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African People Tribes

The Tribes of Africa


The tribes of Africa are as varied as the lands they have roamed for millennia. Though the culture on the continent has evolved — especially over the last two hundred years — tribal influence remains a part of Africa. Though the separation between tribes has lessened in recent years, a person's tribal affiliation remains a powerful source of pride.

There are roughly 160 tribes in Kenya and Tanzania.The Kikuyu tribe is the largest in East Africa and very influential politically and economically. Many are now Christian, but some still adhere to their traditional beliefs. The Luo are another powerful tribe in the region - Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister is Luo (and, in fact, American President Barack Obama has Luo roots). The Maasai people are fiercely independent pastoralists who still live in traditional villages on the East African savannah. Many of their traditional rites are still observed by the Maasai, including the initiation of boys into warriorhood. The Samburu are related to the Maasai, but live slightly north of the equator. It is thought that both tribes were part of the southbound Plains Nilotic movement, and at some point were separated.

Southern Africa maintains an active tribal influence as well, with over a dozen different ethnic groups. The Zulu are South Africa's largest - and perhaps most famous - tribe, known for their craftwork and their spirited resistance to British colonization over the 18th, 19th and even early 20th centuries. Celebrated as the tribe of Nelson Mandela, the Xhosa have been largely integrated into South African society. Their language is notable for its use of ‘click’ sounds as consonants. The San (or ‘Bushmen’) are generally found in and around the Kalahari Desert and have lived in Southern Africa for over 20,000 years.

These are just a few of the many tribes in Africa. Though many have had to adapt to the changes in modern African life, they still maintain a strong connection with their roots and traditions. And they are usually more than happy to talk about their tribe—just ask!