There are 54 countries and an estimated 3,000 African tribes spread across the continent… but what is a tribe, and which are the most well-known and iconic tribes in Africa?
One thing that should be in your travel visit to Africa, is to spend some quality time with the rich tribes and cultures of Africa. This is what is called the backbone of Africa. The uniqueness and special touch they have, makes you return back without notice.
Each region in Africa, have their own unique cultures and tribes but we will only list a few that are famous and iconic in Africa.
Below are sections of African regions that have different types of Tribes:-
- Northern Africa: Includes Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and many others that are largely populated with the Cushitic cultures and tribes such as Fulani in Nigeria.
- East Africa:- Includes Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Somalia, and others. These countries are mostly occupated by Bantus and Nilots.
- Central Africa:- includes Chad, Central Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, and others. They are mostly populated by Nilots and Cushites.
- South Africa:- Includes:- Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Namibia, and others. This region is mostly occupied by Bantus and Nilots. Mostly herders, pastoralists, and farmers.
Also Read:- 5 Top Tribes in Nigeria
Famous & Iconic Tribes & Cultures in Africa
Now let’s get to know the most iconic and famous tribes in Africa. We will list with the countries they are located and activities they are engaged in.
- Maasai Tribe, Kenya, and Tanzania
The Maasai, with their warriors standing guard over cattle grazing among wildebeest and zebra, live on the expansive plains encompassing both Kenya and Tanzania.
From your safari camp, you can visit one of the Maasai villages, allowing you to learn about their culture and traditions, or you can visit a traditional boma and watch them herd their cattle or make their traditional beaded jewelry. Some camps also offer guided walks with the Maasai, which offers a good opportunity to enjoy the unspoiled wilderness, watch wildlife and spend more time with these friendly people.
They engage mostly in cattle raring and pastoral activities. Their richness is based on the number of cattle one has. Their culture is so rich and you can more when on your next Safari.
- Zulu Tribe, South AfricaZulu is one of the most popular tribes in Africa. One reason why the tribe is so widely known is because of Shakaland, which is acknowledged worldwide as the birthplace of the legendary chief Shaka Zulu.
With an estimated population of 11 million people, Zulu is known to be the largest ethnic group in South Africa.
- Hamar Tribe, EthiopiaThe Omo Valley in southwest Ethiopia is a fertile region that’s home to the Hamar. They are a pastoral tribe with a culture that places a high value on cattle. During the dry season families move to live with their herds in grazing areas, and survive primarily on milk and blood from the cattle.
They are easily recognized for their body adornment with multitudes of colorful beads, necklaces, and bracelets, and for their distinctive hairstyles, curling their hair with a mixture of ochre and butter.
Controversial practices include ritual flogging of women by their husbands to prove devotion, and the initiation rite of ‘bull jumping’ performed by boys to allow them to marry.
- Samburu, Kenya
The Samburu tribe from north and central Kenya are pastoralists from the great plains of the Samburu region. They primarily herd cattle but also keep other livestock such as goats, sheep, and camels.
The Samburu are renowned for their unique social structure and colorful clothing, indeed the word Samburu means ‘butterfly’, which refers to their many colorful adornments. Men wear black or pink roses in the style of a Scottish kilt, along with headdresses, anklets, bracelets, necklaces. Women have their heads shaved and wear two blue or purple cloths – one around the waist and one around their chest, adorning their bodies further with ochre, similar to the Himba of Namibia.
- Kunda Tribe, ZambiaA stay at Kawaza is a fascinating experience since nothing is artificial or set up for tourists; you simply go and stay and spend time in the village learning about daily life.
As part of your stay, you will meet the village headman, visit the local traditional healer, walk among the fields learning about farming and spend time with the women cooking and collecting water. You might thatch a roof or sit in the shade and talk to the elders; how much you participate is up to you. It’s a wonderful initiative that provides a unique insight to Kunda culture.
- Yoruba Tribe, NigeriaWith an estimated 35 million people in total, Yoruba is undeniably the largest ethnic group in Africa.
Members occupy the South Western sides of Nigeria, as well as Southern Benin, but the majority comes from Nigeria.
They have a rich history and cultural heritage tracing back to the old Oyo Empire.
- Xhosa Tribe, South Africa
The Xhosa ethnic group is one of the largest in South Africa, with their homelands in the southeast of the country, in the forested Eastern Cape Province. The Xhosa have South Africa’s second most spoken language, after Zulu. This language is used to maintain their strong oral tradition, full of stories of ancestral heroes, with the teachings of elders handed down through the generations by speech alone.
- Zulu Tribe, South Africa
With a population of around 11 million people, Zulu is the largest ethnic group in South Africa, and one of the continent’s largest tribes. The Zulu are a warrior tribe descended from East Africa, and migrated south centuries ago to find a home in KwaZulu-Natal on South Africa’s Indian Ocean Coast.
The Zulu are also skilled crafters, particularly their beadwork which is woven into intricate, colorful patterns that are both decorative and display meaning. The number and shape of triangles relate to the sex and parenthood status of the wearer. The colors have symbolism too, around the duality of life – for example, red signifies both love and passion, and anger and heartbreak.
- The Karo, EthiopiaLocated in Southern Ethiopia, the Karo or Kara ethnic group reside along the east banks of the Omo River.
The estimated population is about 2,000 people and what you will find is they are a fascinating culture famous for their body painting.
Tribe members are known to paint their bodies with a combination of white chalk, yellow, mineral rock, iron ore, and charcoal. In addition, they often practice ritual scarification, choosing scars as an easy way to identify themselves.
- Hadzabe, TanzaniaThe Hadzabe of Tanzania is a tribe of hunter-gatherers living in north-central Tanzania, and perhaps the last true nomadic tribe in East Africa.
Since the first European contact in the late 19th century and then through various independent Tanzanian administrations there have been attempts to settle the Hadza. These efforts have largely failed, and the Hadza pursue the same way of life today their ancestors have for hundreds of years.
The Hadzabe is a relatively egalitarian society, with no governing hierarchy or status differences between individuals, and where children are reared cooperatively. Much time is spent on foraging and hunting. Women forage in larger groups for berries, fruit, and tubers, depending on availability. Hadza men usually forage individually, feeding themselves and bringing home fruit or honey when they can. They also hunt game using a bow and poisoned arrow, lying in wait overnight at watering holes.
When You Go To Rome, Stay as the Romans…
You might have seen these tribes in your local TVs or magazines or read them somewhere and would want to have an experience with them.
Advanced Safari holidays to Africa, are organized by modern safari companies that help organize tribal/cultural safaris to Africa.
You will be exposed to some legit, authentic cultural practices that these tribes do on a daily basis.
If you do decide to experience local African culture in this way it’s important that you follow a few basic etiquette rules before interacting with an African tribe:
- Try to stay aware of the fact that you are a guest in someone else’s country, village, and home. Be respectful of everyone and their customs.
- Get involved. Don’t make assumptions, but ask questions to your guide, or directly to your hosts. If there’s singing and dancing happening sing your heart out and dance like no one’s watching.
- Ask before taking photos. Most of the time taking pictures is fine, even expected, but it doesn’t hurt to ask before you stick a lens in someone’s face.
- Be patient, and try not to worry about the time. Different cultures deal with time differently but try to focus on the moment and the people you are with, rather than the schedule.
- Keep on smiling! This universal gesture can cut through any lack of language skills. If you’re not sure what to do or feel awkward or embarrassed, just smile!