As I browsed Dienekes earlier today, I was unexpectedly transported back to the ethnographic survey (Johnston et al., 1913) referenced by my last post. In a newly-released study, Sikora et al. (2010) employ 2841 SNPs to analyze population structure in 12 sub-Saharan populations, including one from previously-unsampled Mozambique. Figure 3, a STRUCTURE diagram, is shown below:
Most intriguing to me were the “hunter-gatherer” component which emerges at K=3 and the dissimilarity of the Mozambique samples from their linguistic relatives. As the authors comment:
The southeastern Bantu from Mozambique are remarkably differentiated from the western Niger-Congo speaking populations, such as the Mandenka and the Yoruba, and also differentiated from geographically closer Eastern Bantu samples, such as Luhya. These results suggest that the Bantu expansion of languages, which started ~5000 years ago at the present day border region of Nigeria and Cameroon, and was probably related to the spread of agriculture and the emergence of iron technology, was not a demographic homogeneous migration with population replacement in the southernmost part of the continent, but acquired more divergence, likely because of the integration of pre-Bantu people. [...] the singularity of the southeastern population of Mozambique (poorly related to present Khoisan) could be attributed to a complete assimilation of ancient genetically differentiated populations (presently unknown) by Bantu speakers in southeastern Africa, without leaving any pre-Bantu population in the area to compare with.
As it so happens, Johnston mentions a strange encounter during an early European voyage to the area; similarly suggestive tales, he continues, are met with a ways to the west, in present-day Malawi:
As regards linguistic evidence of Bushman distribution and migrations, I might point out that Ludovico di Varthema, an Italian adventurer who visited Moçambique about 1505, relates how in a mountain of caves on the mainland of Moçambique, was a people of dwarfish stature and yellow skin, whose speech was full of clicks. He compares these clicks to the noises made by Sicilian mule-drivers in urging on their beasts. I have collected traditions amongst the Bantu peoples of Nyasaland as to the existence down to quite recent times of a dwarfish, yellow-skinned, click-using, stone-throwing people on the tops of certain high mountains.
The use of clicks, short stature, and yellowish skin are, of course, a dead ringer for Khoisan speakers (comparable with Carleton Coon’s “Capoids”) — people whose kin are frequently thought to have occupied a much broader swath of southern Africa prior to the Bantu expansion. Several Bantu languages utilize clicks, presumably acquired from the earlier inhabitants of their lands; some of these, like the Ndau dialect of Shona, are even spoken in Mozambique, but the feature appears to be restricted to the the southern parts of the country.
In the two images below, I’ve superimposed Figure 2.15 from Nurse and Philippson’s Bantu languages (2003), which shows the distribution of Bantu languages with clicks, onto continent-wide maps of the African language families. The one at left glosses over Indo-European imports and sparsely-inhabited zones, while the one at right is a probably more realistic rendition. Red dots mark the approximate location of Ilha de Moçambique.
I managed to locate the Vatherma account Johnston seems to be citing — here’s a quote from an 1863 English adaptation, which I’ve broken into paragraphs and emboldened for readability:
Let us return to Mozambich, whence the king of Portugal (as also in the island Zaphala) derives a very great quantity of gold and of oil, which comes from the mainland. We remained in this island about fifteen days, and found it to be small: the inhabitants of it are black and poor, and have very little food here; but it comes to them from the mainland, which is not far distant. [...]
Sometimes we went on the mainland to amuse ourselves and to see the country. We found some races of people quite black and quite naked, excepting that the men wore their natural parts in a bark of wood, and the women wore a leaf before and one behind. These people have their hair bristling up and short, the lips of the mouth as thick as two fingers, the face large, the teeth large and as white as snow. They are very timid, especially when they see armed men.
We, seeing these beasts to be few and vile, (we were about five or six companions well armed with spingarde,) took a guide in the said island who conducted us through the country, and we went a good day’s journey into the mainland; and on this journey we found many elephants in troops, and, on account of these elephants, he who guided us made us carry certain pieces of dry wood ignited, which we constantly made to flame up. … we met three female elephants who had their young behind them, who gave chase after us as far as a mountain, and there we saved ourselves, and travelled through the said mountain at least ten miles; then we descended on the other side and found some caverns, to which the said negroes resorted, who speak in a manner I shall have great trouble making you understand. However, I will endeavor to explain it to you in the best way I can. For example: when the muleteers follow their mules in Sicily and wish to drive them on, with the tongue under the palate they make a certain warble and a certain noise, with which they make the mules go on. So is the manner of speaking of this people, and with signs until they are understood.
Our guide asked us if we wished to purchase some cows and oxen, as he would procure them for us cheap. We answered that we had no money, thinking he might have an understanding with these beasts, and might cause us to be robbed. He said: “There is no need of money in this affair, for they have more gold and silver than you have, for it is near here that they go to find where it grows.” We asked the guide: “What would they then?” He said: “They are fond of small scissors, and they like a little cloth to bind round themselves.” They are also extremely fond of some little bells for their children; they also covet razors.” We answered: “We will give them some of these things, if, however, they would take the cows to the mountain.” The guide said: “I will see that they shall take them to the top of the mountain and no farther, for they never pass beyond. Tell me, however, what you will give them?” One of our companions, a bombardier, said: “I will give them a good razor and a small bell.” And I, in order to get animal food, took off my shirt, and said that I would give them that.
Then the guide, seeing what we would give, said: “Who will drive so much cattle to the sea?” We answered: “We will drive as many as they will give.” And he took the thinks abovementioned and gave them to five or six of these men, and demanded for them thirty cows. The brutes made signs that they would give fifteen cows. We told him to take them, for they were enough, provided they did not cheat us. The negroes immediately conducted fifteen cows to the top of the mountain. But when we had gone a little way from them, those who remained in the caverns began to make a noise; and we, thinking that it might be to follow us, left the cows and all betook ourselves to our arms. The two negroes who led the cows showed us by certain of their signs that we need not be afraid. And our guide said that they much be quarrelling, because each would have wanted that bell. We took the said cows again, and went to the top of the mountain, and the two negroes then returned on their way.
In spite of the colorful evocation of what sound like nothing so much as Khoisan click-consonants, yellow skin and dwarfish stature seem to be a misrecollection on Johnston’s part. That said, I suspect this version of the story to suffer from some minor errors of translation and omission of details. While I’ve not been able to locate the original Latin text of di Varthema, this 1884 reprint of a 1576 translation into English sounds like it has greater fidelity to the original. This version clarifies, for instance, that the island guide was “a blacke slaue that somewhat knewe the countrey”; despite his intermediary role, he seems to have been no kinsman to the cavern-dwellers. The harmlessness of the mainlanders, “a vagabunde and rascall kynde of blacke men”, receives greater emphasis (they are both “fearefull at the sight of euery thyng” and “without weapons that can doe any great hurte”). Likewise, the fondness for trinkets of the “blacke inhabitauntes” of the mountain caves sees more elaboration, but the nature of their speech (“so counfoundedly and chatteringly lyke Apes, that I am not able to expresse”) is recounted basically as above. The possession of “kyne” — reminiscent of the pastoral Khoikhoi — is (erroneously?) made even more impressive. Here, the slave interpreter demands not 30 head but 300.
Let’s take a leap of faith, if you will, and entertain the possibility that di Varthema and crew indeed met a mountain band of click speakers in northern Mozambique. Could this have been an encounter with one of those “ancient genetically differentiated populations” of Southeastern Africa? Was this our first and only record of their pre-Bantu tongue?
You might object that the purple component at K ≥ 4 in Sikora et al.’s STRUCTURE chart is quite clearly separate from that which predominates in the San and Pygmies. Besides, neither di Varthema’s descriptions of physical appearance nor the phenotypes of living Bantu speakers in Mozambique really points to the predominance of a “San-like” element, right?
I’ll respond by noting that the speakers of the Khoisan languages seem to be considerably more heterogeneous than the commonality of clicks might lead one to believe. The validity of the family, particularly in its broader conceptions, has been called into question. As Tishkoff et al. (2009) established in an analysis of 1327 nuclear microsatellite and insertion/deletion markers in 121 African populations, the Hadza and Sandawe (that lonely yellow point in Tanzania if you look at my first map) are quite distinct from the Khoe and San further south. This isn’t all that unexpected; it’s been argued that the connections between Hazda or Sandawe on one hand and the other Khoisan languages on the other are quite remote (e.g., Sands, 1998; Greenberg, 1950) … and their speakers are physically pretty different from click speakers down along the Cape. The inclusion of samples from either of these two people by Sikora et al. might have been illuminating.
Something to think about.
Greenberg, J. H. (1950). Studies in African Linguistic Classification: VI. The Click Languages. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 6(3), 223-237.
Johnston, H. H., Torday, E., Joyce, T. A., & Seligmann, C. G. (1913). A Survey of the Ethnography of Africa: And the Former Racial and Tribal Migrations in That Continent. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 43, 375-421.
Nurse, D., & Philippson, G. (2003). The Bantu languages. London: Psychology Press.
Sands, B. (1998). The linguistic relationship between Hadza and Khoisan. In Language, Identity, and Conceptualization among the Khoisan, M. Schladt, ed. (Cologne: Quellen zur Khoisan- Forschung 15. Kōppe), pp. 265–283.
Sikora, M., Laayouni, H., Calafell, F., Comas, D., & Bertranpetit, J. (2010). A genomic analysis identifies a novel component in the genetic structure of sub-Saharan African populations. Eur J Hum Genet.
Tishkoff, S. A., Reed, F. A., Friedlaender, F. R., Ehret, C., Ranciaro, A., Froment, A., Hirbo, J. B., et al. (2009). The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans. Science, 324(5930), 1035-1044.
Varthema, L. D., & Aungervyle Society. (1884). The Nauigation and Vyages of Lewis Wertomannus, in the Yeere of Our Lorde 1503. Edinburgh: Priv. print. for the Aungervyle Society.
Varthema, L. D., Jones, J. W., & Badger, G. P. (1863). The travels of Ludovico di Varthema in Egypt, Syria, Arabia Deserta and Arabia Felix, in Persia, India, and Ethiopia, A.D. 1503 to 1508. London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society.