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Indigenous People of Africa

By Kuni Olfami is visual anthropology website for photos and videos of the various African tribes, including the Afar (Danikil), Oromo, Himba, Hamer (Hamar), Mursi, Arbore, Surma, Zulu, Herero, Daasanach (Dassanech), Karo, Bana, Nyangatom, Suri, Aari, Watusi, Maasai, and Zulu tribes. African Tribes features many ancient African tribes such as the exotic Afar people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia. Following the tradition of visual anthropology, African tribes uses images to describe and understand various native African cultures. Pictures and photos of these native African tribes range from exotic Himba women, and other African tribe woman from numerous tribes. African tribe pictures include African tribal ceremonies, female body painting, lip plates, bull jumping, scarification, African tribal tattoos, and African music.  In addition to pictures and videos of the indigenous people of Africa, there is a political Africa Map, a map of Africa languages, and a map of African tribes.  Additionally, there is an African Tribes Forum where you can post and view comments, questions, images, videos, and messages about the various indigenous people of Africa. 

Visual anthropology is a subfield of cultural anthropology that uses photographic images, both still and motion pictures, to study ancient African cultures, such as those featured on this African-Tribes website.  Even before the formation of anthropology as a scientific discipline, ethnologists were using photographs of African tribes as a research tool.  Later, motion pictures and videos such as "Come Back, Africa" by an American independent filmmaker (Lionel Rogosin) served as a permanent documentation of African tribal cultural and provided a stimulus for social change in South Africa. 

One of the African tribes that this website focuses on in the Himba tribe which comes from the north Namibia area in Africa, in the arid Kunene province (formerly called Kaokoland) of the Namib Desert. Similar to many African tribes living in arid environments, the Himba people are primarily pastoralists, breeding animals such as goats and cattle. The Himba are nomads, and speak a tongue called Dhimba and are related to the Herero African tribe. Perhaps surprisingly, the Himba people are thought to have arrived rather recently in southwestern Africa, as they speak a language in the Bantu linguistic family of African tribes which has its geographic center (and probably its origin) in central Africa. The incredible thing about the Himba tribe, is the appearance of the Himba women; they change the color of their skin to a reddish-brown color by using a red-colored ointment that is made from butter, ash, red ochre and herbs. This ointment is said to protect the Himba women from the intense desert sun, but its primary function is esthetic as the women believe this makes them more attractive. Some say that the brownish color that the ointment produces represents the earth while the reddish tinge symbolizes blood. This same earthy ointment is applied to their braided hair, making Himba women some of the most exotic women of all the African tribes.  Similar to many African tribes, Himba woman perform the least desirable chores, many of which are very laborious such as building homes, hauling firewood, milking animals, tending livestock, and taking care of young children.  Himba women often have to share their husband with others, as theirs is a polygamous society which is a common pattern among numerous African tribes.  Probably the most unique aspect of Himba society is their "bilateral descent" kinship system.  Normally all cultures are either matrilineal (tracing ones lineage and inheritance from the mother) or patrilineal (descending from the father).  The Himba are unique among almost all other African tribes in that they practice bilateral descent and this has been interpreted as an adaptation to the inhospitable desert environment in which they live.  During difficult times, a member of the Himba tribe can rely upon an extended family for support. 

Interestingly, most of the more ancient African tribes practice pastoralism and live in the more arid or desert lands. The explanation of why African natives inhabiting desert lands have been able to remain traditional is because their territory is not that valuable and consequently, less likely to be desired and confiscated by outsiders and agriculturalists who seek more productive soils. The lower value of desert lands has resulted in a lesser amount of cultural loss brought about by non-natives of these ancient African tribe people inhabiting arid lands.

One of the most ancient African tribes is the Afar or Danakil tribe.  This native African tribe is located in three countries - Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.  Similar to many of the more traditional African tribe culture, the Afar are nomadic pastoral people who raise sheep, goats, and cattle in arid lands.  The Afar people change their home according to the season, living near permanent water sources during the dry season and living in other areas with intermittent water sources during the rainier season.  Similar to many African tribes women, the Afar women often are topless, wearing only a cloth around their waist.  In addition, married Afar women wear a traditional headdress called the "shash" in their native African language.  Similar to the Himba women, Afar women sometimes use a red ochre dye to enhance their appearance, but do not apply it to their entire bodies as do the Himba, but rather only to their faces. 

The native tribes of Africa speak a great diversity of languages dispersed among four language families, including Afro-Asiatic, Khoisan, Nilo-Saharan, and Niger-Congo.  The largest number of African tribes speak languages in the Niger-Congo language family with over 400 million speakers.  Niger-Congo is also the largest family in terms of geographic area covered.  Perhaps the most important language in the Niger-Congo family is Swahili, the language of the Waswahili native African people.  Even though there are only about 10 million native speakers of Swahili, it has become the primary language of most of East Africa and the Congo, being the official language of four countries and the African Union.  Zulu is also an important language in the Bantu group of the Niger-Congo family.  Perhaps the most interesting and unique of the African language families is Khoisan which is distinguished by its click consonants.  Examples include Khoi and Bushman and this language family is restricted to African tribes living in the Kalahari Desert and the Rift Valley.  At one time Khoisan languages are thought to cover most of African Continent and only relatively recently being reduced in geographic area by the expansion of African tribes speaking Bantu languages.  In fact, most Khoisan languages are presently endangered with only Nama of Namibia being relative widespread with 250,000 speakers.  The only one of the four major African language families that is common outside of the African Continent is the Afro-Asiatic language family which includes Semitic languages such as Arabic, Hebrew, Cushitic, Berber, and Chadic African tribe languages. 

The Hamer or Hamar tribe is from the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia. Similar to other African tribes in the regions, the Hamer people are principally pastoralists, breeding cattle, goats and sheep. One of the Hamer tribe's most important rituals is the bull jumping ceremony. During the Hamer bull jumping ceremony, a young man attempts to jump over bulls without falling while naked. Once the Hammer tribe man successfully completes the bull jumping, he becomes a member of the "Maza," a social set of adult males who have completed the same feat. In addition, the Hamer man will be able to marry a Hamer girl. Another fascinating part of this African tribe ceremony is the ritual whipping of the sisters of the man participating in the bull-jumping ritual. The Hamer girls are flogged on their unclothed backs, causing gashes and later scars. This ancient African tribe ritual is thought to reinforce familial bonds as the sister who took part in the bull-jumping ceremony will be well treated for by the man in times of necessity. Consequently, the Hamer girls are enthusiastic partakers in the ceremony. The Hamer African tribe language is an Omotic language in the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family.

The Mursi or Murzu tribe is from Debub Omo River Zone in south Ethiopia near the Sudan. The Mursi, Suri and Me'en tribes are sometimes grouped together and call the Surma tribe. Nonetheless, the Mursi people reject being called by the word "Surma." Unlike the Hamer tribe which speaks a Omotic language in the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family, the Mursi language is a Nilotic tongue as is the language of the Maasai. The distinctive feature of the Mursi tribe is the characteristic lip plates worn by Mursi girls and women. In addition to being worn by African tribe women, lower lip plates are also worn by a few Amazon Indian tribes such as the Suya tribe of Brazil. Though, the Suya men rather then women wear the lips plates in this Amazonian tribe. In African tribes such as the Mursi, only girls and women wear lip plates. Another Mursi tribe ritual involves the stick fighting ceremony whish is call the "donga." This ritual is performed by the males of this naked African tribe. The winners of the contests are selected by Mursi girls to have relations. Similar to other African tribes, the Mursi people frequently drink a blend of blood and milk for nourishment and do not commonly eat meat as they measure their wealth by the number of animals that they own.

The Nyangatom or Inyangatom tribe practice pastoralism and are from the Sudan and Southern Ethiopia. Similar to the Mursi and Suri tribes, the Nyangatom speak a Nilotic language in the Nilo-Saharan linguistic family. However, the Nyangatom are traditional enemies of the Surma tribe. Unfortunately, this African tribe is in danger of losing their ancestral lands in the Omo River National Park. Without land, the Nyangatom may soon cease to exist as a tribe.

The Daasanach (sometimes spelled Dassanech) tribe is an ancient African tribe from East Africa. Similar to the displacement of the Nyangatom tribe, the Daasanach have been losing their ancestral lands, particularly in Kenya and Sudan. As a result of losing much of their territory, they have been forced to change their society and many of these traditional pastoralists have become horticulturalists. The Daasanach people speak a Cushitic language as do the Afar people. However, their neighboring African tribes such as the Nyangatom and Mursi tribes speak Nilotic languages.

Another exotic African tribe is the Arbore people. Similar to the Daasanach tribe, they speak a Cushitic tongue. One characteristic that make the Arbore tribe women and girls easy to identify is their use of a large black scarfs. As are most indigenous African tribes in Southern Ethiopia, the Arbore tribe are pastoralists, measuring their wealth in terms of the number of cattle that they possess.

Perhaps the best know African tribe is the Zulu tribe. The Zulu people are the biggest African tribe in South Africa. The dominance of the Zulu tribe is due to the success of the Zulu King, Shaka Zulu, who in the 19th century integrated the Northern Nguni people into the Zulu tribe and used novel military strategies to take over territories from neighboring African tribes. The Zulu tribe speaks a language termed "isiZulu" which is in the Bantu linguistic group. Zulu girls traditionally wear only beads and therefore have been termed by some as a nude African tribe. Different beads have different meanings and while some beads are symbols of love, others are cautionary symbols. In addition, beads are traditionally given the young Zulu maidens by young men who court them. Similar to many other African tribes such as the Himba tribe, who are also a Bantu people, the Zulu tribe practice ancestor worship. The Zulu people are traditionally both pastoralists and agriculturists. As with many African tribes, reciprocity is important and the Zulu people are known for being extremely generous and even allowing guests to eat off their dinner plate as a gesture of friendship.

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