughout the Savannah region. During this period they began to adopt agriculture, and possibly the growth in their populations led to a series of other migrations. During the first 1500 years C.E., they migrated to eastern and southern Africa. Anthropologist George Murdock postulates that the Bantu migration began as a result of their acquiring certain foods crops from Malaysia. These crops, which included banana, taro, and yam led to more and larger villages and the need for more territory.
As Bantus put iron spears and hoes to use, they increased their food supply, thus creating larger, healthier populations. The increase in population undoubtedly put additional strain on the available arable land, which was quickly exhausted by the slash-and-burn technique of the Bantu farmers. In addition, the influx of migrants seeking relief from the growing aridity of the Saharan regions put pressure on the Bantu. With plenty of available land southward, they began to migrate into central Africa along the Congo River. From there they apparently moved along the Zambezi and ultimately reached the eastern African coast and southern Africa, perhaps as early as the third or fourth century C.E. These migrations, each of which may originally have numbered only a few hundred people, continued over hundreds of years. The Pygmies, short brown-skinned people, inhabited central Africa, and were among the last purely hunting societies remaining after the Bantu migrations.