What is a tribe?



A tribe is viewed, historically or developmentally, as a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states. A tribe is a distinct people, dependent on their land for their livelihood, who are largely self-sufficient, and not integrated into the national society. It is perhaps the term most readily understood and used by the general public.

Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, the world’s only organisation dedicated to indigenous rights, has defined tribal people as “those which have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are clearly different from the mainstream and dominant society”.

This definition, however, would not apply in countries in the Middle East such as Iraq, where the entire population is a member of one tribe or another and therefore tribalism itself is dominant and mainstream.

“The premise of the Civilised story is ‘the world belongs to man’. … The premise of the Tribal story is ‘man belongs to the world’.” Daniel Quinn, Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit