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Oldest Tribe in Africa: 5 Ancient Fascinating African Ethnic Groups

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Africa is the most ethnically diverse continent in the world, with over 3,000 tribes. They share similar cultures and values but still maintain their uniqueness. Of the 3,000, the San in South Africa form the oldest tribe. They’ve been around for more than 20,000 years. In this post, we explore the five oldest tribes in Africa. 

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African Pygmies

One feature that makes the African Pygmies distinct is their short stature. They’re found in Central Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and are often referred to as ‘the Forest People of Central Africa.’ The group is divided into three:

  • Eastern Bambuti, or Mbuti, is found in the Congo Basin.
  • Western Bambenga or Mbenga, is in the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Gabon.
  • Central & Southern Batwa, found in Namibia, Angola, Rwanda, or Tanzania.

By 2016, around 900,000 pygmies reportedly lived in the forest of Central Africa, with 60% of them in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

The pygmies’ short stature is thought to result from the little to no sunlight in the forest. Additionally, this led to restricted bone formation.

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The Hadza in Tanzania are some of the most ancient people in the world. The remaining population has around 1300 members and mostly live around Eyasi in the North. 

They are hunters and gatherers and use bows and arrows to kill their prey. They also feed on plants, fat, meat and honey. Hadza people live in temporary shelters as they move from one place to another. In terms of language, Hadza speaks Hadzane, which contains a lot of click sounds.

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Maasai tribe of Kenya. Image Source: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

They’re not only one of the oldest tribes in Africa but also one of the most famous internationally. The Maasai are known for their red attire, jumping, and accessories. They live near the Maasai Mara Game Park, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kenya and Africa. 

They’re a pastoralist community and move from one place to another, living in temporary shelters. Contrary to most African cultures, Maasai women build the home. The men protect the village and cattle.

Culturally, a man’s wealth is determined by the number of cattle and children. The more you have, the richer you are. Most of the Maasai people who live in the traditional ways have a small stature. Their way of life contributes to this. One of them is eating practices. Their diet consists of blood, tree bark, fat and honey. 

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Nama, one of the oldest tribes in Africa, can be traced back to South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. They form the biggest group of the Khoikhoi people. There are about 230,000 today, most live in Central Namibia. They speak the Khoikhoi language.

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Like many ancient tribes, the Nama were pastoralists, but their fight with the Germans and Herero people diminished their herds. Today, some herd goats and cows and live as migrant labourers. 

They live communally and have a strong oral culture. Music, stories and poetry are used to pass down their cultures. In terms of dressing, women wear Victorian-esque dressing. A large part of the Nama people practice Islam.

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The Sans

Also referred to as Bushmen, they’re one of the oldest tribes in Africa and the first people to inhabit South Africa. They are a hunter-and-gatherer tribe that migrated from time to time, living in caves or temporary shelters. 

The San were skilled hunters. They used bows and arrows, which carried a lethal poison to kill the animal. The San fed on animals like giraffes, fish, antelopes, snakes, hares, lions and others.  

When it comes to social life, the San organized themselves in groups and used consensus to make decisions. Although they didn’t have a leadership hierarchy, those who’d loved among them for a long and were of age earned the right to make decisions. The property was owned by the group and inherited. 

It’s interesting to know the oldest tribe in Africa. But it’s even fascinating to learn there’s more than one tribe. They provide an insight into life before the modern era began and demonstrate how skilful and resilient human beings are. 

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Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi
Agnes Amondi is a sports enthusiast who enjoys sharing sports knowledge. Over the years, she has also written on different niches, and she now brings that experience at Spotcovery. She writes sports content and also, Arts & Culture, Recipe, Beauty and more.


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