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Tribes of Africa



Location: The Afar people live primarily in Ethiopia and the areas of Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia in the Horn of Africa. Their land is mainly rocky and desert terrain. The Afar people also live in the Awash Valley and the forests located in northern Djibouti. There are approximately 3 million people that make up the Afar culture.

Language: Afar

Culture: There are only two hospitals in the region available to the Afar, the National Hospital and the Dubti Hospital. The Afar people in this area are usually found to be malnourished. Their diets consist mainly of bread and milk. There is no natural source of water for the Afar people. Water must be tanked in and as a result it is relatively expensive. Many of the Afar people have anemia and malaria, because of their inadequate diets.

The Afar nomads have a very unique culture. Their daily life consists of tending to livestock including goats, camels, and a few cattle located in this region. The Afar people are very dependent on the livestock for the economy. Religion is also a part of the Afar way of life. The majority studies the Muslim religion. There is although a small percentage that practices Orthodoxy


Location: The Anlo-Ewe people are today in the southeastern corner of the Republic of Ghana.

History: According to oral history, the Anlo-Ewe people settled at their present home around the later part of the 15th century (1474) after a dramatic escape from Notsie, an ancestral federated region currently within the borders of the modern state of Togo. The escape and subsequent resettlement are commemorated in an annual festival known as Hogbetsotso Za.

Earlier settlements were established along seamless stretches of white sandy beaches of the Atlantic ocean, from what is now the international border between Togo and Ghana and due west to the eastern shores of the Volta river. Names assigned to some of the settlements – Keta, which means “the head of the sand,” Denu, which means “the beginning of palm trees” etc. – echoed the natural endowment and beauty of the landscape they were to call home.

The close proximity of the settlements to the sea, however, offered no safety from the frequent raids for slaves by European slave traders who would navigate their ships easily to the shores of the ocean for their human cargos. The memory of these raids and the loss of entire settlement populations have been deeply imprinted on the Anlo-Ewe consciousness through the holdings of oral tradition such as folklore, myths and songs. A mass migration northward and the establishment of lagoon island settlements begun as a necessary security against becoming a slave in some strange land.

The Keta lagoon became central to the early evolution of the Anlo-Ewe traditional state. Its shallow waters were not navigable by the large slave ships and provided a much needed buffer-zone between the settlers and the aggressive slave traders.


The Amhara are the politically and culturally dominant ethnic group of Ethiopia. They are located primarily in the central highland plateau of Ethiopia and comprise the major population element in the provinces of Begemder and Gojjam and in parts of Shoa and Wallo. In terms of the total Ethiopian population, however, the Amhara are a numerical minority. The national population has usually been placed at between 14 and 22 million.

It is generally estimated that the Amhara, together with the closely related Tigre, constitute about one-third of this total population. One of the most recent estimates gives the number of native speakers of Amharic, the language of the Amhara, as approximately 7,800,000. (cf. Bender 1971:217)

Their national clothes are basically white, whether the shawls and light blankets worn over the shoulders by the men or the white dresses and wraps worn by the ladies.

Life in the Amhara farming society is hard. Many Amhara live in the harsh and stark mountains, easy to defend, but making it difficult to travel and gain provisions. The men in the fields, the women around the house and the children at home and watching the sheep–all work very hard.

The fields are plowed with oxen, seeds are sown and harvested by hand, and the harvest is threshed by the feet of animals. In the home, the primary cooking fuel is the dried dung of the farm animals. Nothing is wasted.

The staple food of the Amhara is injera bo wot. Injera is made from a tiny indigenous grain called teff (tyeff in Amharic), which is endemic to Ethiopia. Wot is a peppersauce that can be made from beans or meat. The whole process of making these foods is difficult and time-consuming. Impure drinking water and deforestation are significant issues in Amhara life. These, plus other factors, cause most Amhara to live in yearly risk of famine. These famines ravaged the country in 1974 and 1984.

The children from the age of five or six spend their days watching the family animals, mainly sheep. Increasingly, children are able to attend public schools, though this is mainly for only half a day since the schools are very crowded. Only a little over 10 per cent of the population has access to an all-weather road.

Though their life is hard, the Amhara are proud people, proud of their ethnicity, their religion, their special place in the world. Their culture is strong, developed over many centuries, and it has withstood the incursions of outside governments and religions.

Settlements are typically built on or near hilltops, as protection against flooding. Farms are terraced on the hillsides to prevent erosion and hold water for crops. The “hamlet” is usually patrilineal, with sons building their homes in the father’s location. Girls normally marry at age 14, and the groom is three to five years older.

Most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil ceremony sealing the contract. A priest may be present. Divorce is allowed and must also be negotiated. There is also a “temporary marriage,” by oral contract before witnesses. The woman is paid housekeeper’s wages, and is not eligible for inheritance, but children of the marriage are legally recognized and qualify for inheritance. Priests may marry but not eligible for divorce or remarriage.


The Ashanti live in central Ghana in western Africa approximately 300km. away from the coast. The Ashanti are a major ethnic group of the Akans in Ghana, a fairly new nation, barely more than 50 years old. Ghana, previously the Gold Coast, was a British colony until 1957. It is now politically separated into four main parts. Ashanti is in the center and Kumasi is the capital.

To the Ashanti, the family and the mother’s clan are most important. A child is said to inherit the father’s soul or spirit (ntoro) and from the mother a child receives flesh and blood (mogya). This relates them more closely to the mother’s clan. The Ashanti live in an extended family. The family lives in various homes or huts that are set up around a courtyard. The head of the household is usually the oldest brother that lives there. He is chosen by the elders. He is called either Father or Housefather and is obeyed by everyone.

Boys are trained by their fathers at the age of eight and nine. They are taught a skill of the fathers’ choice. The father is also responsible for paying for school. Boys are taught to use the talking drums by their mothers’ brother. Talking drums are used for learning the Ashanti language and spreading news and are also used in ceremonies. The talking drums are important to the Ashanti and there are very important rituals involved in them. Girls are taught cooking and housekeeping skills by their mothers. They also work the fields and bring in necessary items, such as water, for the group.

Marriage is very important to Ashanti communal life and it can be polygamous. Men may want more than one wife to express their willingness to be generous and support a large family. Women in the Ashanti culture will not marry without the consent of their parents. Many women do not meet their husbands until they are married. Even so, divorce is very rare in the Ashanti culture and it is a duty of parents on both sides to keep a marriage going. The government of Ashanti is shaped like a pyramid. There is


Location:The Bakongo people (aka. the Kongo) dwell along the Atlantic coast of Africa from Pointe-Noire, Congo (Brazzaville) to Luanda, Angola. In the east, their territory is limited by the Kwango River and in the northeast by Malebo (Stanley) Pool, in the Congo River. The Bakongo thus live in Congo (Brazzaville), Congo (Kinshasa), and Angola.

The Kongo peoples migrated into their current location during the 13th century from the northeast under the leadership of Wene. In 1482 the Portuguese arrived on the coast, and the Bakongo began diplomatic relations which included sending Bakongo nobles to visit the royal assemblage in Portugal in 1485. Bakongo leaders were targeted for conversion by Christian missionaries, and often divisions between followers of Christianity and followers of the traditional religions resulted. In 1526 the Portuguese were expelled, but the Bakongo peoples were then invaded by the Jagas in 1568, and the Bakongo were forced to look to the Portuguese for help. The Kongo kingdom never regained its former power. In the ensuing years the Bakongo alternatively fought for and against the Portuguese, eventually being colonized in 1885. The Bakongo political party Abako played an important part in national independence in 1960.

In its heyday, the Kingdom exacted taxes, forced labor, and collected fines from its citizens in order to prosper. At times, enslaved peoples, ivory, and copper were traded to the Europeans on the coast. The important harbors were Sonyo and Pinda. When the Kongo Kingdom was at its political apex in the 15th and 16th centuries, the King, who had to be a male descendant of Wene, reigned supreme. He was elected by a group of governors, usually the heads of important families and occasionally including Portuguese officials. The activities of the court were supported by an extensive system of civil servants, and the court itself usually consisted of numerous male relatives of the King. The villages were often governed by lesser relatives of the King who were responsible to him. All members of government were invested with their power under the auspices of a ritual specialist.

The Bakongo religion centers on ancestor and spirit cults, which also play a part in social and political organization. A strong tradition of prophetism and messianism among the Bakongo has given rise in the 20th century to nativistic, political-religious movements, mostly xenophobic. The most prolific art form from this area is the nkisi objects, which come in all shapes, mediums, and sizes. The stratification of Bakongo society resulted in much of the art being geared toward those of high status, and the nkisi figures were one of the only forms available to everyone. They numbered about 10,220,000 at the end of the 20th century. Their language is part of the Benue-Congo branch of the Niger-Congo languages. The Bakongo cultivate cassava, bananas, corn (maize), sweet potatoes, peanuts (groundnuts), beans, and taro. Cash crops are coffee, cacao, urena, bananas, and palm oil. Fishing and hunting are still practiced by some groups, but many Bakongo live, work and trade in towns. Descent is reckoned through the female line, and tribes are grouped in lineages. The


Location: The Bambara are a large Mande racial group located mostly in the country of Mali. They are the largest and most dominant group in that country. Across the border in Mauritania, there are about 1000 Bambara living near the town of Timbedra. The Bambara live in the middle valley of the Niger River.

Language: The Bambara speak “Bamana”, which is one of the Manding languages. Bamana is widely spoken in Mali, especially in the areas of business and trade. It is connected to the Bantu language, which includes Swahili and Zulu.

History: During the 1700’s, there were two Bambara kingdoms: Segu and Karta. In the 1800’s, aggressive Muslim groups overthrew these kingdoms, leaving only a few anti-Muslim Bambara to oppose their occupation. This lasted forty years until the arrival of the French. Only 3% of the Bambara had become to Islam by 1912. After World War II, the number of Muslim coverts grew due to their resistance to the French and their exposure to Muslim merchants. The Bambara are 70% Muslim today.

Daily Life: Most of the Bambara are farmers. Their main crop is millet, even though sorghum and groundnuts are produced in large quantities. Maize, cassava, tobacco, and numerous other vegetables are grown in private gardens as well. Sorry to say, drought and other ecological programs have hurt the farmers in these years. The Bambara farmers also raise cattle, horses, goats, sheep, and chickens. The neighboring Fulani herdsmen are often trusted to herd the Bambara livestock. This permits the Bambara to give attention to farming for the period of the short rainy season. Many of the Bambara hunt animals such as ostrich, boar, antelope, and guinea fowl for their meat and skins. They also gather large amounts of honey from wild bees. Both men and women share the farming duties. Nevertheless, the wives frequently get in the fields later and leave earlier than the men. This gives them time to prepare the morning and evening meals. Children between the ages of 12 and 14 also help with the family’s work, leading the oxen as they plow and guarding them during rest periods.

Every Bambara village is made up of many different family units, usually all from one lineage or extended family. Each household, or gwa is responsible to provide for all of its members, as well as to help them with their farming duties. Bambara homes are characteristically bigger than homes of most other West African groups. Some of the dwellings hold as many as 60 or more people. The members of each gwa work together every day except for Mondays. Monday is a special and traditional day. Islamic schools have been set up in some of the Bambara villages. On the other hand, many of the non-Muslim villages have failed to establish schools just because the kids are needed to stay home and help farming works. For this reason, some village populations are entirely illiterate. Marriage is very significant to the Bambara. Though the price of marriages is expensive, it is considered as a type of “investment”. The major purpose of marriage is to have children, that provides the family’s labor force and ensures the future of the family lineage.


Location:The Bemba are located in the northeastern part of Zambia. The Bemba are the largest ethnic group in the Northern Province of Zambia. About eighteen ethnic groups, give or take a few, in the area of Zambia, make up the Bemba-speaking peoples. The Bemba are also commonly referred to as a forest people. The location of the Bemba is well watered. The soil is generally poor. It is covered with scrub, low trees, and brush. These are common characteristics of a typical African savannah environment. The climate on the central plateau, or Central Bantu, is very favorable. There is an ample amount of rainfall to supply them with their needs.

Religion: The Bemba have their own conventional religion. They believe in the existence of a higher god called Leza. He is not in the existence of the people, he is believed to live in the sky. He has control over such things as: thunder and women and men’s fertility. He is also supposed to be the source of magical powers. In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Bemba were converted into Christianity by missionaries. Today, all but a few Zambians have totally dismissed their traditional belief system. So much that the religion of most Bembas is considered to be a transition from traditional systems to Christianity.

Culture: The Bemba live in rural villages built for inherited extended families. The villages consist of 30-50 huts that are made up of wattle and daub with grass as the roof. These populations range from sixty to one hundred and sixty people. The village serves as a central political system. The state of the Bembas is divided into political districts, usually containing five or more villages. Their main job is a type of subsistence farming in the form of shifting cultivation. Each family grows its own food and is very self-sufficing. The main crops are finger millet and cassava. Other foods are grown such as: beans, peas, maize, and sorghum. Other food in their meal plans include peanuts, gourds or squash, sweet potatoes, bananas, pumpkins, cucumbers, and cowpeas. Because the soil is so poor, after a few years of using the same field they quit and turn it into a garden. Once the fertility of the soil wears out, the village moves to a more apt location for growing. Traveling is done mostly by foot, but long distances are traveled by buses that rarely come to the remote areas of the Bemba region.


Location: Berbers have lived in Africa since the earliest recorded time. References date back to 3000 BC. There are many scattered tribes of Berber across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Forty percent of the Moroccan population is Berber, 30% live in Algeria, and 1% in Tunisia. There are smaller numbers of Berbers in Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. They tend to live in desert regions like the Sahara and in the Atlas Mountains. They live there because the Arabs conquered North Africa in the 7th century AD, and pushed the Berbers out. The number of Berbers in North Africa has slowly declined because more and more Berbers are adopting the language and culture of the Arabs.

Language: Berber is derived from the Roman term for barbarians. Berbers are non-Arabic tribes. Throughout the centuries Berbers have mixed with many ethnic groups, mostly Arabs. Because of this, Berbers have come to be identified by linguistics instead of racial basis. The Berber language has 300 closely related dialects. A number of tribes have their own distinct language. Some of the largest Berber tribes are Rif, Kabyle, Shawia, Tuareg, Haratin, Shluh, and Beraber. The written language is not commonly taught and is rarely used.

Daily Life: Berbers are traditionally Muslim, and societies are quite fragmented. Berbers have had a constant struggle for power in North Africa with Arab tribes for centuries. The Barbary Coast of North Africa was named after the word Berber, and was known as a place where Arab and Berber pirates would prey on ships on the Mediterranean Sea. Traditionally, Berbers raised sheep and cattle. However, some Berbers subsist by working in flourmills, doing woodcarving, quarrying millstones, and making pottery or jewelry. Women were generally involved with housework, weaving, and pottery. Berbers generally live in rural areas. Their housing is usually clay huts or tents made out of goat hair. In larger villages, however, houses are made of stone. Today, most Berbers are migrant workers who work in Spain or France.


The Bobo peple have lived in western Burkina Faso and Mali for centuries. They are known for their masks which are worn with elaborate outfits for celebrations. Primarily agricultral people they also cultivate cotton which they use to trade with others. The main goal of Bobo culture is to restore balanced nature which man inherently destroys. The order is mainly restored through sacrifices and ceremonies. The primary god of the Bobo is Wuro who is responsible for ordering the land. The second god is Dwo who is revealed during masking ceremonies. Dwo chooses to live in a mask until worn, when his spirit is caught up in the spirit of the wearer who is then able to communicate to others Dwo’s will.

The population of the Bobo is slightly over 100,000 people. The Bobo have lived in the western region for centuries. Some believe they have been settled in the area since as far back as 800 A.D. These individuals have their own language that we know as simply the “Bobo” language, or “Mande”. Some of the other groups with whom the Bobo occasionally interact are the Senufo, Bamana, Lobi, and Bwa. The Bobo people are an inherently decentralized group. The various villages that break down their group have their own method of organizing a “political system”. They base it on the relationship among individual patrilineages. The idea of placing political power in the hands of an individual is foreign to the Bobo people. The Bobo, like most other cultures, have their own religious beliefs. The creator god of the Bobo is Wuro, who is never physically represented and cannot be described in words according to the Bobo. The god Wuro is the individual responsible for ordering all things in the world into pairs, which must always remain balanced. However, man, through everyday existence is usually responsible for upsetting this balance. The Bobo religious system involves restoring order through a series of offerings.


Who are they?

The ‘Bushmen’ are the oldest inhabitants of southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000 years. Their home is in the vast expanse of the Kalahari desert. There are many different Bushman peoples – they have no collective name for themselves, and the terms ‘Bushman’, ‘San’, ‘Basarwa’ (in Botswana) and so on are used variously. Most of those which are widely understood are imposed by outsiders and have some pejorative sense; many now use and accept the term ‘Bushmen’. They speak a variety of languages, all of which incorporate ‘click’ sounds represented in writing by symbols such as ! or /.

How do they live? The Bushmen are hunter-gatherers, who for thousands of years supported themselves in the desert through these skills. They hunt – mainly various kinds of antelope – but their daily diet has always consisted more of the fruits, nuts and roots which they seek out in the desert. They make their own temporary homes from wood that they gather. Many Bushmen who have been forced off their lands now live in settlements in areas that are unsuitable for hunting and gathering – they support themselves by growing some food, or by working on ranches.

What problems do they face? The Bushmen had their homelands invaded by cattle herding Bantu tribes from around 1,500 years ago, and by white colonists over the last few hundred years. From that time they faced discrimination, eviction from their ancestral lands, murder and oppression amounting to a massive though unspoken genocide, which reduced them in numbers from several million to 100,000. Today, although all suffer from a perception that their lifestyle is ‘primitive’ and that they need to be made to live like the majority cattle-herding tribes, specific problems vary according to where they live. In South Africa, for example, the ! Khomani now have most of their land rights recognised, but many other Bushman tribes have no land rights at all. The Gana (G//ana) and Gwi (G/wi) tribes in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve are among the most persecuted. Far from recognising their ownership rights over the land they have lived on for thousands of years, the Botswana government has in fact forced almost all of them off it. The harassment began in 1986, and the first forced removals were in 1997. Those that remained faced torture, drastic restrictions in their hunting rights, and


Location:The actual dictionary meaning of the word Chewa is ‘a member of the Bantu-speaking people of Malawi.’ The Chewa, also known as the Cewa or Chichewa is an African culture that has existed since the beginning of the first millennium, A.D. They are primarily located in Zambia, Zimbabwe, with the bulk of the population in Malawi. Their climate can be classified as sub-tropical that varies with elevation. In the lowlands, the average temperature ranges from 21C (69F) to 29C (84F). The rainy season exists from November to April with an annual rainfall of 90 inches in the highlands to about 30 inches in the lowlands.

History: The Chewa originated in the country of Zaire, but they emigrated to northern Zambia and central Malawi where they now live. The Chewa established their first kingdom around the year 1480. In the 17th century, the Portuguese recorded having had contact with the Chewa clans, the Banda and Phiri. Although the Portuguese didn’t get to the heart of the Chewa culture, they did record having contact with them. They have well documented records of their contact with the Chewa between 1608 and 1667. This was the first recorded encounter with the culture. During the mid 18th century, the country of Malawi began to fill with several different cultures and dynasties. The Chewa distinguish themselves from the other cultures by their distinct language, specials tattoos, and the possession of secret societies.

Language:They speak a language called Chichewa, Chinyanja or Banti, which is one of the widely used languages of Malawi.

Daily Life: The bulk of their economy comes from swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture. The main crops that are produced are corn and sorghum. They usually live in compact villages. The village hierarchy is lead by a hereditary headman and supplemented with an advisory council of elders. The Chewa people believed that all living things were created by God (they called Chiuta, or Chaunta) on a mountain named Kapirintiwa, during a thunderstorm. Presently, the mountain sits on the border between Malawi and Mozambique. Although they believe in the one creator God, they also believe that the spirits of men and animals come in contact with the living. They believe that the living and the spirits are in constant contact with each other through dance. Although many people have had contact with the people of the Chewa culture, they still maintain their ancestral beliefs and customs. Everything from their location to their language to their religious beliefs, the Chewa have managed to remain very distinct from other African cultures.


The Dogon are a cliff-dwelling people who live in Southeastern Mali and Burkina Faso. Among the people groups in Africa they are unique in that they have kept and continued to develop their own culture even in the midst of Islamic invasions which have conquered and adapted many of the current people groups Until the 1930’s the Dogon were very insolated from the outside world and resisted any foreign influence. Through oral tradition it is said that they originated from the west bank of the Niger River, around 1490 A.D. they were fleeing from the Mossi people and entered the Bandiagara cliffs region. There they have lived ever since. Because of their refuge in the cliffs they were able to resist the Muslims, the French, and others who have attempted to conquer them. The Dogon are divided into family groups which are responsible for different spheres of Dogon life. The Awa society is responsible for much of the spiritual functions of Dogon culture concerning death and mourning periods, they are communicate with the ancestor spirits. The Lebe are the group responsible for the agricultural spirits. They build many different alters out of clay and dirt. In their artwork they are well-known for their masks which are used in various ceremonies and rituals. The masks are known as “inima,” they are thought to contain the life force which is known as “nyama.” There are over 65 different kinds of masks used for ceremonies. Their woodwork is amazing and is known for the different, “primitive” look which has disappeared from much


The Fang are especially known for their guardian figures which they attached to wooden boxes containing bones of the ancestors. The bones, by tradition, are said to contain the power of the dead person, in fact, the same amount of power that the person had while still alive. The Fang mainly inhabit the hot, humid, equatorial rain forests of Gabon, making up 80% of the Gabonese population. They are of medium height and have a relatively powerful build and pride themselves greatly on their physical beauty. The Fang are reported to have moved from the northeast centuries ago and settled in the region to farm. Because they are a warrior like people they quickly conquered the native inhabitants. Many ethnic groups still fear the Fang because of their powerful aggressive tendencies. The Fang are also known for their older practice of cannibalism, which they practiced unashamedly during the 17th centuries and earlier. Using slash and burn techniques to

Fang still farm as their chief occupation, though, during the early years of European settlement many resorted to elephant hunting to provide ivory for the traders. Leadership in Fang villages is inherited and the leader is usually supposed to be descended from the family who started the village. The leader also serves as the spiritual leader, able to communicate with the ancestors of the village. He does this by the wearing of masks, which are also an important feature of Fang artwork.


Location: The Fon of Benin, originally called Dahomey until 1975, are from West Africa. The Fon are said to have originated in the area of Tado, a town in Tago, at approximately the same latitude as Abomey, Benin.

History: The Fon culture is made up of more than 2,000,000 people. They are closely related to the Ewe, Adja, and Guin cultures by comparison of language. They belong to the Kwa Language group. Fon created the royal city of Abomey and Ouidah. These two cities were popular for slave commerce. Fons became prosperous by trading slaves for weapons from the Europeans. Now, war and slave trading are of little importance compared to a family and ancestors.

Many Fon are Christian but the majority continue to practice Voodoo. The Fon name for God or Spirit is Vodu. Worship of a Vodu often means an initiate being “possessed” or “captured” by the spirit he chooses or the spirit that might choose him. For the rest of his life, he will seek the advice of the spirit who “possessed” him. A popular part of Fon belief is that each clan is said to be a descendent of a part human part non-human ancestor. The Fon do not believe in one all-powerful separate God.

Daily Life: Fon live in villages and towns where they make up large portions of the population. They live in divided sections, which are separated by a relation to a specific male ancestor. The compounds (houses) are rectangular shaped with walls made of dried mud and gable roofs covered by corrugated iron. When a man and woman marry, they will move to live near the father of the groom and inherit his property. Fon men are allowed to have more than one wife, but if this privilege is abused, the wife is free to divorce and remarry. Divorce is quite common throughout the culture. A man must not refuse a wife offered to him and divorce can only be granted if the family of the wife initiates a request.

Fon are farmers, fishermen, and market women. Division of labor is categorized by gender. Women make material to build huts, care for butchered meat, and carry out most agricultural work. They are also in charge of market work. Men and women participate equally in the lives of their children. Although the mother, father, and grandparents take active parts in the raising of their children, older siblings take especially good care of them. Elders and fishermen often sit around and play board games and dance with the young.

Funerals in the culture are the most important part of a member’s history. Drummers are hired and dances may be held for days in a row to morn the death of a loved one. The Fons believe that part of the person is lost in death but the other is reincarnated and comes back in the soul of the next child born to the family. Best Known Features: The Fon culture is well known for their religious ceremonies. Drums are always used as a sort of special meaning in every activity that takes place. Voodoo ceremonies


The Fulani people of West Africa are the largest nomadic group in the world. As a group they contain a vast array of diverse people who were conquered and became a part of the Fulani through the spread of Islam. The origins of the Fulani people are highly disputed, some believe that they are of North African or Arabic origin, characterized by the lighter skin and straighter hair. Some Africans even refer to them as “white people”. However, recent studies show that they descend from nomads from both North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. The Fulani were the first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or holy wars, and were able to take over much of West Africa and establish themselves not only as a religious group but also as a political and economical force. The Fulani are a very proud people; they are the missionaries of Islam and continued to conquer much of West Africa. The Fulani are primarily nomadic herders and traders. Through their nomadic lifestyle they established numerous trade routes in West Africa. Many times the Fulani go to local markets and interact with the people, getting news and spreading it through much of West Africa.

The most important object in Fulani society is a cattle. There are many names, traditions, and taboos concerning cattle. The number of cows a person owns is a sign of his wealth. This has caused significant conflict in recent months between the Fulani and other ethnic groups. The reason for this conflict is that the cows will many times go into the fields and eat the grains of local farmers. As times goes on, the modes of transportation throughout West Africa have become more modernized. This modernization in transportation puts the Fulani at risk of losing their identity as nomads, and forces them to settle in farms and villages. This often creates other problems, as the Fulani are a very proud people of a unique culture and are used to ruling over the other people groups.

A distinctive difference between the Fulani and other African people is that the Fulani have a huge respect for beauty. Beauty is considered very important and one of the ways this is shown is through tattoos that are put all over the body. A distinguishing feature of a Fulani woman is her lips, which are many times a blackish color from the use of Henna or tattooing done on the mouth. Being brave and fearless is also a very important aspect of the Fulani, and that is obvious by their numerous weapons. One tradition is that when two boys reach coming of age, the two boys hit each other with their spears, not showing any pain but instead laughing. Many have died in these ceremonies, which are now against the law in many countries, but continue to be practiced.

The Fulani normally raise large amounts of cattle and have therefore settled in the large plain areas of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The Fulani hold to a strict caste system. The four caste subdivisions are the nobility, merchants, blacksmiths, and descendents of slaves of wealthy Fulani.


Location: Nigeria, Africa, is composed of basically three different ethnic groups: the Yorubas, the Hausas, and the Ibos. The Ibos live in Iboland. It comes as no surprise that the stifling heat of central Africa would dictate the type of clothing worn by any native peoples. The Ibos wear little or nothing until they reach puberty. At this time, the men usually wear loose-fitting cotton shirts and a loincloth, while the women wrap different pieces of cloth around themselves and also wrap some cloth around their head. The men often carry machetes, useful for clearing overgrown paths and offering protection for wild animals.

Language: The language of the Ibos is very interesting. It is derived from a group of languages commonly found in West Africa, the Kwa languages. It is based a lot on pitch, vocal inflections, and context when defining the meaning of a word. A single word can have numerous meanings depending on these factors. Idioms and proverbs play an important role in the Ibo language. Someone who does not use them in speech is considered a novice at speaking the language.

Daily Life: Village life for the Ibo people is like many other villages in Africa, but still unique in an Ibo way. Ibos live in villages that have anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people comprised of numerous extended families. A very interesting thing about these villages is that there is no single ruler or king that controls the population. Decisions are made by including almost everyone in the village. There are established institutions such as a council of elders (a groups based on age), a council of chiefs, womens associations, and secret societies. The Ibos simultaneously emphasize individual actions and community living.

The Ibos are profoundly religious. These polytheistic people worship many gods. They believe that there are three levels of divine beings: the highest level is the supreme god, or “Chukwu.” Underneath Chukwu are lesser gods, called “Umuagbara”, and under these are the “Ndi Ichie,” the spirits of dead people. The Ibos also believe in reincarnation. They see death as a transient phase between life and the spirit world. When someone dies, he or she starts a new life in the spirit world. After a time in the spirit world, a dead person would be reborn as a new person and the cycle would continue on. Each village has priests and priestesses who help in all spiritual matters, conducting ceremonies and rituals. And since the Ibos believe that everything in life is controlled by higher powers, there are also diviners in a village that attempt to predict the future. There is a negative side to the Ibo culture, however. Since the British invaded and settled Iboland in the beginning of the 16th

KIKUYU (otherwise spelled Gikuyu)

Having migrated to their current location about four centuries ago, the Kikuyu now make up Kenya’s largest ethnic group. The Kikuyu people spread rapidly throughout the Central Province and Kenya. The Kikuyu usually identify their land by the surrounding mountain ranges which they call Kirinyaga-the shining mountain. The Kikuyu are Bantu and actually came into Kenya during the Bantu migration. They include some families from all the surrounding people and can be identified with the Kamba, the Meru, the Embu and the Chuka.

The Kikuyu tribe was originally founded by a man named Gikuyu. Kikuyu history says that the Kikuyu God, Ngai, took Gikuyu to the top of Kirinyaga and told him to stay and build his home there. He was also given his wife, Mumbi. Together, Mumbi and Gikuyu had nine daughters. There was actually a tenth daughter but the Kikuyu considered it to be bad luck to say the number ten. When counting they used to say “full nine” instead of ten. It was from the nine daughters that the nine (occaisionally a tenth) Kikuyu clans -Achera, Agachiku, Airimu, Ambui, Angare, Anjiru, Angui, Aithaga, and Aitherandu- were formed. The Kikuyu rely heavily on agriculture. They grow bananas, sugarcane, arum lily, yams, beans, millet, maize, black beans and a variety of other vegetables. They also raise cattle, sheep, and goats. They use the hides from the cattle to make bedding, sandals, and carrying straps and they raise the goats and sheep to use for religious sacrifices and purification.

In the Kikuyu culture boys and girls are raised very differently. The girls are raised to work in the farm and the boys usually work with the animals. The girls also have the responsibility of taking care of a baby brother or sister and also helping the mother out with household chores. In the Kikuyu culture family identity is carried on by naming the first boy after the father’s father and the second after the mother’s father. The same goes for the girls; the first is named after the father’s mother and the second after the mother’s mother. Following children are named after the brothers and sisters of the grandparents, starting with the oldest and working to the youngest. Along with the naming of the children was the belief that the deceased grandparent’s spirit, that the child was named after, would come in to the new child. This belief was lost with the increase in life-span because generally the grandparents are now still alive when the children are born. Though they are traditionally agricultural people and have a reputation as hard-working people, a lot of them are now involved in business. Most of the Kikuyu still live on small family plots but many of them have also seen the opportunities in business and have moved to cities and different areas to work. They have a desire for knowledge and it is believed that all children should receive a full education. They have a terrific reputation for money management and it is common for them to have many enterprises at one time. The Kikuyu have also been active politically.


Who are they?

The Maasai, famous as herders and warriors, once dominated the plains of East Africa. Now however they are confined to a fraction of their former range.

How do they live?

For the Maasai, cattle are what make the good life, and milk and meat are the best foods. Their old ideal was to live by their cattle alone – other foods they could get by exchange – but today they also need to grow crops. They move their herds from one place to another, so that the grass has a chance to grow again; traditionally, this is made possible by a communal land tenure system in which everyone in an area shares access to water and pasture.

Nowadays Maasai have increasingly been forced to settle, and many take jobs in towns. Maasai society is organised into male age-groups whose members together pass through initiations to become warriors, and then elders. They have no chiefs, although each section has a Laibon, or spiritual leader, at its head. Maasai worship one god who dwells in all things, but may manifest himself as either kindly or destructive. Many Maasai today, however, belong to various Christian churches.

What problems do they face?

Since the colonial period, most of what used to be Maasai land has been taken over, for private farms and ranches, for government projects or for wildlife parks. Mostly they retain only the dryest and least fertile areas. The stress this causes to their herds has often been aggravated by attempts made by governments to ‘develop’ the Maasai. These are based on the idea that they keep too much cattle for the land. However, they are in fact very efficient livestock producers and rarely have more animals than they need or the land can carry. These ‘development’ efforts try to change their system of shared access to land. While this has suited outsiders and some entrepreneurial Maasai who have been able to acquire land for themselves or sell it off, it has often denuded the soil and brought poverty to the majority of Maasai, who are left with too little and only the worst land.


The Mandinka are an ethnic group that live in West Africa, primarily Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau, but some also live in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Their culture is rich in tradition, music, and spiritual ritual. Many Mandinka are rural subsistence farmers who rely on peanuts, rice, millets, and some goats for their livelihood. Because the Mandinka rely on their crops for food, little profit is made from them. This causes many men to take part time work in small businesses. However, even with a part time job, the average annual income is only $130. The oldest male is the head of the family and marriages are commonly arranged. Small mud houses with thatch or tin roofs make up their villages which are organized on the basis of the clan groups.

During the 1800’s, Islam was introduced to the Mandinka people. Today the Mandinka still practice Islam but have infused much of their own culture into the religion. For example, a Mandinka may practice salat, Islamic prayer five times a day to Allah, but may also recognize and even sacrifice to a village god or spirit. Only 10% of the Mandinka are literate. Because of this, the Mandinka have a rich oral history that is passed down through praise singers or griots. This passing down of oral history through music has made music one of the most distinctive traits of the Mandinka. They have long been known for their drumming and also for their unique musical instrument, the kora. The kora is a twenty-one string harp-like instrument made out of a gourd covered with cow skin. The strings are made of fishing line. It is played to accompany a groitÕs singing or simply on its own.


Who are they?

There are many different ‘Pygmy’ peoples – for example, the Bambuti, the Batwa, the Bayaka and the Bagyeli (‘Ba -‘ means ‘people’) – who live scattered over a huge area in central and western Africa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Congo (Brazzaville), Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda. In many places they are recognised as being the first inhabitants of the region.

The different Pygmy groups speak different languages, mostly related to those of neighbouring non-Pygmy peoples. However there are a few words which are shared between even widely separated Pygmy tribes, suggesting they may have shared a language in the past. One of these shared words is the name of the forest spirit, Jengi.

How do they live? T

he ‘Pygmy’ peoples are forest dwellers, and know the forest, its plants and its animals intimately. They live by hunting animals such as antelopes, pigs and monkeys, fishing, and gathering honey, wild yams, berries and other plants. For them, the forest is a kindly personal god, who provides for their needs. All Pygmy groups have close ties to neighbouring farming villagers, and work for them or exchange forest produce for crops and other goods. At its best this is a fair exchange, but it can involve exploitation of the Pygmies, especially where they have lost control of the forest and its resources.

What problems do they face?

‘Pygmy’ peoples see their rainforest homes threatened by logging, and are driven out by settlers. In some places they have been evicted and their land has been designated as national parks. They are routinely deprived of their rights by governments, which do not see these forest-dwellers as equal citizens. In Cameroon, the life of the Bagyeli is being disrupted by a World Bank-sponsored oil pipeline which is to be built through their land. The Batwa of eastern DRC, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda have seen nearly all their forest destroyed, and barely survive as labourers and beggars.


The Samburu are related to the Masai although they live just above the equator where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert and slightly south of Lake Turkana in the Rift Valley Province of Kenya.

They are semi-nomadic pastoralists whose lives revolve around their cows, sheep, goats, and camels. Milk is their main stay; sometimes it is mixed with blood. Meat is only eaten on special occasions. Generally they make soups from roots and barks and eat vegetables if living in an area where they can be grown.

Most dress in very traditional clothing of bright red material used like a skirt and multi-beaded necklaces, bracelets and earrings, especially when living away from the big cities. The Samburu developed from one of the later Nilotic migrations from the Sudan, as part of the Plains Nilotic movement.

The broader grouping of the Maa-speaking people continued moving south, possibly under the pressure of the Borana expansion into their plains. Maa-speaking peoples have lived and fought from Mt. Elgon to Malindi and down the Rift Valley into Tanzania. The Samburu are in an early settlement area of the Maa group. Those who moved on south, however (called Maasai), have retained a more purely nomadic lifestyle until recently when they have also begun farming.

The expanding Turkana ran into the Samburu around 1700 when they began expanding north and east. The language of the Samburu people is also called Samburu. It is a Maa language very close to the Maasai dialects. Linguists have debated the distinction between the Samburu and Maasai languages for decades.


The Senufo are a group of people living in northern Cote d’Ivoire and Mali. They are known as excellent farmers and are made up of a number of different groups who moved south to Mali and Cote d’Ivoire in the 15 and 16th centuries.

The Senefou follow a strict caste-like system, in which the farmer is at the top and the musicians are on the bottom rung of the society. Farming is a huge part of the Senefou culture even for those who do not belong to the farmer caste. A very communal society people will often take turns working on each others lands and trading off and on. There is almost always a group in each village which is made up of men ages 15-35 who work in fields and with what they are given provide a huge festival during the dry season for the village.

Local games to see how fast someone can hoe a field are also performed to make the work more enjoyable. One of the great honors for a Senefou male is to become the sambali, or champion cultivator. The sambali is respected throughout the region and in his old age is given predominantly leadership roles. Another society for Senefou males is the poro. The poro is usually located in the forest and serves as a school for young men until they reach adulthood.

Much sculptured work is made in the poro this is where much of the wood carvings, brass sculptures, and masks are made. Sometimes these are sold to local artisans. The greatest achievement for a Senefou woman is the ability to cook well. If a girl or woman cannot cook well it is a great shame to the family, especially the mother. The womans society, known as the sandogo is mainly responsible for divination. A very animistic society the Senefou believe that everything is a result of the ancestor spirits. If a ritual is not performed correctly then the spirit will cause draught, infertility, or prolonged illness.


The Tuareg people are predominently nomadic people of the sahara desert, mostly in the Northern reaches of Mali near Timbuktu and Kidal. The Tuareg are often referred to as “Blue Men of the desert ” – because their robes are dyed indigo blue.

They live in small tribes with between 30 and 100 family members and keep camels, goats, cattle and chicken which graze the land. They are a proud race of people, famous for their fighting abilities and artwork, now staring urbanisation and resettlement in the face. The sword is a Tuareg’s most valued possession. Many are passed from generation to generation and said to be protected by the victories of its past owners.

Family roles:

Women process milk, make butter, prepare animal skins, make clothes and bedding from skin, collect firewood and water. Men drive the animals take responsibility for selling. Men will take camels to towns to sell them, returning with millet which they use as flour for bread making. Other purchases will include sugar and tea. Most outputs, however, are consumed by the family In recent times the Tuareg have been abandoning their nomadic way of life and take up sedentary lifestyles. Drought and government policy are threatening their traditional way of life but Tuaregs and their camel-caravans still appear unexpectedly on the horizon before melting into the desert again.


The Wolof are one of the largest people groups that inhabit modern-day Senegal. They live anywhere from the desert area of the Sahara to the rain forests. Traditionally many Wolof lived in small villages governed by an extended family unit but now most Wolof move to cities where they are able to get jobs.

Most Wolof are Muslim, in fact to be Wolof is many times thought to be Muslim. Their most popular art form is beautiful amulets which contain beautifully written sections of the Koran. These papers are enclosed in silver for jewelry or in leather as a carrying bag. Wolof are also known as the merchants of West Africa, they are very aggressive in trading, which is a big part of their history.

Historically a role the Wolof are especially known for is their involvement in the slave trade. They worked capturing, transporting, and selling slaves from the port in Dakar, and with this have been involved in many different people groups. Culturally, clothing is very important to the Wolof, who are a style conscious society.

To a Wolof what you wear says a tremendous amount about you. Women will dress elaborately, many times going into debt just to be dressed up to an occasion. They also wear elaborate hair styles and makeup. The Wolof are known as the trend-setters of West Africa. The family unit is very important to the Wolof. Many times a man and all his brothers and their wives and children will live together in a single compound. Many Wolof are also polygamous, however, polygamy doesn’t seem to be considered natural to many of the Wolof who soon after obtaining a second wife are divorced from their first.


The Yoruba people live in Southwest Nigeria and Benin. They have developed a variety of different artistic forms including pottery, weaving, beadwork, metalwork, and mask making.

Most artwork is made to honor the gods and ancestors and since there are more then 401 known gods to the Yoruba there is much sculpture and artwork made. Because of the vastness in the number of gods, the Yoruba have been compared to the ancient Greeks in the amount of gods and in the similarities between the structures of the gods. The Yoruba have started to become quite popular among Africans all over the world who claim the Yoruba as their family roots and follow the religion and culture of the Yoruba. Many claim that they are part of the Diaspora of the Yoruba as slaves.

The Yoruba originated from a people known as the Oyo who arose and became quite popular by their trading with the Portugues which gave them a large supply of guns. However, they were unable to push back the Fulani who invaded them and pushed much of the Yoruba to the south. In the late 1800’s the Yoruba formed a treaty with the Fulani and in 1901 they were colonized by the British. Because of their enmity with the Fulani who are the great Islam evangelists most of the Yoruba do not hold to Islam but instead worship many of the gods and spirits that the Yoruba hold to. Economically the Yoruba primarily engage in agriculture, with about 15% of the people employed as merchants or artists and craftsman.

One of the features that make the Yoruba unique is their tendency to form into large city groups instead of small village groups. Most of the large cities of Nigeria and Benin are inhabited almost solely by Yoruba.


The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in South Africa. They are well known for their beautiful brightly colored beads and baskets as well as other small carvings.

The Zulu believe that they are descendents from a chief from the Congo area, and in the 16th century migrated south picking up many of the traditions and customs of the San who also inhabited this South African area.

During the 17th and 18th centuries many of the most powerful chiefs made treaties and gave control of the Zulu villages to the British. This caused much conflict because the Zulu had strong patriarchal village government systems so they fought against the British but couldn’t win because of the small strength they possessed. Finally, after much of the Zulu area had been given to the British the Zulu people decided as a whole that they didn’t want to be under British rule and in 1879 war erupted between the British and the Zulu. Though the Zulu succeeded at first they were in 6 months conquered by the British who exiled the Zulu Kings and divided up the Zulu kingdom.

In 1906 another Zulu uprising was lead and the Zulu continue to try to gain back what they consider to be their ancient kingdom. The Zulu believe in a creator god known as Nkulunkulu, but this god does not interact with humans and has no interest in everyday life. Therefore, most Zulus interact on a day to day level with the spirits. In order to interact with the spirits the Zulu must use divination to interact with the ancestors. All misfortune is a result of a evil sorcery or offended spirits, nothing just happens because of natural causes. The Zulu are practically divided in half with about 50% living in cities and engaging in domestic work and another 50% working on farms.

5 Replies to “Tribes of Africa”

  1. Whay is there not anything listed about the Banda Tribe in Central African Republic

  2. as umZulu when we say uNkulunkulu we mean the Mighty God of the Christians not just ‘god’ as you have written. Another thing I dont understand you as a reader, the meaning of ‘they could nt win because of the small streangth they possessed’

  3. Who ever wrote this lie must go back and reseacrh more, please stop spreading rumours. Zulu’ come from abaNgoni from South Africa who came from Central Africa not in a specific country but they were in a potion of DRC, Ruanda, Kenya and Ethopia. Ngoni have a twin tribe called Mambo West. We believe in God but since have our own languge we call him uNkulunkulu, Hebrews call him Jehova, Arabs call him Allah, We believe in one God. We dont bow our heads on gods and goddess. Zulu’s defeated English people in the battle of Isandlwana, believe me we had enough strength to defeat people with guns while we had spears and shields how embarrassing! The English were lead by Chelmsford and Bartle Frere. Zulu’s were led by King Cetshwayo who later captured by English and taken to England to meet with Elizabeth and she recognised King Cetshwayo kaMpande as a King! Please come back to the Zulu people and do more research and stop speculating!

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