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Here Are The Most Popular Tribes In Africa

By Parker Diakite

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The continent of Africa is comprised of 54 countries, more than 1.3 billion people, and more than 3,000 tribes.

One thing you will discover during your visit is that tribal influences are a dominant force in some regions across the continent.

With that in mind, here are some of the most famous tribes in Africa:

Zulu, South Africa

Zulu is one of the most popular tribes in Africa.  One reason why the tribe is so widely known is because of Shakaland, which is acknowledged worldwide as the birthplace of the legendary chief Shaka Zulu.

With an estimated population of 11 million people, Zulu is known to be the largest ethnic group in South Africa. 

Getty Images

The Karo, Ethiopia

Located in Southern Ethiopia, the Karo or Kara ethnic group reside along the east banks of the Omo River.

The estimated population is about 2,000 people and what you will find is they are a fascinating culture famous for their body painting.

Tribe members are known to paint their bodies with a combination of white chalk, yellow, mineral rock, iron ore, and charcoal.  In addition, they often practice ritual scarification, choosing scars as an easy way to identify themselves.

The scarification of the man’s chest indicates that he has killed enemies from other tribes, and he is highly respected within his community, according to Atlas of Humanity.

The Karo women are considered particularly sensual and attractive if cuts are made deep into their chests and torsos and ash is rubbed in, creating a raised effect over time and thereby enhancing sexual beauty.

Yoruba, Nigeria

With an estimated 35 million people in total, Yoruba is undeniably the largest ethnic group in Africa.

Members occupy the South Western sides of Nigeria, as well as Southern Benin, but the majority comes from Nigeria. 

They have a rich history and cultural heritage tracing back to the old Oyo Empire.

The Himba, Namibia

The most identifiable feature of the Himba tribe is the bright red coloring of their skin. Their skin is rubbed with red ochre to achieve this look.

They are a semi-nomadic and pastoral tribe known to breed cattle and goats.  Their population is estimated between 20,000 to 50,000 people.

Women tend to perform more labor-intensive work than men do, such as carrying water to the village, building homes and milking cows. Men handle political tasks and legal trials, according to Namibia Tourism.

Photo courtesy of Namibia Tourism | Mikael Castro

PSan People  

Members of this tribe are comprised of various Khoesān-speaking indigenous hunter-gatherer groups that are the first nations of Southern Africa. Their territories span Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, and South Africa.

The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived in for at least 20,000 years.

The Maasai, Kenya, and Tanzania

The Maasai are a Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

It is estimated that 1 million Maasai people live in Kenya and Tanzania but most Maasai doubt these numbers because they see the national census as government meddling and often miscount their numbers to census takers, according to the Maasai Association.  

The Maasai tribe are a tribe of warriors who trace their origins from migration from Sudan to Kenya and Tanzania along the Great Rift Valley.

The tribe is nomadic in nature, choosing to stay in smaller homesteads. They build their way of life around their cattle which they insist are a gift from their god Ngai. They use the cattle primarily as a measurement of wealth as well as a source of food, even going as far as drinking the blood of the cattle for sustenance.

Photo courtesy of The Maasai Association Kenya
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