Tribe: What is the meaning of Tribe?

The word “Tribe” is derived from the Latin word “Tribus” meaning “one third”. The word originally referred to one of the three territorial groups that united to form Rome. Romans applied the word “tribus” to the 35 people who became a part of Rome before 241 B.C.

They also called the conquered Gallic or Germanic populations tribus. Originally a tribe was simply a territorially defined social group. The Romans identified tribe as a political unit that had a distinct name, occupied a common territory, and had a common leadership.

A tribe is a social group, which occupies a definite area. It is characterized by cultural homogeneity and a unifying social organization. The identity and culture of tribes are closely linked to the natural resources and the environment in which they live.

A tribe is generally defined as a social division of preliterate people. A tribe can also be defined as a series of generations, descending from the same progenitor. Tribals claim to be descendants of a particular mythical forefather.

Cultural anthropologists apply the term “tribe” to a unit of social organization that is culturally homogeneous. This unit usually consists of multiple kinship groups, such as the family, lineage, or clan. Marriages within these groups (endogamy) are usually prohibited.

There is taboo on inbreeding. Exogamy or marriages with persons of the other kinship groups is generally endorsed. Tribes are generally orga­nized into unitary political entities, within which there exists a common language and culture.

A tribe is also understood as a political organizational term that refers to a group of people who share territory, language, cultural history, and usually some form of kinship. Tribal group’s levels do not usually have an official leader.

Leadership is generally inher­ited. There are also temporary leaders, elected because of their skills in dealing with a particular situation, who normally have no authority over anyone. They can suggest and are usually listened to, though not necessarily all the time.

The term “tribe” has also been used to refer to any non-Western or indigenous soci­ety. Some social scientists use the term to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of kinship, especially corporate descent groups. In some countries such as the United States of America and India, tribes are called indigenous peoples, and have been granted legal recognition and limited autonomy by the state.

There has been extensive debate over how best to characterize tribes. This includes the perceived differences between pre-state tribes and contemporary tribes, and the con­troversy over cultural evolution and colonialism. It is generally felt that tribes reflect a way of life that predates, and is more “natural”, than that in modern states. Tribes also preserve primitive social ties, and there is a bond that keeps them together. Tribes are homogeneous and stable though parochial or narrow minded.

It is believed that most contemporary tribes do not have their origin in pre-state tribes, but rather in pre-state bands. These tribal groups, also called “secondary” tribes, actually came about as modern products of state expansion. This was probably done when states treated tribal areas as extended administrative and economic areas, since direct political control was too costly.

Moreover, states would encourage people to form clearly bounded and centralized polities, which could produce surpluses, and have a leadership which would be responsive to the needs of the neighboring states. Examples of such state policies can be seen in the scheduled tribes of United States or British India. Another way in which the secondary tribes developed was through the bands forming themselves into organized groups in order to defend themselves against state expansion.

Submitted by : Professor Jacob, Category : Tribes, Tag : Tribes