Today, there are about 477 million indigenous people worldwide, belonging to 5,000 different tribes in over 90 countries. They come from different parts of the world, distinct with their own culture, language, lifestyle, and rituals influenced by their ancestral homeland. Let’s look at some of the most fascinating and unique tribal traditions from around the world.
8 Tribal Traditions Around the Globe
1. The Otijze-Covered Himbas – Northern Namibia
The women of the Himba tribe are famous for covering their hair and bodies with otijze - a mixture of homemade butter fat, red ocher, crushed rocks, and herbs.
Since they reside in the harsh, dry deserts of the Kunene region, it's believed to be used as sun protection and insect repellent. But tribe members say it’s purely for aesthetic reasons - symbolizing life, ideal beauty, and the earth’s rich red color.
For the tribe, image is everything, so Himba women like to braid each other’s hair. They also wash this with ash, and keep the same hairstyle until they die.
2. The Huli Wigmen – Papua New Guinea
The Huli Wigmen is the largest indigenous group in the highlands of the country, with about 400,000 members. They are widely considered as one of the fiercest tribes in the world.
As their name suggests, the Wigmen are known for wearing woven wigs that are decorated with multi-colored feathers, used as headdresses during celebrations and festivals. As an initiation into manhood, young boys attend wig school and live together in isolation from their community.
Together with the ornamented wigs, the Wigmen paint their faces red, white, and yellow, and don axes with claws to intimidate their rival tribes.
3. The Maasai Warriors – Kenya and Tanzania
The Maasais are semi-nomads who migrated from Sudan between the 17th and 18th century. Despite government pressures to give up their traditions and shift to farming and a more sedentary lifestyle, they remain steadfast in their distinctive way of life and customs.
Cattle herding is their main source of living. Arguments and disputes are not settled by power or violence but by cattle payments. Wealth is measured by the number of children and cattle they have, with the latter being more important.
They are also strong warriors who hunt for food and live closely with wild animals. Every 15 years or so, young men between the ages of 12 and 25 are chosen to become soldiers who undergo strict trainings. Once inducted as warriors, they proudly dress in bright red Shuka cloth and colorful beaded jewelry.
4. The Goroka Tribe – Papua New Guinea
The Gorokas have a deep love for the wonders of nature. They rely heavily on agricultural activities like farming and hunting. They also live close to their families and regularly gather with their tight-knit relatives.
Intertribal warfare is common for them. To terrify (or impress) rival groups, they usually wear elaborate makeup, ornaments, and bodily decorations. The Gorokas are also big on wearing shell necklaces as these are seen as a sign of prosperity and wealth in their society.
5. The Guérewol of the Wodaabe Tribe – Nigeria
After the rainy season near Lake Chad, Nigeria, the Wodaabe Tribe gather for Cure Salee (or Festival of Nomads). There, they hold the Guérewol, an annual male beauty contest and courtship ritual.
During this event, young men wear full makeup or traditional face paint and dress up in their finest clothes and jewelry. They then stand in front of female onlookers, aiming to get the attention of an eligible young woman.
In this tribe, ideal male beauty is all about bright eyes and teeth. So, participants often smile widely and make different facial expression in the hopes of catching a lady’s attention.
6. The Healing Dance of the Sans – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa
An integral part of the Sans’ culture is their trance dance (also called healing dance), which they consider to have sacred powers.
This ritual brings together the whole community around a fire for hours or even a whole night. Led by the elders and healers, they dance around the fire while chanting and breathing deeply until they reach a powerful trance state.
This then allows them to communicate with their ancestral spirits. The healers are known to be able to cure physical illnesses and expel “star sicknesses,” which are negative energies like anger and jealousy.
7. The Tattoos of the Maoris – New Zealand
The Maoris come from ancient East Polynesia, but having been separated from their original tribe allowed them to develop their own rituals and traditions
Their most prominent element of their culture is called "ta moko," a permanent tattoo process that signifies commitment and respect. They use natural items, like bone chisel and vegetable caterpillars, to apply the tattoo. During the process and while healing, they are not allowed to eat or participate in activities. To prevent starvation, they eat and drink from a wooden funnel to avoid contact with their skin.
The Maoris also engage in the powerful "haka" dance, which involves rhythmic body movements, loud chants, fierce facial expressions, and sticking out of the tongue. This is often done to intimidate their enemies and potential threats. Even today, the haka dance is performed before games or competitive events.
8. The Art of the Rabaris – India
The Rabari Tribe is an indigenous tribal caste of camel and cattle herders and shepherds. The word "rabari" means "outside," which fairly describes the tribe’s status within the Indian society.
While the Rabari men spend most of their day tending to their herds, the women invest most their time to creating sophisticated art, managing the villages, and handling family responsibilities.
The tribe is known for their mirrored and whitewashed mud sculpture-work made by the women – a distinctive kind of art that’s often displayed in their homes and villages. They also traditionally spin wool from goats and sheep, so local weavers can make their blankets, skirts, turbans, and veils.
The Rabari women are also famous for their detailed beadwork and embroidery. They make bags, clothes, and home decorations, which are patterned after significant events, rites, and values of the tribe. This is their way of preserving their heritage as the majority of them are illiterate, uneducated, and they don’t have written traditions.
From Africa and Asia to Oceania, there are numerous ethnic tribes that showcase rich histories, unique cultures, and fascinating rituals – which up to this day they practice. And while some of them may slowly be transitioning to modern society, it’s essential to keep their one-of-a-kind traditions alive.
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