African Culture, African jewellery

The Top 4 Tribes Of Africa

Tribes Of Africa: WHO ARE THEY?

Each African native belongs to a tribe. Even though it’s very challenging to understand, tribes are distinctive attributes of the continent. The size and young age of the continent’s population are two aspects that single out the African continent. But then, it’s the existence of tribes that have led to all of these. In all African nations, each native somehow distinguishes himself/herself on the basis of their tribes. For this reason among many others, tribes have had a great impact in the African society. Until date, even though the effect has dropped, they still play a great role in the community. African tribes are at the heart of the African history. Thus, knowledge about African tribes is one of the prime ways to appreciate the continent. Yet, before anything, we first need to define what we mean by a tribe. We shall then proceed by describing why the tribes we have selected are among the top four of all. So, are you interested in Africa? Or do you need a refresh about your African history? Either way is sure to get some valuable insight about some special African tribes.

What’s a tribe?

We believe it’s important to remind ourselves or clarify what’s meant by a tribe. There’s usually a confusion between a tribe and ethnic group. Mafeje in the article “The Ideology of ‘Tribalism”  gives a definition of a tribe. Thus, quoting Mafeje, a tribe is, “self-contained, autonomous communities practising subsistence economy with no or limited external trade” (Mafeje 1971). In the same article, others define a tribe differently. For them, it’s a group of persons who due “exclusive rights to a given territory” and manage “its affairs independently of external control” (Mafeje 1971). To break it down, we define a tribe as thus. A tribe is a human social group sharing a common ancestral blood link, land, culture, language, and history.

In Africa, a plethora of tribes exists, with over 3000 tribes believed to exist across the 54 nations. They have been there way before the states or governments ever came to exist. So coming up with four top of them is quite a struggle. But our choice is made based on striking distinctive attributes of the tribes that render it more popular among others. So what are those top four tribes?

1.    The Zulu tribe.

UBUNTU, have you ever heard of that word? If you’re fun of computer operating systems, or an IT software guru, you must know this word. However, do you know it’s an African word? Indeed! This comes from the Zulu language and indicates two words: togetherness and humanity. Shaka Zulu, that’s a name you equally must have heard of, especially if you love African or discovery movies.  Shaka Zulu was the legendary chief of the most famous land of Shakaland in the Zulu Kingdom. Both of these, Ubuntu and Shaka Zulu have contributed to providing the reputation of the Zulu tribe. Moreover, Zulu is the largest and most popular tribe in South Africa, with about a population of 11 million. The Zulu’s occupy regions principally in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.

Zulu tribe
Zulu Reed Dance

The Zulu language is isiZulu, and Christianity is the dominant religion. The tribe is quite modern in its lifestyle. Individuals regularly dress their traditional clothes for distinct cultural events. A respectable number of important people (politicians and scientists) originate from this tribe.

2.    The Maasai Tribe

Where the Maasai originate remains a debate (John L. Berntsen, 1977). Yet, we know them to dwell in distinct regions in Kenya and Tanzania. Their population is estimated to be close to a million (GOVERNMENT OF KENYA, 1999). The Maasai people distinguish themselves by their intense embedded tradition and cultural beliefs, although many of them are still open to embracing a modern lifestyle. Among their particular traditional characteristics, is their nomadic lifestyle, moving around with large herds and cattle for a living. They even believe in the god of cattle. Their cultural wear consists of exceptional beaded jewels. This aspect of their culture is highly valorized in foreign countries and cultures.

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According to recent literature, an intricate relationship is believed between Maasai and Elephants (Kangwana K, 1993). For instance, fields studies have revealed that elephants are capable of understanding Maasai language and sounds.


3.    The Berber Tribe

If there’s tribe you must know about when interested in North Africa is that of the Berber. As the second most populated tribe of North Africa, Berbers have occupied the Maghreb since the start of documented history. That is, they live in dispersed communities across Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, and even Libya. They communicate in several Amazigh languages that belong to the Afro-Asiatic family and linked to Ancient Egyptian. Berber literature was written orally as most of ancient history. Yet one important aspect of the Berber tribe is its language. But then, many different varieties of the Berber languages exist, meaning along with their geographic dispersion, no one literature exists. Hence making its history difficult to retrieve. Between 30 to 40 million Berber speakers are estimated, thus Berber languages have strongly impacted Maghrebi culture.

Berber woman and her child


4.    The Fulani Tribe

Among the most dispersed tribe of West Africa, the Fulani tribe must be mentioned. The tribe is equally known as Peul or Fulbe. It’s the primary Muslim population dispersed all over several regions of West Africa. In fact, the span that they cover in Africa overlaps the size of the United States entirely. They are found mainly in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger. The Fulani speak Pulaar, orignally from the Fula people of Senegal, Nigeria and Cameroon.  The Fulani tribe is known to be a nomadic tribe, herding cattle, livestock and simply living off the land. They practice a strict code which teaches moral fortitude, things such as : respect, responsibility, sense of duty, patience and spirtuallity are all high valued amongst the Fulani Tribe.  Spiritually, the Fulani are associated with the Islamic religion, and deligintly devote themselves to the Islamic traditions. The outerappearance of both Fulani women and men preach the practice of modesty, there is no distinct dress code, however women who are married wear a veil to symbolize their union.

Fulani Woman With Tribal Tattoo
Fulani Woman With Tribal Tattoo

With all the exodusse, annexation, technology and the ever-changing world, African tribes are still there. They are still a huge source of knowledge and very interesting media to know about Africa.



  • GOVERNMENT OF KENYA, 1999 CENSUS (Provisional Rep.).
  • John L. Berntsen, Maasai and lloikop: Ritual Experts and Their Followers (1977) (unpublished paper, University of Wisconsin at Madison).




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