I’m constantly drawn to tribal culture in different parts of the world. Here’s a look at some of the most interesting tribes around the world.
During our adventure travels, we’ve had the fortune of meeting numerous interesting tribes who live in isolated, remote corners of the world and have truly preserved their cultures and traditions. For certain places like Papua New Guinea, the intriguing tribal culture was what drew us to visit. As always, I believe it’s the people who make a place. To pay tribute to the amazing people we’ve met, here are some of the amazing tribes we’e encountered around the world.
Interesting Tribes Around the World
The Huli Wigmen — Papua New Guinea
The Huli is the largest ethnic group in the Highlands, with a population somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 people, covering the whole of Tari. Huli men are best known for their custom of wearing decorative woven wigs, that are used as elaborate headdresses and decorated with bundles of multi-colored feathers during singsings (celebratory festivals).
These wigs are specially made by a unique clan known as the Huli Wigmen, who attend wig schools and live together in isolation from the rest of the community. During my visit to Papua New Guinea, I met the teacher and students of Poroiba Akua wig school, and had an interesting lesson on how to grow wigs. According the Kupunu, the teacher, hair can only grow into a wig with the teacher’s spell.
Nomadic Maasai Warriors — Kenya and Tanzania
The Masai (also spelled as Maasai) are a semi-nomadic people from East Africa who are known for their unique way of life as well as their cultural traditions and customs. Living across the arid lands along the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania and Kenya, the Masai population is currently at around 1.5 million, with the majority of them living in the Masai Mara.
They are reputed to be strong warriors who hunt for food and live closely with wild animals. Dressed in bright red Shuka cloth and colorful beaded jewelry, the warrior men proudly adorn themselves with what looks to Western eyes like women’s attire. According to the Masai people I met in Kenya, they have little interest in the supposed benefits of modern life.
READ MORE: Why I Travel to ‘Dangerous Places’
Karen Women with Elongated Necks — Burma/Myanmar and Thailand
In the border mountains between Burma and Thailand live the Karen people, a tribal group related to the Tibetans. Today, their tribe numbers around 40,000 people as more and more of them are moving to the cities. The Karen people are most famous for the neck rings worn by the women of the tribe for beautification purpose. The first coil is applied when the girl is five years old and with the growing is replaced by a longer coil.
Sadly, the number of Karen women who still practice this custom is dwindling and many people are exploiting them for tourism. We met a few Karen women at Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma, who had traveled thousands of miles to live there to work in tourism.
The Ochre-Covered Himba People — Namibia
A group of indigenous people live in the harsh, dry deserts of the Kunene region, northern Namibia, and they’ve become well known throughout the world for their practice of covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skin a reddish tinge, symbolizing earth’s rich red color and life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty.
Himba women like to braid each other’s hair which is also covered in the ochre mixture. There are now 20,000 to 50,000 people left and most of them making a living tending livestock or welcoming visitors into their villages. During my overlanding trip in southern Africa, I had the chance to meet a Himba family in Damaraland and it was definitely an experience talking to them and understanding their way of life.
The Hardworking Hmong Women — Vietnam and China
Our visit to the Sapa region of northern Vietnam was so memorable mainly because of these strong and hardworking Hmong women we met along the way. Even though the Hmong culture is patrilineal i.e. allowing a husband’s family to make all major decisions, Hmong women have traditionally carried a large amount of responsibility in the family.
The children learn gender expectations at a young age and young girls traditionally learned household skills from their female elders by the age of eight. Besides taking care of the household chores, the women also plant and harvest fields with their husbands. Many Hmong women now work in tourism, offering their houses to trekkers for homestays and also giving a helping hand during the hikes.
Bush-hunting San People — Botswana
The San people (or Saan), also known as Bushmen or Basarwa are members of various indigenous hunter-gatherer peoples of Southern Africa (the most accessible groups are in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert). These indigenous hunter-gatherers were first made famous by the movie, The Gods Must be Crazy.
Sadly, the San people were evicted of their ancestral land in the 1950s (which went all the way to the 1990s) and they were forced to switch to farming as a result. Banned from hunting, and forced to apply for permits to enter the reserve, they are now being pushed to the brink of extinction.
In Ghanzi, Botswana, we went out to the bush with a group of San people who showed us how they gathered herbs for medication and plants for food. It was really interesting to see the way they behave and speak (their dialect has a lot of click sounds) and learn how they’re using the same survival techniques as they have for centuries.
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Have you met any of these tribes? How was your experience? What other tribes have you met?