June 30th, 2006

on the generic use of the adjective tribal

You know what “Tribal” is?

Tribal = “I’m too f*****g lazy and too f*****g European to be bothered to figure out the differences between these petty abo sub-humans.”

Unless we’re talking tatts, in which case it means “I’m too f*****g lazy and too f*****g European to be bothered to figure out which south pacific culture and intellectual heritage I’m appropriating without recompense.”

“Tribal” is an attempt by peoples who are NOT related to the peoples whose designs and watered-down mis-understood “traditions” are being appropriated in some some of “noble savage” appropriation*. It isn’t about respect — it’s about half-assed not-really-caring-about the-heritage in question, or it wouldn’t have the generic “tribal” label. it’d have a specific, appropriate, and respectful appellation, like “Inuit” or “Mandan” or “Ainu.”

Sr. Whitey, whose Lithuanian grandmother claimed not only that Lithuanians were a semitic people and that Lithuanian is the closest thing to spoken Sanskrit, but proudly asserted that there is a trace of Mongolian in us, as well.

*uhm, yeah: my repetition is repeating itself repetitively.

some interesting ruminations (ruminations is not really the word for this scholarly page).

This tattoo page while still somewhat generic, suggests that the increasing popularity of black-n-white angular “tribal” designs is benefitting from an increased availability of information (And images) on indigenous peoples, and also helps to raise awareness and bring more information to the fore (feedback loop):

Tribal tattoos are generally influenced by tribal art from native and indigenous tribes. Tribal tattoos include Maori designs, Eskimo totems and Aztec sun clocks and so on. Other types of tribal tattoos rely more on the use of heavy lines and colors to create an image. These types of tribal tattoos often consist of black line work but color tattoos are becoming more recurrent in this type of tattoo art. A tribe is a social group comprising numerous families, clans or generations together inhabiting common lands. It is heartening to note that there has been an upsurge in tribal tattoo art not only in the west but also among the tribal youths. This has made the tribal tattoos more and more popular.

The word tribal is most often applied to the indigenous people of a nation, for example the Native Americans, Aztecs, Mayans, Eskimos and the Maoris. There are lots of colors and variety in tribal tattoos. It is mainly because of this reason that a large number of people are going for tribal tattoos these days. In fact, in the recent past the tribal tattoos art is on the revival track. In the west, there has been a resurgence and acceptance of tribal art and tribal tattooing. More research on tribal people, their arts, tattoos and lifestyles, and more and more available similes of tattooed people have led to western people’s interest in Tribal Tattoos.

“tribal” contextualized alongside “world music” and “ethnic food”

An example of how Westerners see themselves as the norm for humanity is our usage of the term “world music” – often used to refer to music originating outside Western Europe/USA. It makes one think that Western Europe/USA is not part of the world. Western music is “default, normal” music. Other music is “world music.” The use of term “international student”, referring to foreign student, follows the same logic. One can only conclude that the U.S. is not part of the “international” scene, and that each foreign student belongs fully to the “international scene”, not just to his/her individual country.

Another term whose common usage I find annoying is “tribe” or “tribal”. A tribe is a unit of political organization – the number 1 definition for “tribe” in Webster’s dictionary is “esp. among preliterate peoples, a group of persons, families, or clans believed to be descended from a common ancestor and forming a close community under a leader, or chief.” In casual American conversation, the word “tribal” has little to do with political organization. You hear phrases like “tribal music”, “tribal clothing” and “tribal dance”, which beg the question, “which tribe?” If you look at the context in which the word “tribal” was used thus, you would find that the speakers are almost always talking about African, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander or aboriginal Australian cultures. While tribal affiliations sometimes exist, or did exist in these cultures, it must be remembered that Europeans organized themselves as tribes too. In fact, the word “tribe” originated from the 3 groups into which Romans were originally divided. The everyday use of “tribe” and “tribal” in American speech has become so tainted with the image of the primitive savage that some Americans of African descent have asked that the word “tribe” not be used in referring to African descent groups, preferring the phrase “ethnic group”.

When we talk about “ethnic” food, we commonly mean non-European food, like Indian food, Mexican food and Vietnamese food. We usually don’t call French food or Irish food “ethnic food”. It seems like we think whites don’t have ethnicity. This attitude amazes me and I have always wondered where it comes from.

this Burkina Faso forum posting does not think that the term “tribe” should be used anywhere near Africa

The word tribe is often used to describe social formations in Africa. I have even heard some Africans use the word to proudly talk about their culture. This word has become so prevalent that most people, even the anthropologists, sociologists and other social scientists use it without discernment. The word tribe in the context of African social formations is a sad sobriquet that is now becoming a norm. It is a derogatory word used to describe Africans.

In reality, there are no tribes in Africa. This sad epithet, does not apply to any social formation in Africa. Using this word is to negate the dialectic that brought humanity from primitive systems to capitalists societies.

Some additional links of interest


  1. pingback by your interference patterns BETA » Archive » on Friday, Jun 30th, 2006 12:29 pm

    […] tribal […]

  2. comment by spas on Tuesday, Feb 20th, 2007 12:01 pm

    oh i can definitely see the mongol in you

  3. comment by axj on Saturday, Sep 15th, 2007 7:15 pm

    My grandfather also insisted on the Sanskrit connection (but with Hungaruan) and with the drops of Mongol blood in my family.
    I think you and I are related.

    I have no tattoos, and I extremely reluctantly got my earlobes pierced for love back in the 1970s.

    I’ve come to love my unwished-for scars, though.

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