In 2016 the entire population of Africa has grown to over 1.2 billion people. The number of people from African tribes living on this continent rapidly grows especially on account such giant countries as Nigeria with almost 180 million people in it. Of old Africa had many ethnic groups and tribes. Some of them are famous far and wide abroad.
African tribes are numerous and in general the black continent has over 3000 tribes and Nigeria alone has 370 tribes sharing its territory. Let us start by giving a quick definition of what a tribe is and then getting a list of the top 15 tribes of Africa, best known around the globe.
What is an African tribe?
The fact is that tribes emerged on our planet long before any states or governments. A tribe is a group of people with similar ethnicity. They share the same culture and the same language. A tribe is rather similar to a larger size family.
A larger tribe may consist of many families and clans. A smaller one would include tightly related people. They also share same political formation and have their own tribal rulers or kings. Formerly people from one tribe used to share the same land and live in the same villages or cities they have founded.
Presently, tribal people have scattered around the land and even around the globe. For instance, you can find large African Nigerian tribal diaspora in USA, UK, etc. Tribal languages are many. Presently scientists surely know of 1000 of them, but some suggest there are over 2000 of such languages in Africa.
20 top tribes in Africa known around the globe
The land: Nigeria, West Africa
Population: 45+ million (over 20% of all the population of Nigeria).
Language: Yoruba and English
Yoruba was one of the tribes to greatly contribute to the slave trade. Many Yoruba were sold and brought over to America, Cuba, Brazil and Caribbean region. Interesting enough that many “American” Yoruba preserved the traditions of their motherland.
In the past Yoruba tribe was a part of Oyo Empire. This tribe also stands out of the crowd as being one with the most population in the cities. Lots of Yoruba are highly educated people, tech savvy and industrious. The only Nigeria Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka (poet and play writer) comes from Yoruba tribe.
The land: Northern Sotho, South Africa
Population: 10 millions
Religion:Phasa – worshiping ancestors and gods
Overall presently there are more than 7 million people in South Africa speaking Sotho language. This means the ethnic group is the second largest in this country. In the past the largest part of population of the tribe was involved in herding and farming. Later on many men moved to cities in search of employment. They work as migrant workers. Some Pedi turned to Christianity, but they were persecuted and pressed out of the land.
The land: South Africa, Zimbabwe
Population: 2/3 of South Africa population
Religion:Zion Christian Church
The tribe may call itself Manala or Amandebele. It is quite possible that in the past this tribe was a part of a larger Zulu culture, but they broke away following the King Shaka. The total area inhibited by this tribe covers over 400 000 sq. miles. In the past they practiced polygamy, but presently it is almost extinct. Presently it is one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa.
The land: Limpopo Province, South Africa
Population: 0.9 million
Language: Tshivenda and Shona
One of the distinctive traits of this tribe is cross cousin marriages. Even though a large portion of population occupies villages, many youths are moving to the larger cities.Amazing, but just little over 40 years ago Venda people were the poorest in their country. However, an educational reform was introduced and the tribe has miraculously gotten transformed. People received free books and schools. Presently, as Yoruba in Nigeria, Venda in South Africa is among the most tech savvy and educated people.The tribe has a large number of famous people.
The land: Nigeria, West Africa
Population: 20 million
Language: Hausa, English (Hausa is one of the easiest to learn and widely spoken tribal languages in Western Africa).
Legends state that the origin of Hausa tribe is from Baghdad. They believed the people moved to Africa from that city over 10 centuries ago. Presently this tribe strives for political domination in Nigeria. They have amazing colorful traditional attires and great Hausa music.
The land: Eastern Cape, South Africa
Population: 8 million
Religion:Umdali – one god the creator and ancestors
One of the distinctions of the Pondo people is red color. They wear red rugs and cover up their skin with the red clay. That is why in many cases they are referred to as Red people. They are also known in Africa for the Pondo Culture Festival.
The land: Swaziland and South Africa
Population: 700 000
Till this day the tribe is ruled by a king. Present day monarch is called Mswati II. Their community is broken into different castes and in many cases people would follow the traditional marriage patterns. The groom has to pay the dowry for his bride.
The land: Sudan and Ethiopia
Population: up to 10 000 people!
It is a highlander tribe, which lives on the altitude of over 1000 meter. They marry only inside the clans. The tribe mines gold in the mountains. They also herd their cattle and hunt.
- El Molo
The land: Kenya
Language: Maa, English
This tribe is amazing, as it is the smallest among all in Kenya. They fish and hunt and one of their sources of food is hippos killed in Turkana Lake. This tribe is on the verge of extinction, as they often times lack clean fresh water and food.
- Hamar (Omotic)
The land: Ethiopia
Population: 40 000 +
One of the most amazing traditions of this tribe is bull jumping. A boy has to go through this ritual to become a man. The men also get whipped and tolerate the pain to show how much they love their relatives and family. Mostly this tribe farms and herds to make their living.
The land: mainly South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, etc.
Population: 11 million
This tribe is super humane among all other Africa tribes. The tribe is rather modern in its style of life. People mostly wear regular outfits, but put on their traditional clothes for special cultural occasions. There are many notable people (politicians and scientists) that come from this tribe.
The land: Tanzation, Kenya
Population: Up to 1 million
Religion:Believe in god who created cattle
There are 16 different clans in the tribe.For a very long time people from this tribe did not understand what “private ownership” meant, as this concept was introduced to them by the western people. Interesting enough this tribe has no public execution and if someone is guilty, they settle things by paying the other side with cattle. Livestock is essential to their culture and survival.
- San Bushmen
The land: South Africa, Botswana, Angola, Namibia, etc.
Population: 100 000+
Religion:Worship animals and nature
Sure enough this tribe became famous after the movie “Gods must be crazy”. The simple culture and language of the tribe impressed many people around the world.
The land: Southern Africa
Population: 8 million
Religion:Faith in ancestors
Nelson Mandela is one of the most famous people coming from this African tribal group. This tribe arrived to their current location back in the 17th century A.D. The tribe experienced serious pressure from Zulu people.
The land: Northern Namibia
Population: 50 000
Women from this tribe wear few clothes. They mostly cover up their skin with red color clay to protect it from the sun burn. They also braid their hair in intricate ways, men do the same thing. This tribe is believed to the “magic healers” of Africa.
The land: Ethiopia
Population: 40 million around the world(40% of Ethiopia population)
Religion:Waaqa (traditional religion)
This people name not only the months, but also they have a name for every day of the month. Their month consists of 27 days.
The land: Kenya
Population: 5 million
Religion:Kalenjin – faith in supreme god
Most people of the tribe live in small farms. Only men possess the land. Many of them have been turned to Christianity, but they mostly are nominal ones.
The land: Tanzania
Population: 700 000 +
These people are great herdsmen. They also make many amazing traditional music instruments out of wood. No wonder many African famous musicians come from the Chaga tribe. In the past they were the sun worshipers.
The land: South Africa
Population: 10 million
Language: Sesotho, English
This tribe is among the most educated ones in Africa. It has a high literacy rate. They are also called the cowboy tribe, as they ride horses. It is the number 2 largest ethnic group in South Africa.
The land: Botswana
Population: 7 million
The tribe makes up to 80 percent of the population of this country. No wonder its African tribe names sound similar to it. The people used to be the herdsmen, but presently many of them work in tourism. The tribe gets better education these days and the level of life improves. Back in the past this tribe was reached with the Gospel by David Livingstone.