, viewed historically or developmentally,
consists of a social group
before the development of, or outside of, states
Many anthropologists use the term to refer to societies organized
largely on the basis of kinship
corporate descent groups (see clan
Some theorists hold that tribes represent a stage in social
evolution intermediate between band
states. Other theorists argue that tribes developed after, and must
be understood in terms of their relationship to, states.
The English word tribe
occurs in 13th century Middle English
literature as referring to one
of the Twelve Tribes of
. The word is from Old French tribu,
in turn from Latin tribus, referring to the original
tripartite ethnic division of the Roman
state: Tities (Titienses), Ramnes (Ramnenses), and Luceres,
corresponding, according to Varro, to the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans respectively.
The Ramnes were named after
, leader of the Latins, Tities after
, leader of the Sabines, and Luceres
after Lucumo, leader of an Etruscan army that had assisted the
Latins. According to Livy
, the three tribes
were in fact squadrons of knights, rather than ethnic
The term's ultimate etymology may be found in the Latin word for
three, "tres". The dative and ablative declensions of this word are
both "tribus".The word "tribus" could therefore mean "from the
three" or "for the three".
Another theory holds that tribus
is perhaps derived from
From 242-240 BC, the Tribal Assembly
) in the Roman
was organized in 35 Tribes (4 "Urban Tribes" and 31
"Rural Tribes"). The Latin word as used in the Bible translates as
"race, tribe, clan" and
ultimately the Hebrew שבט. In the historical sense, "tribe", "race"
or "clan" can be used interchangeably.
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
. 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
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
the role of the state
. This system
of classification contains four categories:
- Gatherer-hunter band, which are generally egalitarian.
- Tribal societies in which there are some limited instances of
social rank and prestige.
- Stratified tribal
societies led by chieftain.
- 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
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.
countries, such as the United States of America and India, tribes are
polities that have been granted legal
recognition and limited autonomy by the state.
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.
- cf. Gregory Nagy, Greek Mythology and Poetics, Chapter
12, p.276 and on. On p.278, he says, citing the linguist
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.
- Benveniste, Émile
- Indo-European Language and Society, translated by
Elizabeth Palmer. London: Faber and Faber 1973. ISBN
- Origines de la formation des noms en indo-européen,
- Fried, Morton H. The Notion of Tribe. Cummings
Publishing Company, 1975. ISBN 0-8465-1548-2
- Helm, June, ed, 1968. Essays on the Problem of Tribe,
Proceedings, American Ethnological Society, 1967 (Seattle:
University of Washington Press).
- 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.