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A tribe, is a social group of humans connected by a shared system of values and organized for mutual care, defense, and survival beyond that which could be attained by a lone individual or family. A 'tribe' is defined in anthropology. When viewed historically or developmentally, a tribe is a mutual care system which, unlike a kingdom or state or other schema, is oriented around kinship and shared beliefs. Tribes can well exist simultaneously with other schema (see Schema (psychology)) such as states or other systems. They might consist of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states. Tribes are the most enduring and successful social survival system that has ever existed on earth. Tribes can exist within or without a state or kingdom and may or may not depend on the state or kingdom to endure.
Some theorists hold that tribes represent a stage in social evolution intermediate between bands and states. Other theorists argue that tribes developed after, and must be understood in terms of their relationship to states.
Etymology[edit | edit source]
The English word tribe occurs in 13th century Middle English literature as referring to one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The word is from Old French tribu, in turn from Latin tribus, the name of the tripartite ethnic divisions of the original Roman state (Tites, Ramnes, and Luceres, corresponding, perhaps, to the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans). The term's ultimate etymology is uncertain, perhaps from the PIE roots *tri- "three" and *bhew- "to be".
From 242-240 BC, the Tribal Assembly (comitia tributa) in the Roman Republic was organized in 35 Tribes (4 "Urban Tribes" and 31 "Rural Tribes"). The Latin word as used in the Bible translates as Greek phyle "race, tribe, clan" and ultimately the Hebrew שבט. In the historical sense, "tribe", "race" or "clan" can be used interchangeably.
Definition[edit | edit source]
Considerable debate takes place over how best to characterize tribes. Some of this debate stems from perceived differences between pre-state tribes and contemporary tribes; some of this debate reflects more general controversy over cultural evolution and colonialism. In the popular imagination, tribes reflect a way of life that predates, and is more "natural", than that in modern states. Tribes also privilege primordial social ties, are clearly bounded, homogeneous, parochial, and stable. Thus, many believed that tribes organize links between families (including clans and lineages), and provide them with a social and ideological basis for solidarity that is in some way more limited than that of an "ethnic group" or of a "nation". Anthropological and ethnohistorical research has challenged all of these notions.
Anthropologist Elman Service presented a system of classification for societies in all human cultures based on the evolution of social inequality and the role of the state. This system of classification contains four categories:
- Hunter-gatherer bands, which are generally egalitarian.
- Tribal societies in which there are some limited instances of social rank and prestige.
- Stratified tribal societies led by chieftains.
- Civilizations, with complex social hierarchies and organized, institutional governments.
In his 1972 study, The Notion of the Tribe, anthropologist Morton H. Fried provided numerous examples of tribes the members of which spoke different languages and practised different rituals, or that shared languages and rituals with members of other tribes. Similarly, he provided examples of tribes where people followed different political leaders, or followed the same leaders as members of other tribes. He concluded that tribes in general are characterized by fluid boundaries and heterogeneity, are not parochial, and are dynamic.[How to reference and link to summary or text]
Fried, however, proposed that most contemporary tribes do not have their origin in pre-state tribes, but rather in pre-state bands. Such "secondary" tribes, he suggested, actually came about as modern products of state expansion. Bands comprise small, mobile, and fluid social formations with weak leadership, that do not generate surpluses, pay no taxes and support no standing army. Fried argued that secondary tribes develop in one of two ways. First, states could set them up as means to extend administrative and economic influence in their hinterland, where direct political control costs too much. States would encourage (or require) people on their frontiers to form more clearly bounded and centralized polities, because such polities could begin producing surpluses and taxes, and would have a leadership responsive to the needs of neighboring states (the so-called "scheduled" tribes of the United States or of British India provide good examples of this). Second, bands could form "secondary" tribes as a means to defend themselves against state expansion. Members of bands would form more clearly bounded and centralized polities, because such polities could begin producing surpluses that could support a standing army that could fight against states, and they would have a leadership that could co-ordinate economic production and military activities.
Archeologists continue to explore the development of pre-state tribes. Current research suggests that tribal structures constituted one type of adaptation to situations providing plentiful yet unpredictable resources. Such structures proved flexible enough to co-ordinate production and distribution of food in times of scarcity, without limiting or constraining people during times of surplus.
References[edit | edit source]
- Benveniste, Émile
- Indo-European Language and Society, translated by Elizabeth Palmer. London: Faber and Faber 1973. ISBN 0-87024-250-4.
- Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen, 1935.
- Fried, Morton H. The Notion of Tribe. Cummings Publishing Company, 1975. ISBN 0-8465-1548-2
- Nagy, Gregory, Greek Mythology and Poetics, Cornell University Press, 1990. In chapter 12, beginning on p.276, Professor Nagy explores the meaning of the word origin and social context of a tribe in ancient Greece and beyond.
Regional tribes[edit | edit source]
- Alasks natives
- Indigenous Peoples of the Americas
- American Indians
- List of Chechen Teips (clans),
- List of African tribes
See also[edit | edit source]
[edit | edit source]
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- cf. Gregory Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics, Chapter 12, p.276 and on. On p.278, he says, citing the linguist Émile Benveniste in his Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen, that the Umbrian "trifu" (tribus) is apparently derived from a combination of *tri- and *bhu- where the second element is cognate with the 'phu-' of Greek 'phule', and that this was subdividing the Greek polis into three phulai.