Agricultural revolution has been explored based on various factors from its inception to the present technologically advanced practice. In Africa, agricultural practice has been an ongoing process for centuries, in spite of myths that portray Africans as hunters and gatherers to recent days. Such myths fail to recognize that Agrarian revolution itself is linked to Mesopotamia, Egypt which is in Africa and particularly to the Bantu speaking communities therein. Some of the factors that are cited to have contributed to the emergence of farming practice among the Bantu communities include interactions with others of diverse economic and cultural practices. Prytz (par. 2) describes man’s efforts at farming and other types of hard labor as originating from the conviction of the gods. However, Prytz mentions the failure of traditional mythology on the same to create a link between the hunting and gathering communities of the past and the present day farmers.
The Bantu communities of Africa are originally from the area around the Democratic Republic of Congo, particularly the Congo Basin. Presently, they occupy vast regions of most parts of Northern Africa. They are especially spread in the areas of Northern Tanzania and Kenya and they practice a diverse range of cultural and economic activities, key of which is farming (Russell, Silva and Steele par. 2). Many studies have been conducted on the dispersion of the Bantu people from their original habitats to many other places across Africa. Some of these studies emphasize the participation of the groups in agriculture and their myths of origin. In the present study, a brief overview of the myths that have been applied previously in the explanation of the Bantu agricultural practices was conducted. The paper aims at understanding the role of myth in the practice of agriculture among the Bantus.
Prytz (par. 1 – par. 10) compares the perceptions held about agricultural practice from the mythological perspective with that from the anthropological perspective. According to Prytz (par. 2), many studies that explore the origin of agricultural practice do so from the mythology perspective. Most of them tell stories about ancestors who pass over the gift of hard work to their descendants. Prytz opines that the major fallacy in such explanations is that it fails to recognize the anthropological evidences that portray farming as an activity that developed over time. This is based on the argument that myths that explain the origin of farming mainly focus on the role of gods as directors of men and their actions. This implies that while myths indicate that farming is something that can be started instantaneously, this is never the case as the people involved have to learn a lot and make progress where necessary. Therefore, there has to be a rational explanation for the emergence of farming based on anthropological evidence.
From the premise developed by Prytz, Russell and others emphasize the migration routes followed by the Bantu communities in Africa. Russell and others posit that agrarian revolution occurred almost at the same time that the Bantu communities were migrating and in a pattern that can be linked to their migration routes. In particular, the Bantus, during their movement, were controlled by various environmental factors which acted as obstacles and/ or accelerators for their movement. The accelerators included rivers and shorelines while the obstacles included marshes and swamps which hindered them from moving in a particular direction. Despite the challenges, the Bantu communities moved through the land to occupy the present areas of their habitation, which are characterized by highland conditions, availability of water and fertile farm lands (Russell and Others par. 4- 7). These characteristics enabled them to practice farming while improving gradually to enhance productivity. While the narrative provided by Russell and others may sound convincing, other authors such as Chami and Ehret hold opinions that may counter the positions of Russell and others.
According to Ehret (142), the Bantu speakers learnt from various people during their migration particularly into Tanzania and Kenya. Ehret mentions Sahelians as the probable influencers of the Bantu community in terms of agricultural practice. This is discounted in the argument provided by Chami (4), the origin of the culture of farming among the Bantu people cannot be linked to the people they met on their way but to their indigenous cultures. Archeological findings support the arguments that the Bantu communities could have settled in the areas they presently occupy after adopting agricultural practice. For instance, Chami (4) reports that archaeological findings indicate that the Bantus living within Tanzania and Kenya could have gone round rather than interacted with the Sahelians due to the marshes and swamps that acted as barriers to their movements. Based on this, it is improbable that they could have been influenced by the Sahelians to adopt the practice.
Furthermore, Chami counters the argument that Bantus in Africa never had the desire to settle in a single place or even to practice farming or to build empires. In his argument, historical findings indicate that the regions in the larger Northern Africa where Bantus dwelled had evidence of agricultural practice from as early as 6000BC. This means that it could not be possible for a people who had no desire for organization to initiate domestication and farming before those considered to be civilized (Chami 3). Contrary to the myths regarding agrarian revolution among Bantus as a result of migration and influence, Anderson and Throup (326) provide an alternative explanation for the practice of agriculture, particularly among the Bantus of Kenya. Anderson and Throup associate agricultural production among the Bantu communities in Kenya began following the migration of settler farmers during the colonial period. Based on this myth, the authors explain that when the settlers were forced to leave their farms due to the freedom quest wars, the natives took over their farms beginning the journey in commercial agricultural production. The same has continued to be performed through the years, resulting in greater benefits for the society at large (Anderson and Throup 328).
Despite the progress in agricultural production among the Bantus, the sector is yet to flourish in Africa. For instance, contrary to contemporary expectations, many of the farmers in Africa do not practice mechanized production. At the same time, the agricultural performance among the Bantus who are mainly farmers is ineffective (Holmen 453). This is associated with myths that surround agricultural practice, especially among African communities. Some of the myths are incorrect and misleading especially those addressing issues such as the application of new technologies in farming. This results in low productivity and subsequent food crises across many countries in Africa. Progressive innovations have been applied minimally in the African context where most of the farming is done by Bantus living in fertile arable lands (Holmen 454).
The Bantus are recognized as some of the most hardworking people in the agricultural sector in Africa. Their participation in agricultural production is linked to various myths and theories which aim at providing a rationale for engagement. Myths range from those covering general agricultural practice among populations, such as that highlighted by Prytz. In such cases, farming is recognized as the punishment of the gods for wrong doing and that it is seasonal. Among the Bantu, farming is linked to myths such as acquisition of practice from inhabitants of emigrated areas and the influence of changing traditions. However, these may not be valid reasons behind adoption of agriculture as a form of economic activity from the arguments and evidences shown by various authors.
Bantus have been agriculturally active since earlier than 6000 BC. As in early Mesopotamia, agrarian revolution among the Bantus cannot be linked to the influence of those with whom they interacted. However, it can be said that environmental conditions surrounding the migration of the Bantus was more or less responsible for the adoption of agriculture as an economic activity. The success of agricultural revolution in the contemporary environments is something that warrants further discussion as it cannot be attributed entirely to myths. For instance, while Homel (454) concludes that misleading and incorrect myths have resulted in poor agricultural practices and lack of food security among Bantus, it cannot be said that this is entirely the cause.
Food insecurity is a problem faced in many African countries as in non- African developing countries. In some cases, it has reached points of consideration as national crises. The cause for this is not the myths held by the people of those countries but on other factors beyond their control. Poverty is one of the leading causes of poor production as many of those who practice farming do not use advanced technologies due to limited accessibility of the same. Similarly, practices such as endemic corruption result in poor resource management among African governments which eventually lead to food crises. In the contemporary times, myths have not significantly stood out against agriculture among the Bantu communities, but they were there before to explain the origin of the same.
Agriculture is one of the key economic activities in Africa, and particularlky among the Bantu communities living in East and Northern Africa regions. The mode of initiation of these groups of people into active agricultural practice is still not clear from various past studies. While some argue that the Bantus learnt of the practice through those with whom they interacted, others report that archaeological evidence counters these claims. For instance, it has been established that a study of the migration routes of the Bantus indicates that there was not possibility of interaction with some of the groups which are claimed to have shown them how to practice agriculture. Similarly, myths such as adoption of practice from white settlers appear void as there had been agricultural practice from very early years prior to the coming of the white settlers. This can only imply that the Bantus developed the love for and practice of agriculture as an intrinsic practice to address their personal needs. Consequently, the revolution from iron smelting to active farming and domestication of animals can be likened to agrarian revolution in Egypt, which was driven by societal needs and demands.
Anderson, David and Throup, David. Africans and agricultural production in colonial Kenya: the myth of the war as a watershed. The Journal of African History, vol. 26, no. 4 (1985): 327- 345.
Chami, Felix A. Diffusion in the studies of the African past: Reflections from new archeological findings. African Archeological Review, vol. 24 (2007): 1-14.
Ehret, Christopher. An African classical age: Eastern and Southern Africa in world history 1000 BC to AD 400. Oxford University Press, 1998.
Holmen, Hans. Myths about agriculture, obstacles to solving the African food crisis. The European Journal of Development Research, vol. 18, no. 3 (2006): 453- 480.
Prytz, John. Origins or agriculture: mythology versus anthropology. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2016. Accessed from https://www.scientificexploration.org/forum/origins-of-agriculture-mythology-vs-anthropology
Russell, Thembi, Silva, Fabio and Steele, James. Modeling the spread of farming in the Bantu speaking regions of Africa: an archaeology based phylogeography. Plos One, vol. 9, no. 1 (2014).