Culture: Most iconic tribes in Africa

Africa is a continent with strong traditions which makes it very attractive and popular among travellers who are cultural enthusiasts. Cultural and historical tours are very popular in Africa and are one of the major highlights in almost every part of the continent you visit.

From remote and hostile societies that are fiercely feared to moderate, friendly and welcoming communities, Africa is home to all character of humans any traveller would wish to visit in their lifetime.

We take a look at some of the most iconic tribes in Africa with focus on leading safari regions of East, Central and Southern Africa.

Himba – Namibia

The Himba are hunter-gatherers and pastoralist tribe found in northwest Namibia in the Kunene region. It was is one of the few African tribes that have succeeded in maintaining their culture and traditional way of life. The remoteness and desolateness of the Kunene region is the major factor that has enabled this.

One of the major highlights of the Himba culture is Okuruwo, the holy fire which connects people to their ancestors. Mukuru, is the god of the Himba and he is always in direct contact with their ancestors. Each village has a permanent spot for this fire with every family represented by a member to signify the importance of this connection.

Himba women represent an iconic status of the tribe with their unique appearance in red-tinged complexion and thick, red hair. Hair among Himba women indicates age and status. Young girls have shaved heads, while women with kids may have braids, plaits and then leather ornament known as Erembe.

The unique red colour of the Himba is a mixture of paste made from ochre, fat and butter which they apply to their skin and hair daily to shield themselves from the sun and insect bites as well as well as beautifying themselves.

Masai – Kenya & Tanzania

One of the most famous African tribes, the Masai occupy a vast area along the semi-arid Great Rift Valley of Tanzania and Kenya. The Masai community is around some of the most outstanding National Parks in the two countries like Serengeti and Maasai Mara. This has facilitated the easy integration of Masai cultural tours with game viewing safaris in these parks making the community frequently visited by international tourists.

The warrior tribe of the Masai trace their origins to the norther Great Rift Valley in Sudan. They are semi-nomadic and also herd cattle which they believe were lowered to earth on a leather thong by the sky god Ngai as a gift to them. The Masai highly treasure cattle and they take the animals as sacred as well as using them as a measure of wealth. Cattle also form an integral part in the Masai’s diet who drink a mixture of cow’s blood and milk.

Other amazing cultural practices among the Masai include the jumping dance which is traditionally performed as an initiation right for young men. The best bride is given as a reward to the young man who jumps highest. They also wear colourful clothing, locally known as shuka with a range of symbolic colours. The colours include red as protection from wild animals, blue for the sky, rains and cattle, orange for friendship and hospitality, green for nourishment and yellow for fertility. The Masai also commonly use saliva in their traditions including spitting in the palm when greeting an elder and spitting on the head of a new-born baby.

Hadzabe – Tanzania

The Hazabe of north-central Tanzania are widely regarded as the last true nomadic tribe in East Africa. They are hunter-gatherer tribe who have pursued their ancestors way of life through the centuries.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to resettle the Hadzabe since the coming of the first Europeans in Tanzania and thorough different governments in the country.

The Hadzabe largely practice egalitarianism with no defined governing structures or social class differences among individuals with their children collectively parented in society. They spend most of their time on hunting and foraging with men doing so individually and at times bringing home honey and fruit. Women on the other hand forage in big groups looking for tubers, fruit and berries. The men also carryout game hunting majorly at watering wells where they stay overnight with a bow and poisoned arrows.

Zulu – South Africa

The huge population of the Zulu of over 11 million people makes them the largest ethnic group in South Africa and one of the largest tribes in Africa. Currently the Zulu occupy the Kwazulu-Natal region along the Coast with the Indian Ocean. This warrior tribe is believed to have migrated here from East Africa centuries ago.

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