African Culture, Tribes & Traditions (and our top pick of Cultural Tours in Africa)
It is the world’s second-largest continent and the only continent that spans both northern and southern hemispheres. Africa is about 11.7 million mi² (30.37 million km²) in size! This means the US is 32.4% the size of Africa, and the UK is only 0.8% of the size.
Africa has over 50 independent countries and accounts for about 16% of the world’s population. That translates to over 1.2 billion people. Now, while it is easy to homogenize and talk about ‘African people’, the truth is that within these 54 separate and unique countries, there are in fact over 3000 diverse African tribes!
Perhaps Uganda best reflects this diversity through its constitution with a multilingual country. Forty-three of its living languages fall into four main families—Bantu, Nilotic and Central Sudanic—with another two languages in the Kuliak family. Of these, 41 are indigenous and 2 are non-indigenous.all 11 official languages recognized by law.
Some of the African Tribes with Traditional African Cultures
Maasai Tribal wear
Amongst the most famous Maasai traditions are the jumping dance, the wearing of colorful shuka, spitting, and the drinking of blood.
The Adamu is the jumping dance that is performed as part of the initiation right when young adults become men. Accompanied by song, pairs of men take turns to see who can jump the highest.
The ritual is performed to show prowess and fitness and it forms a part of the celebration when the boys become eligible bachelors. He who jumps the highest attracts the best bride.
The Maasai Dancing Style
The vibrant colored cloth worn by the Maasai is known as shuka. Red is considered to be a sacred color and represents blood and is the basic color for all shuka.
In addition to these qualities, it also protects the Maasai from wild animals.
Orange is for hospitality, warmth, and friendship, blue is for the sky which provides the rains for the cattle. Green is nourishment and production and yellow is for fertility and growth.
Together, these vibrant African clothes, are what make the Maasai so distinctive in East Africa.
That’s right, the Maasai are hematophagous, meaning that they drink blood for nourishment.
It is curious because while they drink cow’s blood, often mixed with milk, they are opposed to eating wild animals, and the consumption of beef is reserved for special occasions only.
The Maasai revere their cattle and for this reason, the letting of blood causes no lasting harm to their bovine companions.
While in western traditions saliva is a strictly private and personal matter, in Maasai culture and tradition it is considered extremely good luck to be shared. When shaking the hand of an elder, it is important to spit in one’s palm, and to ward off evil spirits, one must spit onto a new-born baby’s head. Spitting is one thing, drinking blood completely another.
African Tribes, Travel & Custom
We live in an amazing age where global travel is relatively quick and easy. You no longer need to be an anthropologist to visit these incredible African tribes and to make memories that will last a lifetime. Here are a few tips on local etiquette and culture to help you on your way.
- Look before you leap. Be conscious of the fact that you are a guest in someone else’s country, province, and home. Be mindful of them and their traditional customs, ask questions, and don’t assume anything. Often taking pictures is fine but it doesn’t hurt to ask first, taking the time to check will make you a welcome guest wherever you go.
- When in Rome… not everything you encounter will be to your taste, but that is the whole reason we travel. A double dose of flexibility and patience will go a long way. Sing your heart out, dance the dance, allow yourself to be lead on a beautiful journey.
- Smile. If you are not sure what to do, smile. Smiling is a universal language of goodwill, use it liberally and use it well. There will be uncomfortable travel, bad food, tiredness, and many other less than desirable situations, these are inevitable, what we can choose is what we give to the world and the cultures we visit, so smile at the driver, at your host, at the women, the children, the shopkeepers, and the passers-by.
- Be in time, not on time. In Africa, it is more important to be in the moment than to count the seconds on the clock. People in the present are more valuable than appointments in the future. Focus less on the timetable and more on the people you are with, Africa’s people are really what makes it such an amazing place and it is well worth taking the time to be with them.