What does it mean to be part of a Tribe?

Last Updated on July 31, 2023

members of a tribe
Portrait of happy African women from Masai tribe, Kenya, Africa. Mount Kilimanjaro in central Kenya, Africa. Maasai tribe inhabiting southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, and they are related to the Samburu.

True, the word “tribe” is a delicate one, laden with the weight of decades of anthropological research that has favoured Western civilisation over all others. But let us save it here, and reduce it to its most basic meaning: the earliest human communities formed beyond the primitive boundaries of kinship — the forerunners of the great experiment we call society, which taught us to be human.

Our forefathers did not live on their own; they banded together to survive. For millennia, our consciousness was moulded by our relationships with those in our immediate vicinity. In a finite environment we recognised as both home and globe, identity was like a convoluted address, at the crossroads of birthplace and blood, the things we chose to worship and the ways we kept ourselves alive. We were characterised not by our secret interior lives, but by our outward gestures, shared rituals and symbols, and tributes to common ideals of virtue and beauty — not by what separated us, but by what brought us together.

What Is a Tribe

A tribe is a group of people who live together and speak the same language, have the same culture, and have the same history. Tribes frequently share a common ancestor and live in a closed society. They also follow similar life standards or serve a certain purpose. In other circumstances, tribes are also referred to as “ethnic groups,” “clans,” or “nations.” Tribes have existed since the dawn of time and represent some of the earliest forms of social organisation and settlement. Tribes occur on most continents and can be found all over the world.

A tribe does not have a definite definition because each tribe is distinct in some way. They are typically a collection of related individuals, but each tribe may have a distinct purpose or set of behaviours. Several historians and scientists, as well as the authors of the United States Constitution, have described the tribal concept.

According To Anthropology…

A tribe is a conceptual form of human social organisation in anthropology that is based on a set of smaller groupings (known as bands) that have temporary or permanent political integration and are defined by common descent, language, culture, and philosophy.

The term “tribus” comes from ancient Rome, where the word “tribus” meant “state division.” It was then adopted as a term for the cultures encountered during the European expedition. Many anthropologists and other researchers used the word, as well as band, chiefdom, and state, to indicate specific stages in unilineal cultural progression by the mid-nineteenth century.

Although unilineal cultural evolution is no longer a plausible idea, these phrases are nonetheless employed in college courses, films, and popular reference works as a kind of technical shorthand. Members of a tribe are often described as sharing a self-name and a contiguous region; cooperating in cooperative endeavours such as trade, agriculture, home construction, warfare, and ceremonial events; and being made up of a number of smaller local groups such as bands or villages. They can also be combined into higher-order clusters, such as nations.

The term tribe fell out of favour as an anthropological term in the latter half of the twentieth century. Some anthropologists dismissed the concept altogether, claiming that it was impossible to describe accurately. Others objected to the word’s negative connotations as a result of its colonial history. African scholars, in particular, thought it was both derogatory and erroneous.

Characteristics of Tribal Society

Definite Common Topography

Tribal people live inside a defined topography that serves as a gathering point for all members of that tribe who dwell in that area. Tribe members will lose other aspects of tribal life, such as common language, manner of life, and communal spirit, if they do not have a shared yet specific residential place.

Sense of Unity

The psychological aspect is a fundamental characteristic of the tribe, and its members have a sense of mutual unity. A group living in a certain region and using that area as a common abode cannot be labelled a tribe unless and until it has a sense of oneness. For authentic tribal existence, a sense of unity is an unavoidable requirement. During times of peace and war, a tribe’s entire existence is dependent on the tribal’s sense of oneness.

Common Dialect

A tribe’s members speak a common language because it fosters a sense of community among them. It distinguishes them from other tribes. As a result, each tribe is aware of its shared ethnic identity. In a shared dialect, they discuss their points of view. This factor adds to their sense of belonging.

Endogamous Group

In general, tribal people do not marry outside their tribe, and marriage inside the tribe is highly valued and praised. But, as a result of the pressing consequences of change brought on by the forces of mobility, tribe members’ attitudes have shifted, and inter-tribal marriages are becoming more widespread.

Distinct Political Organization

Even if there isn’t a well-developed hierarchical political system, leadership is frequently acknowledged. Within a tribe, political organisation is developed to safeguard the members, and all administrative authority is vested in one person or group of people. A tribal committee is constituted to provide help to the tribal chief in the form of advice. They are usually in charge of the members’ well-being. The cohesion and integrity of a tribe can be threatened both inside and externally. Authority and leadership are critical in maintaining intra-tribal harmony and guiding inter-tribal warfare at such times. The traditions and legends of each tribe are diverse, with separate habits, customs, art, religious beliefs, and so on.

Egalitarian Values

The egalitarian idea underpins a tribal social order. As a result, there are no institutionalised inequities such as caste or sex discrimination. As a result, men and women had equal status and freedom. Tribal chiefs or tribal kings, on the other hand, who have a higher social standing, political power, and riches, may exhibit some levels of social inequality.

Ties of Blood-relationship

The strongest tie and most potent force instilling a sense of oneness among tribal members are blood-relationship. They believe in a blood link with other members because they believe they are descended from a shared actual or mythical ancestor. In tribal organisations, kinship relationships are extremely essential. Lineages and clans, for example, are well-developed descent groups.

Property is frequently owned jointly and corporately by each descendant group. Exogamy is common in each descent group. The enforcement of tribal endogamy (the norm that states that a member of a tribe or any other group should marry another member of that tribe) contributes to the preservation of tribal identity.

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