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TRIBES & PEOPLE GROUPS
| Dogon | Fang | Fulani | Senufo | Wolof | Yoruba | Zulu
There are many
different people groups and tribes across the continent of Africa - with their
culture varying from tribe to tribe. We have included only a few on this page
and will be adding to the list regularly
The Bobo peple have lived in western Burkina Faso and Mali for
centuries. They are known for their masks which are worn with elaborate outfits
for celebrations. Primarily agricultral people they also cultivate cotton which
they use to trade with others.
The main goal of Bobo culture is to
restore balanced nature which man inherently destroys. The order is mainly
restored through sacrifices and ceremonies. The primary god of the Bobo is Wuro
who is responsible for ordering the land. The second god is Dwo who is revealed
during masking ceremonies. Dwo chooses to live in a mask until worn, when his
spirit is caught up in the spirit of the wearer who is then able to communicate
to others Dwo's will.
The Dogon are a cliff-dwelling people who live
in Southeastern Mali and Burkina Faso. Among the people groups in Africa they
are unique in that they have kept and continued to develop their own culture
even in the midst of Islamic invasions which have conquered and adapted many of
the current people groups
Until the 1930's the Dogon were very insulated from the
outside world and resisted any foreign influence. Through oral tradition it is
said that they originated from the west bank of the Niger River, around 1490
A.D. they were fleeing from the Mossi people and entered the Bandiagara cliffs
region. There they have lived ever since. Because of their refuge in the cliffs
they were able to resist the Muslims, the French, and others who have attempted
to conquer them.
The Dogon are divided into family groups which are
responsible for different spheres of Dogon life. The Awa society is responsible
for much of the spiritual functions of Dogon culture concerning death and
mourning periods, they are communicate with the ancestor spirits. The Lebe are
the group responsible for the agricultural spirits. They build many different
alters out of clay and dirt.
In their artwork they are well-known for
their masks which are used in various ceremonies and rituals. The masks are
known as "inima," they are thought to contain the life force which is known as
"nyama." There are over 65 different kinds of masks used for ceremonies. Their
woodwork is amazing and is known for the different, "primitive" look which has
disappeared from much African pieces. The Dogon use mainly red, black, and
white colors as well as many varieties of browns developed from the reddish
sand like dirt which surrounds the country. Dogon artwork is all intricately
hand carved and much of it has much cultural significance.
The Fang are especially known for their
guardian figures which they attached to wooden boxes containing bones of the
ancestors. The bones, by tradition, are said to contain the power of the dead
person, in fact, the same amount of power that the person had while still
The Fang mainly
inhabit the hot, humid, equatorial rain forests of Gabon, making up 80% of the
Gabonese population. They are of medium height and have a relatively powerful
build and pride themselves greatly on their physical beauty.
are reported to have moved from the northeast centuries ago and settled in the
region to farm. Because they are a warrior like people they quickly conquered
the native inhabitants. Many ethnic groups still fear the Fang because of their
powerful aggressive tendencies. The Fang are also known for their older
practice of cannibalism, which they practiced unashamedly during the 17th
centuries and earlier. Using slash and burn techniques to Fang still farm as
their chief occupation, though, during the early years of European settlement
many resorted to elephant hunting to provide ivory for the traders.
Leadership in Fang villages is inherited and the leader is usually
supposed to be descended from the family who started the village. The leader
also serves as the spiritual leader, able to communicate with the ancestors of
the village. He does this by the wearing of masks, which are also an important
feature of Fang artwork.
The Fulani people of West Africa The
Fulani people of West Africa are the largest nomadic group in the
As a people group they actually contain a
large number of people from diverse groups who were conquered and became a part
of the Fulani through the spread of Islam. The original Fulani however are of
the North African or middle eastern origin and have lighter skin, thinner lips,
and straighter hair. They are known as "white people" to many Africans. The
first group of people in West Africa to convert to Islam through jihads, or
holy wars, they were able to take over much of West Africa and establish
themselves not only as a religious force but also as a political and economical
force. The Fulani are a very proud people, they are the missionaries of Islam
and ended up conquering much of West Africa.
The Fulani are primarily
nomadic herders and traders. Through their nomadic lifestyle, they established
numerous trade routes in West Africa. Many times the Fulani go to local
marketers and interact with the people there getting news and spreading it
through much of West Africa.
The most important object in Fulani
society is cattle, and there are many names, traditions, and taboos concerning
cattle. The number of cows a person owns is a sign of his wealth. This has
caused significant conflict in recent months between the Fulani and other
ethnic groups. The reason for this is that the cows will many times go into the
fields and eat the grain of local farmers. With increasing numbers of other
transportation being used the Fulani are at risk of losing their identity as
nomads and are being forced to settle in farms and villages. This sometimes
creates other problems, because the Fulani are very proud people of their
unique culture and used to ruling over the other people.
difference between the Fulani and other African people is that the Fulani have
a huge respect for beauty. Beauty is considered very important and one of the
ways this is shown is through tattoos that are put all over the body. A
distinguishing feature of a Fulani can be their lips, which are many times a
blackish color from the use of Henna or tattooing done on the mouth. Being
brave and fearless are very important for the Fulani as is seen by their
numerous weapons. One tradition is that when 2 boys reach coming of age they
two boys hit each other with their staffs not showing any pain but instead
laughing. Many have died in these ceremonies which are now against the law in
many countries but continue to be practiced.
The Fulani normally raise
large amounts of cattle and have therefore settled in large plain areas of
Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Guinea. The Fulani hold to a strict caste system.
The 4 caste subdivisions are the nobility, merchants, blacksmiths, and
descendents of slaves of wealthy Fulani.
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The Senufo are a group of people living
in northern Cote d'Ivoire and Mali. They are known as excellent farmers and are
made up of a number of different groups who moved south to Mali and Cote
d'Ivoire in the 15 and 16th centuries.
The Senefou follow a strict caste-like
system, in which the farmer is at the top and the musicians are on the bottom
rung of the society. Farming is a huge part of the Senefou culture even for
those who do not belong to the farmer caste. A very communal society people
will often take turns working on each others lands and trading off and on.
There is almost always a group in each village which is made up of men ages
15-35 who work in fields and with what they are given provide a huge festival
during the dry season for the village. Local games to see how fast someone can
hoe a field are also performed to make the work more enjoyable. One of the
great honors for a Senefou male is to become the sambali, or champion
cultivator. The sambali is respected throughout the region and in his old age
is given predominantly leadership roles. Another society for Senefou males is
the poro. The poro is usually located in the forest and serves as a school for
young men until they reach adulthood. Much sculptured work is made in the poro
this is where much of the wood carvings, brass sculptures, and masks are made.
Sometimes these are sold to local artisans. The greatest achievement for a
Senefou woman is the ability to cook well. If a girl or woman cannot cook well
it is a great shame to the family, especially the mother. The womans society,
known as the sandogo is mainly responsible for divination.
animistic society the Senefou believe that everything is a result of the
ancestor spirits. If a ritual is not performed correctly then the spirit will
cause draught, infertility, or prolonged illness.
The Wolof are one of the largest people
groups that inhabit modern-day Senegal. They live anywhere from the desert area
of the Sahara to the rain forests. Traditionally many Wolof lived in small
villages governed by an extended family unit but now most Wolof move to cities
where they are able to get jobs.
Most Wolof are Muslim, in fact to be
Wolof is many times thought to be Muslim. Their most popular art form is
beautiful amulets which contain beautifully written sections of the Koran.
These papers are enclosed in silver for jewelry or in leather as a carrying
bag. Wolof are also known as the merchants of West Africa, they are very
aggressive in trading, which is a big part of their history. Historically a
role the Wolof are especially known for is their involvement in the slave
trade. They worked capturing, transporting, and selling slaves from the port in
Dakar, and with this have been involved in many different people groups.
Culturally, clothing is very important to the Wolof, who are a style
conscious society. To a Wolof what you wear says a tremendous amount about you.
Women will dress elaborately, many times going into debt just to be dressed up
to an occasion. They also wear elaborate hair styles and makeup. The Wolof are
known as the trend-setters of West Africa. The family unit is very important to
the Wolof. Many times a man and all his brothers and their wives and children
will live together in a single compound. Many Wolof are also polygamous,
however, polygamy doesn't seem to be considered natural to many of the Wolof
who soon after obtaining a second wife are divorced from their first.
The Yoruba people live in Southwest
Nigeria and Benin. They have developed a variety of different artistic forms
including pottery, weaving, beadwork, metalwork, and mask making. Most artwork
is made to honor the gods and ancestors and since there are more then 401 known
gods to the Yoruba there is much sculpture and artwork made. Because of the
vastness in the number of gods, the Yoruba have been compared to the ancient
Greeks in the amount of gods and in the similarities between the structures of
The Yoruba have started to become quite popular among
Africans all over the world who claim the Yoruba as their family roots and
follow the religion and culture of the Yoruba. Many claim that they are part of
the Diaspora of the Yoruba as slaves.
The Yoruba originated from a
people known as the Oyo who arose and became quite popular by their trading
with the Portugues which gave them a large supply of guns. However, they were
unable to push back the Fulani who invaded them and pushed much of the Yoruba
to the south. In the late 1800's the Yoruba formed a treaty with the Fulani and
in 1901 they were colonized by the British. Because of their enmity with the
Fulani who are the great Islam evangelists most of the Yoruba do not hold to
Islam but instead worship many of the gods and spirits that the Yoruba hold to.
Economically the Yoruba primarily engage in agriculture, with about 15% of the
people employed as merchants or artists and craftsman.
One of the
features that make the Yoruba unique is their tendency to form into large city
groups instead of small village groups. Most of the large cities of Nigeria and
Benin are inhabited almost solely by Yoruba.
The Zulu are the largest ethnic group in
South Africa. They are well known for their beautiful brightly colored beads
and baskets as well as other small carvings.
The Zulu believe that they are
descendents from a chief from the Congo area, and in the 16th century migrated
south picking up many of the traditions and customs of the San who also
inhabited this South African area. During the 17th and 18th centuries many of
the most powerful chiefs made treaties and gave control of the Zulu villages to
the British. This caused much conflict because the Zulu had strong patriarchal
village government systems so they fought against the British but couldn't win
because of the small strength they possessed. Finally, after much of the Zulu
area had been given to the British the Zulu people decided as a whole that they
didn't want to be under British rule and in 1879 war erupted between the
British and the Zulu. Though the Zulu succeeded at first they were in 6 months
conquered by the British who exiled the Zulu Kings and divided up the Zulu
kingdom. In 1906 another Zulu uprising was lead and the Zulu continue to try to
gain back what they consider to be their ancient kingdom.
believe in a creator god known as Nkulunkulu, but this god does not interact
with humans and has no interest in everyday life. Therefore, most Zulus
interact on a day to day level with the spirits. In order to interact with the
spirits the Zulu must use divination to interact with the ancestors. All
misfortune is a result of a evil sorcery or offended spirits, nothing just
happens because of natural causes.
The Zulu are practically divided in
half with about 50% living in cities and engaging in domestic work and another
50% working on farms. It is very difficult for Zulu to get very good jobs in
the South African economy because they have not been trained and the racism in
South Africa is extreme.
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