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  The term ‘tribe’ (Latin tribus) was originally used for territorially defined political divisions in the Roman state. In general usage, tribe is a grouping of people under a chief or headman. They were small-scale, food-producing societies categorized as ‘primitive’ because of their rudimentary political organization. Social relations within a tribe were based on kinship groupings.

Evolutionists, in anthropology, placed tribes in a schema which traced the emergence of complex states from simple hunter-gatherer societies, through tribal agriculturalists organized under chiefs. They were seen as isolated, though tribes have always bartered with outsiders and often commanded large territories through which they had easy access. Tribal societies were not primitive precursors of the modern state, but always existed together with other complex forms of society as an alternative way of life. Anthropology tended to create an image of a tribal world consisting of a mosaic of self-sufficient communities before the intrusion of European influences. Whether tribes existed as forms of social organization, except in relation to national political organizations, is debated.

Geographical boundaries are important to the concept of tribalism, which is now used to designate a demarcated group with a common ethnic identity. Tribalism is a form of identity connected with geographical and ethnic attributes of a tribe. Whether real or invented, tribalism has now become a way of making a statement about identity, in the face of attempts to control or coerce on the part of the state. CL

See also ethnicity; nationalism; primitivism; tradition.Further reading P. Khouri and , J. Kostiner (eds.), Tribe and State Formation in the Middle East; , Richard Tapper (ed.), The Conflict of Tribe and State in Iran and Afghanistan.



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