In Africa, cultural life is primarily organized along tribal lines. Everything from family to food, to language and clothes, tends to be dictated by a long tradition that pre-dates the formation of the countries that we're familiar with today. Because of this rich history, the significance of tribal identity runs much deeper than state or city affiliation. They say you can't know where you're going until you know where you've been. So today, I'm shedding light on a few of Africa's iconic tribes.
Many of you may know the Queen of Sheba as the OG prototype of a regal woman. What you might not be aware of is that her son with the King of Solomon, Menelik 1 was the founder of Amhara civilization. Originally from the Ethiopian highlands, today the Amhara people can be found in Djibouti, Eritrea and concentrated pockets of major U.S cities.
The Amhara are a very proud people that value kinship and having large families with many children. Largely a patriarchal society, they tend to follow a strict code of conduct (based on social status and class) when it comes to interpersonal relationships.
With a population of 11 million, the Zulu are the largest tribe in Southern Africa. Obviously, most of them are in South Africa, but many can also be found in Zambia and Zimbabwe. A lot of notable historical people come from this tribe. One such figure is King Shaka Zulu, who is arguably one of Africa's fiercest leaders. Credited for having a genius strategic mind, during his reign he managed to unite 100s of independent states and growing the Zulu empire exponentially.
Ironically, despite this warrior background, the Zulu along with 3 other tribes are responsible for creating Ubuntu philosophy. Ubuntu—loosely translated to I am, because of you—is a humanist principle that emphasizes interconnectedness, community, and oneness. Today, Ubuntu continues to be a way of life for the political elite and everyday people.
Next, we're heading west to Nigeria; western Nigeria to be specific, home to the Yoruba tribe. Today there are at least 35 million Yoruba worldwide. Quite a few American Blacks, Caribbeans, and Afro-Latinos can trace their ancestry back to these ancient people. Due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the influence of Yoruba culture can be seen in Brazilian Candomblé and Xangô as well as Cuban Santería.
An interesting fact about the Yoruba is that they lead the world in the rate of twins born at 4.4% of all births. There's no definitive scientific reason, but some theorize that it has something to do with the amount of cassava in their diets. That's a lot of fufu.
Lastly, I'm featuring a tribe whose culture and language has had a crucial role in shaping East Africa: the Swahili. These people live in the towns and islands that dot the East African coastline—stretching from Somalia, Mombasa to Zanzibar and the Comoro Islands.
Back in the day, the East African coast served as a mecca of trade for Arab settlers from Yemen and Oman. Over the course of several centuries, these traders mixed with the native African Bantu ethnic groups, to birth a distinct ethnic group. Today, the Swahili continue to maintain their reputation as traders, artisans, and fishermen.
Their language—Kiswahili is the unofficial language of East and Central Africa. That includes both and non-Swahili and Swahili people. There are many dialects and variations of the Kiswahili, but Swahili of Zanzibar claim to speak the most authentic version.
There are tons of African tribes with rich culture and amazing customs. We should take every chance we get to celebrates the roots and values behind the African continent.