Re: What is Tribal???

Thomas Kavanagh (
29 Jul 1995 17:48:02 GMT (AccessGuru) wrote:
>I recently saw the question "what is a tribal rug?". It leads me to
>wonder what is tribal. Would this mean Pastoral Nomads? I have been told
>that until recently Anthropologists used the term €Tribal€ but that it is
>out now of favor. Can any of you give me some information on this.
>Thank you for any help that you may be able to give.
>Barry O'Connell
>Rockville Md

Well, you have gotten into a can of worms. The basic problem is that
as Morton Fired once noted, except for race, Tribe is the single most
egregious case of meaninglessness in Anthropology. In ordinary
language, tribe refers to the units of non-western peoples. However, when
we try to give the anthropological specifics of what that means
we usually get thoroughly confused. Such boundary markers as
language or shared culture do not necessarily apply; tribe as
a political unit requires recognition that political borders vary with
the political issues, etc. This is the "problem of tribe" whihc Fried
went on and on about in the 60s and 70s.

It is unfortunate that Sahlins-Service and Steward used "tribe"
as the second level in their evolutionary typology for it again got
caught up in that controversy.

You are right that we haven't used it much in recent years, although when
my book comes out tyhis fall, a history of the Comanche tribes, it should
open up again.