Updated: Aug 8, 2021
by Saskia Daggett
Tribe is an emotive, powerful word and we intend to use it carefully. It is a pattern of human life, the way we form our society and it exists right around the world. We want to reclaim it a bit and use it as a way to strengthen our sense of connection to one another. Right now tribes are changing: historically tribes were shaped by geography, they were made up of the people who were physically near you. Now we are building new tribes based on values and connection. Social media and modern technology mean we can form bonds and find belonging and commonality with people on different continents immediately - they are beautiful gifts (despite them also being problematic). We are all connected.
I am fascinated by tribal life. I lived and worked in Uganda for nearly a decade, I am an adopted member of two Ugandan tribes; one through my marriage - my husband in an Alur - a community of people that live in the West Nile Region of Uganda. Here’s a video of him and his family playing in their amazing band - they played this song at our wedding!
I am also an unofficial member of the Baganda tribe - so adopted by my friends in Kampala - the capital of Uganda. I speak a little (bad) Luganda which is the local language and am an unofficial part of the Ngabi clan which is a subset of the wider Baganda tribe. This means my totem or sign is the Cob (a kind of antelope) which means I should not eat these (I’m vegetarian so no problems there) and I must nurture and protect them. Interestingly my husband jokes that I can’t really be part of his tribe as I am so much of a Muganda (member of the Baganda tribe). He is probably right - I was immersed in the Baganda way of doing things. The culture, art, dance, music, food, sense of humour and ways of behaving is so familiar to me it’s hard to take on a new identity again.
People often think of Africa when they think of tribes - and its true tribes are thriving on the continent and are still a major part of society in many African countries. Tribes are everywhere though. As a British person I am fascinated about the tribes of what is now called the UK - I have Celtic blood but there were many other tribes in these islands - the Roman’s listed no less than 27 different tribes in the UK these included; the Iceni, Caledones, Taexali, Carvetii, Venicones, Epidii, Damnonii, Novantae to name a few.
The word tribe is a 13th-century word of Latin origin, the roots of the word were used in the bible and the concept was widely used by the Romans. It has meant a range of things over time from political community to bloodlines. It's important to acknowledge that the word tribe can also be problematic. In the US particularly the term was used by white European colonialists to describe the People of the First Nations. The horror and brutality of its use in this context must be acknowledged.
European’s must face the horror and inhumanity of our past. We still benefit from the systematic exploitation and havoc we have caused around the world. There must be global justice.
We also can’t ignore that tribalism in itself can be a bad thing too (as with everything in life there is balance and complexities). Wars and genocide have been instigated along tribal lines - killing millions. That's what I mean about it being a powerful word that needs careful thought and use. Colonialism manipulated, abused and desecrated tribes around the world and this must be understood fully. The European nations (mine included) who unleashed horror and terror on communities around the entire globe are still yet to acknowledge fully or compensate appropriately for their/our actions. I hope in my lifetime that changes, I will do whatever I can to be part of making this happen.
Tribes are evolving and reclaiming; now they are emerging not along geographical lines but around something else. With modern technology, we can connect in mind and spirit immediately across thousands of miles and through time and distance. Working in international development has been a privilege and has enabled me to find my new tribe - of people with big hearts, sharp minds and a clear vision for how humans could live better with each other and on the planet in harmony.
We are invested in the language of tribe however as we see the connection in it - the hope and the community in it. I recently saw a presentation about the connection and understanding that people have when they have lived for a significant time in other countries. Where you don’t just visit a place but you live it, breath it, love it and it becomes home - and takes up a permanent residence in your heart. Where you are forced to come out of your mindset and adapt to all the aspects of your life. It becomes clear that although there are many differences in culture and how life is administered, that we really are all the same and in the best of ways. This doesn’t undermine the fundamental issues of equality and justice but as the core fabric of human existence, we are all connected.
It's an important factor about the new tribes that we all have multiple tribes, multiple belonging, multiple connections with others (along lines of values, interests, activities, causes, passions). We don’t have to be fixed and embedded - we can be fluid, flexible and inclusive. Social movements around the world are challenging and changing sexism, racism, and shifting boundaries and norms on LGBTQIA rights. They are also celebrating intersectionality and are awe-inspiring to me. Things can feel hopeless sometimes but as activists, we need to know that they are not - I am in my forties now and the world is unrecognisable in some ways to me from when I was growing up - in a really good way. I am so inspired by millennials and the generations coming up behind them. I feel so much more connected to the views of most young people than I do to dominant views of my generation and older (in the UK at least).
We all have many tribes - our families, our local communities, our political, our social, our professional - it's time we also got conscious about our global tribe too - and be inspired by how much we are connected and how much we share and have in common. Come and be part of the global tribe - show you feel that connection with others and take action that will help to both educate and create new narratives. All while practically supporting your tribe in different parts of the world.
Image 1 - T.H. Jarrett (IPAC/SSC) found on https://www.space.com/11781-3d-map-universe-photo-revealed.html.
Image 4 - "The Plumb-Pudding in Danger;–or–State Epicures Taking un Petit Souper"by James Gillray is marked with CC0 1.0 (under the Public Domain)