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16 African tribes: names, meanings and customs

The tribes of Africa have fascinating traditions, dances and music that make them very different from other ancient and modern peoples and civilizations. Always in harmony with nature, African tribes develop amazing abilities to convert natural materials from their environment into all kinds of tools and clothing, as well as constructions and crafts. A clear example of their crafts are the magical and enigmatic masks of African tribes, which they design and use during dances and representations of their religious beliefs.

If you want to know more about the interesting world of African tribes, continue reading this AgroCorrn article in which you will meet 16 African tribes: names, meanings and customs .

African tribal names

The African ethnic groups are one of the greatest cultural riches of the world. Next, we collect in a list the names of the best known African tribes , as well as those that, due to their population size or location, may be somewhat unknown.

  1. Bushmen: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Angola.
  2. Hamer: Ethiopia.
  3. Himba: Namibia.
  4. Daasanach: Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.
  5. Dinka: Sudan.
  6. Karo: Ethipoia.
  7. Masai: Kenya and Tanzania.
  8. Mursi: Ethiopia.
  9. Nyangatom: Ethiopia.
  10. Nuba: Sudan.
  11. Pygmies: Congo.
  12. Samburu: Kenya.
  13. Surma: Ethiopia.
  14. Tuareg: Algeria, Libya, Niger, Mali, Morocco and Burkina Faso.
  15. Turkana: Kenya and Sudan.
  16. Zulu: South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In the next sections we will see in detail the traditions of the best known African tribes .

Bushmen

In the amazing Kalahari desert , the famous Bushmen tribe inhabits and develops their culture for millions of years, being considered the oldest people on Earth . The meaning of the name of his tribe, “man of the forests”, refers to their ability as hunters and gatherers, dedicating themselves mainly to the harvest of plants and fruit trees that grow in the region.

This famous tribe is known worldwide for their strange communication through clicks , these being their only type of language. They are characterized by being a peaceful and generous people, in which the hierarchy of its population lacks a chief , and its main objective is to maintain the general welfare of the tribe, sharing its possessions and making equitable use of its resources.

At present, the area of ​​occupation of the Bushmen has been severely reduced compared to previous centuries, mainly due to pressure from the Government of Botswana, responsible for the expulsion of Bushmen from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. .

Himba

In northern Namibia, the Himba tribe is easily recognizable due to the characteristic reddish color of their skins. This custom of painting and decorating their bodies is one of the main traditions of the African tribes . In the case of the Himba, they prepare a mixture like cream with ocher, natural herbs of the region and butter. The result serves to keep the skin clean and be protected from strong solar radiation.

The meaning of Himba, “beggar”, refers to their humble lifestyle, preserving today the same customs and trade as cattle breeders that they have been developing for thousands of years.

Daasanach

Did you know that there is an African tribe famous for its original and artistic decorations made with recycled materials ? They are the Daasanach , a large tribe in which exiles from numerous different neighboring Ethiopian tribes coexist, which live in the Omo River Valley and Lake Turkana, both declared World Heritage Sites. Thus, the meaning of the name of his tribe, “people of the delta”, reflects the location near the delta of the river and surrounding areas.

The Daasanach are mainly dedicated to agriculture , and their most prominent tradition is the making of decorations and beads for their hair and their clothes with materials that they find discarded in the area where they live, mainly plates and other metallic materials.

Masai, one of the best known African tribes

The Masai are probably the best known tribe in East Africa. With their dances and colorful clothing, they bring life to the parts of Kenya and Tanzania , where an estimated 883,000 individuals of this famous African tribe live .

In the Maa language used by the Masai, the name of their tribe takes on a curious meaning: “I don’t want to ask.” Perhaps it is linked to their natural and harmonious lifestyle, in which the resources of nature serve as sustenance to build their houses, their red clothes and their trinkets with leaves. Thus, with cow dung, mud and straw, the Masai build their houses in villages and are mainly dedicated to grazing.

Its main traditions include the importance of the people of the tribe based on the number of cows and children they have, as well as their energetic war dances in circles and giving some of the highest jumps made by people, without leaning on poles or similar tools; This is undoubtedly one of the most famous African tribal dances in the world. In this image below you can see this dance full of jumps and, in addition, in the cover photo of this article you will see the Masai women, also dressed in red tones and full of beads and accessories prepared by the members of the tribe themselves. .

Pygmies

Short in stature and dark skinned, members of the Pygmy ethnic group live in different regions of central Africa, known as the Congo region. The name they receive comes from the Greek, and means “the size of a fist”, since adults do not exceed one and a half meters in height .

Among their main customs, their amazing ability as hunters with arrows and nets stands out, thanks to which they hunt large antelopes, pigs, monkeys and a variety of birds, among other animals. The Pygmies also stand out for their characteristic vocal music , which is part of the most striking type of music of the African tribes . They use repeating musical patterns and numerous rhythmic figures that make their improvised songs quite a show.

Tuareg

Among the Islamic countries of North Africa, the Tuareg are recognized for their blue clothing . The meaning of the name of the tribe defines them as “the free, the nobles”, being one of the most abundant and characteristic nomadic peoples of the Sahara .

They live in large family units, moving through the desert aided by camels and other animals, which serve as a support and source of resources for the use of their meat and skins. Its customs include its dedication to herding, crafts and commerce. They live in tents called ehe and have their own writing, the tifnagh .

Image: The Africa Image Library

Zulu

In the south of the African continent, the Zulu tribe venerates the “sky or firmament” to which their name refers in their aboriginal language. They are mainly engaged in livestock and agriculture on the lands of the Republic of South Africa in which they live. They are prone to practice polygamy , with the aim of increasing their pride and happiness, since the more children they have, the greater their achievements and importance within the tribe.

The Zulu are one of the most famous African tribes due to their cheerful music and characteristic dances in which they sway frantically to the rhythm of percussion instruments, wearing their many colorful necklaces.

To finish talking about the African tribes, their names, meanings and customs , we also want to show a little about the animals that live with these people in nature, more or less directly, and for this we recommend these other AgroCorrn articles : What animals live in the African jungle , Animals in danger of extinction of Africa and Characteristics of the okapi, an African animal in danger of extinction .

If you liked discovering these African tribes, do not miss What are the indigenous peoples of the Amazon and Australian Aborigines: names of peoples and their customs .

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