African culture and African tribes are incredibly diversified, with fascinating tribes and customs, mainly due to Africa being such a vast continent. In this article, you can learn more about the most intriguing African tribes and traditional African traditions, as well as about the best cultural excursions in Africa. Africa is a wealthy and diversified continent that has been colonized and pillaged for more than 300 years.
It is the only continent that covers both the northern and southern hemispheres, making it the second-largest continent on the planet. The size of Africa is roughly 11.7 million miles (or 30.37 million km2)! Accordingly, the UK is just 0.8% the size of the US, which is 32.4% the size of Africa.
Africa is a vast continent full of amazing things. From huge deserts to tropical forests to majestic animals, mother Africa has countless wonders. Not only is it blessed with bountiful nature, but it has also developed its unique culture over the thousands since the start of early civilization.
There are approximately 3,000 tribes in Africa, according to estimates. But do you know what exactly a tribe is, and which African tribes are the most well-known and famous ones? When doing a safari in Africa, it might be simple to return home without having experienced any of the native cultures or practices outside of your safari lodge. This would mean missing out on a significant portion of what makes Africa such a fascinating continent and travel destination. We have created a list of all the African Tribes, here it goes.
1. Hadzabe, Tanzania
The Hadzabe are a hunter-gatherer tribe from north-central Tanzania and possibly the only remaining nomadic group in East Africa. There have been attempts to colonize the Hadza since the first European encounter in the late 19th century, through several separate Tanzanian administrations. Its is one of the most popular African tribes in the world.
Since most of these attempts have been unsuccessful, the Hadza continue to live much like their predecessors did hundreds of years ago. In Hadzabe, there is no formal structure of authority or social stratification, and children are raised in a cooperative environment. Foraging and hunting take a lot of time. Depending on the availability, women forage in bigger groups for berries, fruit, and tubers.
Also known as ‘Wahadzabe’ or ‘Hadza’. The Hadzabe people inhabit the rift valley in Africa in the country of Tanzania. The Serengeti plateau and Lake Eyasi are the main geographical features of their homeland. The main method of sustenance is foraging. History of the region suggests that they are among the earliest settlers and have occupied the region for about a thousand years. With colonialism, a new way of life came into contact with the Hadza.
Settled agriculture and Christianity were brought but the efforts to alter the olden way of life failed and contact with the Hadza become hostile. Since then many NGOs and the Tanzanian government has also made efforts to try to bring settled agriculture but as of now, the Hadzabe people remain true to the way of life that their ancestors described hundreds of years ago. They live in huts that can be built in a matter of hours and own no more than can be carried on their backs when moving camps, which does happen frequently.
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2. Himba, Namibia
The Himba tribe lives as pastoralists and hunters in the Kunene region of northwestern Namibia. Because Kunene is located in a remote and arid area of Namibia, the tribe has been successful in preserving its culture and traditional way of life.
The holy fire known as Okuruwo, which represents the Himba people’s link to their ancestors and their god Mukuru, is at the center of their culture. Each community has a constant fire in the middle that serves as a symbol of this connection and is maintained by a firekeeper from each family. The women of the Himba tribe, with their red-tinged complexions and thick, red hair styled in intricate ways, are largely responsible for the group’s iconic position.
The estimated population of Himba is around 50,000 which inhabit the region of northern Namibia and southern Angola near the Kunene River. The main occupation is herding and gathering among the Himba people. They own sheep and goats. Cattle are much more prized possessions and are a measure of wealth. Apart from animal rearing they also grow some crops like maize and millet which forms a staple component of their diets.
The tasks like maintenance of huts, milking of cattle, collection of water, cooking and making of clothes and handicrafts and jewelry fall on women while men have to go on extended periods for construction or farming or in councils with chiefs.
Veneration of the dead is central to the Himba people.
Each household has an ‘okuruwo’ or a sacred ancestral fire that they keep in the center of the joint home. They believe this fire connects them to their ancestors who act as representatives of the one god called ‘Mukuru’. The people apply an ochre color on their bodies. This colored paste also has antimicrobial properties which protect them from insect bites and the hot and dry weather and allow them to survive in one of the most hostile environments on Earth.
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3. The Maasai of Kenya
The first Maasai, Maasinta, was given cattle by Ngai, the sky god, who brought them down to earth on a leather thong. Since then, cattle have been revered and are valued only second to their offspring. In fact, a large herd and a large family are the hallmarks of a genuinely prosperous Maasai.
The savannah territory that now comprises the well-known national parks of Ngorongoro, Amboseli, Serengeti, the Masai Mara, and Tsavo was formerly the Maasai people’s home range. Any east African safari is filled with colorful Maasai due to their fight to retain their way of life in spite of the challenges of modernity.
The Masai people live in Kenya and northern Tanzania in Eastern Africa. This group is quite well known on a global scale due to their proximity to the African Great Lakes and the famous safari locations. The population of the Masai tribe is around 1.2 million in Kenya and around 800,000 in Tanzania.
Masai people also wear ornaments and decorate their bodies with paints, something which attracts a lot of tourist attention. The main source of sustenance in the tribe is cattle rearing. The main source of food is meat and dairy. Also, the wealth of an individual is defined as the number of cattle and children. However, with restrictions on cattle, they have learned to grow crops such as sorghum, rice and potatoes, and cabbage.
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4. Hamar, Ethiopia
The Hamar are a people who live in the rich Omo Valley in southwest Ethiopia. They are a pastoral group with a high regard for cattle in their culture. Families relocate to grazing areas to live with their herds during the dry season, surviving solely on the milk and blood of the cattle.
They can be immediately identified by the numerous multicolored beads, necklaces, and bracelets adorning their bodies, as well as by their peculiar hairstyles, which involve curling their hair with a mixture of ochre and butter. The ritual whipping of women by their husbands to demonstrate their devotion and the initiation ceremony of boys jumping over bulls to be allowed to marry are controversial customs.
This tribe lives in Ethiopia in East Africa. They are neighbors to the Banna people who also share a language called Hamar-Banna. Scientists agree that the Hamar people are a mix of the Caucasian and Negroid races. An interesting aspect is that they are genetically mixed with the Bushmen people who have mongloid features also. They live in small camps arranged in a circular fashion. Tents are placed along the periphery and livestock are in the center.
The women and children sleep in beds in the huts while men and older boys sleep on cots near the cattle to guard them. They do not practice settled agriculture but they do sow crops. Before leaving a place, they plant sorghum or beans, or sesame at the site of the present camp. Most people in the Hamar tribe take extensive care of their hair. They wear colorful headgear including a small clay cap that is decorated with paints and feathers and ornaments.
Image Source: Wikimedia
5. Karo, Ethiopia
The small Karo (or Kara) tribe is one of the popular African tribes that inhabits the banks of the Omo River in Southern Ethiopia, appearing unaffected by the outside world. They engage in flood retreat farming, maize, and bean planting, goat and cattle raising, and fishing for food.
They are well known for their elaborate face and body painting techniques, employing materials like white chalk, charcoal, yellow rock, and iron ore to produce some incredibly striking body art. The tribe also engages in ritual scarification, which involves cutting themselves with a razor or knife, and then rubbing ash into the wound to gradually increase it.
6. The Zulu of South Africa
The largest ethnic group in South Africa is the Zulu. They originated in East Africa and over many years moved south as part of the so-called big Bantu migration. Shaka’s leadership of the Zulu helped them grow into a powerful empire at the beginning of the 19th century. The Zulu kingdom grew and had a significant impact on South Africa’s history under his rule. The Zulu gained a reputation for being fearsome over time, which is still present today.
The Zulu people are native to South Africa having a total population of 14 million. The Zulu people are the people united by King shaka in the 19th century due to his superior military tactics. They take immense pride in their ceremonies and their ornamentation which identifies them as one people and is seen as devotion to society.
Image Source: South African Tourism
7. San Bushmen, Kenya
One of the oldest tribes in the world and the original inhabitants of South Africa, the San are known as hunter-gatherers. Currently, there are about 100,000 of their descendants living in Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and South Africa.
The San are known for their exceptional tracking abilities, and they have the knowledge and equipment necessary to hunt and survive in the deserts of Southern Africa. The distinctive clicking sound they make when speaking makes them simple to identify. The San, also referred to as Kalahari bushmen, are responsible. They created the region’s ancient rock and cave art, some of which dates back thousands of years.
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8. The Southern Ndebele tribe of South Africa
The northeast South African provinces of Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and Limpopo are home to a sizable population of Southern Ndebele people. Since they are regarded as Zulu kin, the Ndebele tribes have linguistic affinities with them. However, the Ndebele are distinctive in how they exhibit their culture and values. In the traditional Ndebele culture, spells or curses are said to be the root of all illnesses.
They are regarded as an injury caused by an outside force. The traditional healer, or sangoma, must fight these forces using herbs as medicine or by hurling bones. The ancestral spirits can be communicated by men and women who identify as izangoma. However, whether they are successful or not depends on their capacity to overcome disease.
Again, a tribe from South Africa lives in the northeastern part of the country. Today they number close to 3 million and are predominantly Christian. The children in the tribe have to undergo an initiation ceremony to enter adulthood. This usually occurs when they attain 18 years of age or enter puberty. The Ndebele decorate themselves with colorful beads around their arms legs, waist, and neck.
Image Source: Wikimedia
9. Samburu, Kenya
Pastoralists from the vast plains of the Samburu region make up the north and central Kenyan Samburu tribe. They keep cattle and other animals like camels, goats, and lambs. They speak the same Maa language as their southern neighbors, the Maasai, and are closely connected to them. However, they are semi-nomadic, searching for pastures in far-off, dry regions.
They eat cow milk and blood, just like many pastoral communities in East Africa. The word Samburu, which refers to their numerous colorful adornments, literally translates to “butterfly.” The Samburu are known for their distinctive social structure and colorful clothes. Men dress in robes that resemble Scottish kilts and are accessorized with headdresses, anklets, bracelets, and necklaces.
Samburu people in Kenya are neighbors of the Maasai people in Kenya. They however number far smaller, only around 333,000. They also share a common language with the Maasai people called the Maa language. There are many game parks in their home region which keeps them closer to tourists.
Image Source: Wikimedia
10. Xhosa, South Africa
One of the major ethnic groups in South Africa is the Xhosa, who have their ancestral homes in the Eastern Cape Province, a region covered in forest, in the country’s southeast. After Zulu, the Xhosa language is the second most widely spoken in South Africa.
This language is utilized to uphold their vibrant oral culture, which is rich in legends about heroic ancestors and relies only on the spoken transmission of the wisdom of the elders. The Xhosa, who strongly believe in iziduko, is where the concept of ubuntu (basic humanity toward others) originates, at least in part (clan). The iziduko is more significant than a person’s name as a part of their Xhosa identity. When two strangers first meet, they exchange their iziduko before introducing themselves.
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11. Bini, Nigeria
The Bini or the Benin people live in Nigeria and are descendants of the founders of the famous Benin kingdom. The name Benin is derived from the word ‘Ubini’ in the Edo language which means vexation in English. The Bini people have an extensive impact on the art and culture of the region. The red color is prominent in fashion and accessories.
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12. Saan, Kenya
The Saan inhabit large parts of Southern Africa in countries like Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and Zimbabwe and number close to a hundred thousand. The majority follow Christianity or the San religion. Their diet consists of about 104 species. They consume both plants and animals depending on the season and availability. Being a minority, the Saan people have faced eviction from traditional land and political marginalization even after the end of colonialism.
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13. Amhara, Ethiopia
The Amhara people number around 20 million most of whom live in Ethiopia. They have their own language and script with literary works dating as back as the 14th century. It is noteworthy that the Amhara people follow Ethiopian orthodox Christianity which has been in the region much before the colonialists arrived.
14. Bono, West Africa
The Bono tribe also known as The Bono or the Abron are the Akan people of West Africa. They are one of the largest ethnic groups that speak Bono Twi of the Akan language. The dialect of the people comes from a derivative of a Bono King Nana Twi. The meaning of bono means pioneer or firstborn on the land. During the old days, when a bono woman gives birth for the first time this is referred to as her abonowoo. It is believed that the bono people migrated from Ancient Ghana.
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15. Adjoukrou people, Central Africa
The Adjoukrou people are one of the most popular ethnic African tribes of the Ivory Coast in Central Africa. The people of the tribe are considered Sub-Saharan Peoples who are associated closely with the Central African tribes. The popularity of the tribe is estimated to be around 140,000 in the year 2017. There is no data till now that the population of the Adjoukrou is significantly present outside of Ivory Coast. The literacy rate among the people of the trie is estimated to be between 30% to 60%.
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These are the 15 most popular African tribes in the world. Kindly share and do post your comments.