Locating Njila Bantu and Khoekhoe Historical Conversations in Premodern Africa
This research examines Njila Bantu and Khoekhoe languages of Namibia for evidence of the much older shared social geography crossed by these language networks. Linguistic evidence of knowledge sharing between these communities predates the establishment of Bantu settlements west of the Kalahari desert. The history of the Njila Bantu languages that are spoken in the central highlands of Namibia, most importantly Herero and Mbanderu, uniquely developed there over a thousand years in a regional political economy that was never exclusively Khoesan or Bantu. The lives of these speakers, Khoekhoe and Njila, were intermingled.
The collaborators mine the languages for evidence of the intersections between their historical knowledge and communication networks. Separately, historical linguistics for each language grop has reached a highpoint–DuPlessis has posited a unity hypothesis for Southern African Khoesan, including the Khoekhoegowab documented by Haacke and Namaseb; Vansina has mapped the Bantu stratigraphy outlined by Pfouts against the research of historical climatologists, and Vieira-Martinez has tied the developmental geography of Njila to gendered sociolinguistics. What remains is to integrate these bodies of work into a narrative history that is accessible to non-linguists, rejecting the isolation of Bantu history from Khoesan that was created as a product of colonial philology, not African knowledge.
The products of this research, including most notably the edited scholarly volume, will bring sorely needed attention to the complexity of premodern identities in southwestern Africa, shaped neither in isolation nor in contest with colonialism. In addition, it will as a corollary establish the significance of premodern history, in contradistinction to the colonial experience, in understanding African communities today. This project will have intellectual significance for the study of language as historical evidence. We are especially interested in demonstrating how language evidence of knowledge sharing can illuminate a regional history that is culturally diverse. We use humanistic methods—examining both oral and documentary resources–while exploiting technology to correlate, parse, graph, and disseminate our progress. This design connects researchers in the United States and Africa, analysts using Cross-Linguistic Linked Data, fieldworkers who have adopted the ASILI platform, historians mapping the past with Geographic Information Systems, alongside our youngest scholars in training.