African Tribes in the 19th Century

Written by sydelle john
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African Tribes in the 19th Century
The 19th century was a period of painful change for many African tribes. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

Africa is home to many tribal groups that once existed in independent kingdoms and states. Over time, several nationalities immigrated to the continent, including Indians, Lebanese, Chinese, Britons and the Dutch. By the 19th century, African tribes were fighting colonialists across the continent and witnessing the emergence and downfall of their empires.

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Eastern Africa

Several tribes live in eastern Africa. In Kenya, one such tribe is the Maasai, who are immediately recognisable for the red paint they put on their bodies. When the British began their colonisation of the region in the 19th century, the tribe was feared for their fighting ability. During that same period, the Maasai invaded Kenya's Rift Valley area and occupied parts of northern Tanzania.

The Oromo people can be found in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. According to Ethiopia's 2007 census, they constituted 34.5 per cent of the population. During the 19th century, five powerful Oromo monarchies emerged: the Enarya, the Goma, the Guma, the Jimma-Kokkaa and the Gera. These monarchies established the dominance of the Oromo tribe in Ethiopia.

Southern Africa

Of the indigenous regional tribes, the Zulu tribe is one of the largest. In the 19th century, Shaka Zulu, the then king of the tribe, integrated a rival tribe into the Zulu tribe. Shaka Zulu was also renowned for introducing innovative military strategies that he used to defeat many other tribes. The tribe's traditional language is Isizulu.

The Shona people number approximately 9 million and can be found in Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. Their ancestors built structures that now exist as ruins in Zimbabwe. In the 19th century, a wide group of tribes united under the Shona name and language.

West Africa

In West Africa, the Yoruba people constitute one of the region's largest groups. They primarily live in Nigeria but can also be found in Togo and the Republic of Benin. Prior to the 19th century, the Yoruba were ruled from the Oyo Empire, which was located in southwestern Nigeria. However, wars erupted as different parts of the kingdom began to fight for independence.

Unlike many other tribes in Africa, the Ashanti are a matrilineal society. In the 19th century, they were the largest and most powerful tribe in southern Ghana. They traded in gold and slaves, but were overpowered by the British after a war in 1896. The Ashanti king was exiled to the Seychelles.

North Africa

Located in northern Africa, the Dinka's call themselves the Moinjaang. The tribe can primarily be found in southern Sudan and live around the Nile river. In the 19th century, the people's language became influenced by Arabic due to interaction with Arab traders.

Another northern African tribe is the Tuareg people who are nomadic traders. In the 19th century, the tribe was divided along five separate confederations. Much of Tuareg land was eventually divided to create modern north African nations in the 1960s.

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