Tribe

Last updated
Men of the Shkreli tribe at the feast of Saint Nicholas at Bzheta in Shkreli territory, Albania, 1908 Durham 2534.jpg
Men of the Shkreli tribe at the feast of Saint Nicholas at Bzheta in Shkreli territory, Albania, 1908

The term tribe is used in many different contexts to refer to a category of human social group. The predominant usage of the term is in the discipline of anthropology. The definition is contested, in part due to conflicting theoretical understandings of social and kinship structures, and also reflecting the problematic application of this concept to extremely diverse human societies. The concept is often contrasted by anthropologists with other social and kinship groups, being hierarchically larger than a lineage or clan, but smaller than a chiefdom, nation or state. These terms are equally disputed. In some cases tribes have legal recognition and some degree of political autonomy from national or federal government, but this legalistic usage of the term may conflict with anthropological definitions.

Contents

Etymology

The word tribe first occurred in English in 12th-century Middle English-literature, in reference to the twelve tribes of Israel. The Middle English word is derived from Old French tribu and, in turn, from Latin tribus (plural tribūs), in reference to a supposed tripartite division of the original Roman state along ethnic lines, into tribūs known as the Ramnes (or Ramnenses), Tities (or Titienses), and Luceres, corresponding, according to Marcus Terentius Varro, to the Latins, Sabines and Etruscans respectively. The Ramnes were named after Romulus, leader of the Latins, Tities after Titus Tatius, leader of the Sabines, and Luceres after Lucumo, leader of an Etruscan army that had assisted the Latins. In 242–240 BC, the Tribal Assembly (comitia tributa) in the Roman Republic included 35 tribes (four "urban tribes" and 31 "rural tribes"). According to Livy, the three "tribes" were squadrons of cavalry, rather than ethnic divisions.

The ultimate etymology of the term "tribe" is uncertain, perhaps from the Proto-Indo-European roots tri- ("three") and bhew ("to be"). The classicist Gregory Nagy says, [1] citing the linguist Émile Benveniste, [2] that the Umbrian trifu (equivalent of the Latin tribus) is apparently derived from a combination of *tri- and *bhu-, where the second element is cognate with the Greek root phúō φύω “to bring forth” and the Greek phulē φυλή "clan, race, people" (plural phylai φυλαί). The Greek polis ("state" or "city") was, like the Roman state, often divided into phylai. In Europe during the late medieval era, the Bible was written mostly in New Latin and instead of tribus the word phyle was used, derived from the Greek phulē.

Classification

Considerate debate has accompanied efforts to define and characterize tribes. In the popular imagination, tribes reflect a primordial social structure from which all subsequent civilizations and states developed. Anthropologist Elman Service presented [3] 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:

  1. Hunter-gatherer bands that are generally egalitarian
  2. Tribal societies with some limited instances of social rank and prestige
  3. Stratified tribal societies led by chieftains (see Chiefdom)
  4. Civilizations, with complex social hierarchies and organized, institutional governments

Tribes are therefore considered to be a political unit formed from an organisation of families (including clans and lineages) based on social or ideological solidarity. Membership of a tribe may be understood simplistically as being an identity based on factors such as kinship ("clan"), ethnicity ("race"), language, dwelling place, political group, religious beliefs, oral tradition and/or cultural practices.

Archaeologists 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 coordinate production and distribution of food in times of scarcity, without limiting or constraining people during times of surplus.

The term "tribe" was in common use in the field of anthropology until the late 1950s and 1960s. The continued use of the term has attracted controversy among anthropologists and other academics active in the social sciences, with scholars of anthropological and ethnohistorical research challenging the utility of the concept. In 1970, anthropologist J. Clyde Mitchell wrote:

The tribe, a long respected category of analysis in anthropology, has recently been the object of some scrutiny by anthropologists ... Doubts about the utility of the tribe as an analytical category have almost certainly arisen out of the rapid involvement of peoples, even in the remotest parts of the globe, in political, economic and sometimes direct social relationship with industrial nations. The doubts, however, are based ultimately on the definition and meaning which different scholars give to the term 'tribe', its adjective 'tribal', and its abstract form 'tribalism'. [4]

Despite the membership boundaries for a tribe being conceptually simple, in reality they are often vague and subject to change over time. In his 1975 study, The Notion of the Tribe, anthropologist Morton H. Fried provided numerous examples of tribes that encompassed members who spoke different languages and practiced different rituals, or who shared languages and rituals with members of other tribes. Similarly, he provided examples of tribes in which 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, heterogeneity and dynamism, and are not parochial. [5]

Part of the difficulty with the term is that it seeks to construct and apply a common conceptual framework across diverse cultures and peoples. Different anthropologists studying different peoples therefore draw conflicting conclusions about the nature, structure and practices of tribes. Writing on the Kurdish peoples, anthropologist Martin van Bruinessen argued, "the terms of standard anthropological usage, 'tribe', 'clan' and 'lineage' appear to be a straitjacket that ill fits the social reality of Kurdistan". [6]

There are further negative connotations of the term "tribe" that have reduced its use. Writing in 2013, scholar Matthew Ortoleva noted that "like the word Indian, [t]ribe is a word that has connotations of colonialism." [7] Survival International says "It is important to make the distinction between tribal and indigenous because tribal peoples have a special status acknowledged in international law as well as problems in addition to those faced by the wider category of indigenous peoples." [8]

Present-day

A map of uncontacted tribes, around the start of the 21st century Isolierte-Volker.png
A map of uncontacted tribes, around the start of the 21st century

Few tribes today remain isolated from the development of the modern state system. Tribes have lost their legitimacy to conduct traditional functions, such as tithing, delivering justice and defending territory, with these being replaced by states functions and institutions, such as taxation, law courts and the military. Most have suffered decline and loss of cultural identity. Some have adapted to the new political context and transformed their culture and practices in order to survive, whilst others have secured legal rights and protections.

Anthropologist Morton Fried proposed that most surviving tribes do not have their origin in pre-state tribes, but rather in pre-state bands. Such "secondary" tribes, he suggested, developed as modern products of state expansion. Bands comprise small, mobile, and fluid social formations with weak leadership. They 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 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.

In the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of India and Native American tribes of North America, tribes are considered polities, or sovereign nations, that have retained or been granted legal recognition and some degree of autonomy by a national or federal government.

See also

Notes

  1. Gregory Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics, [ pages needed ]
  2. Émile Benveniste, Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen, [ pages needed ]
  3. Service, Elman Rogers (1962). Primitive social organization : an evolutionary perspective. Random House. OCLC   318447878.[ page needed ]
  4. Mitchell, Clyde J. (1970). "Tribe and Social Change in South Central Africa: A Situational Approach" in Gutkind, Peter C. W. Editor. The Passing of Tribal Man in Africa, p. 83. Brill.
  5. Morton H. Fried (1972). The Notion of Tribe. Cummings Publishing Company[ page needed ]
  6. Bruinessen, Martin van (1992). Agha, shaikh, and state : the social and political structures of Kurdistan. Zed Books. OCLC   555395702.[ page needed ]
  7. Ortoleva, Matthew (2013). "We Face East" in Goggin, Peter N. Editor. Environmental Rhetoric and Ecologies of Place, p. 95. Routledge. ISBN   9781135922658
  8. https://survivalinternational.org/info/terminology

Related Research Articles

Civilization Complex state society

A civilization or civilisation is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification imposed by a cultural elite, symbolic systems of communication, and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment.

Society Group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction

A society is a group of individuals involved in persistent social interaction, or a large social group sharing the same spatial or social territory, typically subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations. Societies are characterized by patterns of relationships between individuals who share a distinctive culture and institutions; a given society may be described as the sum total of such relationships among its constituent of members. In the social sciences, a larger society often exhibits stratification or dominance patterns in subgroups.

An ethnic group or ethnicity is a category of people who identify with each other, usually on the basis of presumed similarities such as common language, ancestry, history, society, culture, nation or social treatment within their residing area. Ethnicity is often used synonymously with the term nation, particularly in cases of ethnic nationalism, and is separate from but related to the concept of races.

Tribalism is the state of being organized by, or advocating for, tribes or tribal lifestyles. Human evolution has primarily occurred in small groups, as opposed to mass societies, and humans naturally maintain a social network. In popular culture, tribalism may also refer to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are loyal to their social group above all else, or, derogatorily, a type of discrimination or animosity based upon group differences.

In political science, a political system defines the process for making official government decisions. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems. However, this is a very simplified view of a much more complex system of categories involving the questions of who should have authority and what the government influence on its people and economy should.

Totem spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe

A totem is a spirit being, sacred object, or symbol that serves as an emblem of a group of people, such as a family, clan, lineage, or tribe.

In ancient Greece, a phratry was a social division of the Greek tribe (phyle). Little is known about the role they played in Greek social life, but they existed from the Greek Dark Ages until the 2nd century BCE.

Napoleon Alphonseau Chagnon was an American anthropologist, professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri in Columbia and member of the National Academy of Sciences. Chagnon was known for his long-term ethnographic field work among the Yanomamö, a society of indigenous tribal Amazonians, in which he used an evolutionary approach to understand social behavior in terms of genetic relatedness. His work centered on the analysis of violence among tribal peoples, and, using socio-biological analyses, he advanced the argument that violence among the Yanomami is fueled by an evolutionary process in which successful warriors have more offspring. His 1967 ethnography Yanomamö: The Fierce People became a bestseller and is frequently assigned in introductory anthropology courses.

Émile Benveniste was a French structural linguist and semiotician. He is best known for his work on Indo-European languages and his critical reformulation of the linguistic paradigm established by Ferdinand de Saussure.

A band society, sometimes called a camp or, in older usage, a horde, is the simplest form of human society. A band generally consists of a small kin group, no larger than an extended family or clan. The general consensus of modern anthropology sees the average number of members of a social band at the simplest level of foraging societies with generally a maximum size of 30 to 50 people.

A chiefdom is a form of hierarchical political organization in non-industrial societies usually based on kinship, and in which formal leadership is monopolized by the legitimate senior members of select families or 'houses'. These elites form a political-ideological aristocracy relative to the general group.

Adivasi Collective term for the tribes of India who are considered indigenous people of India

Adivasi is the collective term for tribes of the Indian Subcontinent, who are considered indigenous to places within India wherein they live, either as foragers or as tribalistic sedentary communities. However, India does not recognise Tribe as Indigenous people. The term is also used for ethnic minorities, such as Chakmas of Bangladesh, Tharus of Nepal, and Bhils of Pakistan.

History of anthropology in this article refers primarily to the 18th- and 19th-century precursors of modern anthropology. The term anthropology itself, innovated as a New Latin scientific word during the Renaissance, has always meant "the study of man". The topics to be included and the terminology have varied historically. At present they are more elaborate than they were during the development of anthropology. For a presentation of modern social and cultural anthropology as they have developed in Britain, France, and North America since approximately 1900, see the relevant sections under Anthropology.

A tribe in anthropology is a human social group.

Neotribalism is a sociological concept which postulates that human beings have evolved to live in tribal society, as opposed to mass society, and thus will naturally form social networks constituting new "tribes".

Stateless society anthropological phenomenon of societies where state-like social organisation is not present

A stateless society is a society that is not governed by a state, or, especially in common American English, has no government. In stateless societies, there is little concentration of authority; most positions of authority that do exist are very limited in power and are generally not permanently held positions; and social bodies that resolve disputes through predefined rules tend to be small. Stateless societies are highly variable in economic organization and cultural practices.

Morton Herbert Fried, was a distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University in New York City from 1950 until his death in 1986. He made considerable contributions to the fields of social and political theory.

Philip Carl Salzman is professor of anthropology at McGill University.

Tribe (internet) slang for an unofficial community of people who share a common interest

The term tribe or digital tribe is used as a slang term for an unofficial community of people who share a common interest, and usually who are loosely affiliated with each other through social media or other Internet mechanisms. The term is related to "tribe", which traditionally refers to people closely associated in both geography and genealogy. Nowadays, it looks more like a virtual community or a personal network and it is often called global digital tribe. Most anthropologists agree that a tribe is a (small) society that practices its own customs and culture, and that these define the tribe. The tribes are divided into clans, with their own customs and cultural values that differentiate them from activities that occur in 'real life' contexts. People feel more inclined to share and defend their ideas on social networks than they would dare to say to someone face to face. For example, it would be ridiculous to 'poke' someone in real life.

Political Economy in anthropology is the application of the theories and methods of historical materialism to the traditional concerns of anthropology, including, but not limited to, non-capitalist societies. Political Economy introduced questions of history and colonialism to ahistorical anthropological theories of social structure and culture. Most anthropologists moved away from modes of production analysis typical of structural Marxism, and focused instead on the complex historical relations of class, culture and hegemony in regions undergoing complex colonial and capitalist transitions in the emerging world system.

References