Definition of tribe in English:



  • 1A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.

    ‘indigenous Indian tribes’
    • ‘For almost three years, I was a cultural leader within my tribe.’
    • ‘Part of its brief is to investigate the authenticity of kingdoms, kings, tribes and other traditional leaders.’
    • ‘The area now called England was occupied by many European cultures and tribes.’
    • ‘The people of the hill tribes continue the traditional beliefs and practices of their ancestors.’
    • ‘He picks upon the year 2000 as the most successful since the revival of the ceremony as evidenced by the heavy presence of many Nkoya chiefs and traditional leaders of other tribes.’
    • ‘It gradually became the common name of many tribes.’
    • ‘But some leaders within my tribe reject this tradition.’
    • ‘The Apache tribes are federally recognized tribes.’
    • ‘This is a very important part of tribal culture and preserves a tribe's identity and beliefs.’
    • ‘When our traditional leaders embrace each other then it promotes unity among tribes and communities.’
    • ‘The committee oversees the tribe's economic development, including the use of natural resources and the investment of tribal income.’
    • ‘In fact, Rountree's role in securing state recognition for nonreservation tribes was primarily applied toward the Powhatan groups.’
    • ‘This is a fair conclusion stemming from the way the two tribes ' annual cultural traditional ceremonies have gone on in this district this time around.’
    • ‘And at one point, I was invited into the tribe's most traditional community for a wake.’
    • ‘Military heroes and the leaders of vanquished tribes often had this status conferred upon them by the ruling Inca.’
    • ‘Women were involved in decision-making in various ways in families, communities, and tribes.’
    • ‘A vibrant economy would help sustain the tribe's social and cultural aspirations, he said.’
    • ‘Native groups began to form federally recognized tribes and gain access to grants and federal services.’
    • ‘These hill tribes have faced economic difficulties related to their lack of land rights.’
    • ‘Favoritism for those from the same tribe or region is common.’
    ethnic group, people, race, nation
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    1. 1.1(in ancient Rome) each of several political divisions, originally three, later thirty, ultimately thirty-five.
      • ‘Then, if the assembly was composed of Tribes, the order of the vote had to be determined.’
      • ‘A bare majority of the assembled tribes — eighteen out of thirty-five — was deemed sufficient to express the will of the whole Roman people.’
      • ‘The early people of Rome were from a tribe called Latins.’
      • ‘Lucilius vilified reprobate consulars such as Lucius Opimius and Gaius Papirius Carbo, also undisciplined tribes and dishonest political lobbying.’
    2. 1.2derogatory A distinctive or close-knit group.
      ‘she made a stand against the social codes of her English middle-class tribe’
      ‘brands are adopted by a tribe of users’
      ‘an outburst against the whole tribe of theoreticians’
      • ‘But it's awfully depressing to see how quickly we can indulge the urge to trim the Faith to suit our political tribe.’
      • ‘I'm a non-denominational/multidenominational kind of person and try not to think about things that distinguish our various tribes.’
      • ‘Getting Congress' warring tribes to back this agenda may be easy by comparison.’
      • ‘Does this suggest that Watters' urban tribes are intensely political in ways he has not yet registered?’
      • ‘While Chris may have the heart of a chief, he is still a novice in the tribe's political conversations.’
      • ‘He never joined one of the Labour Party's political tribes, nor sought to start his own.’
      group, crowd, gang, company, body, band, host, bevy, party, pack, army, herd, flock, drove, horde, mob
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    3. 1.3informal A large number of people.
      ‘tribes of children playing under the watchful eyes of nurses’
      • ‘The Amazonian is back in another dress; either that or they have a whole tribe of them backstage.’
      • ‘And pretty soon that second guy is whispering to a third guy, and before long a whole burly tribe of traders gather around Ty and they're going bananas!’
      • ‘Before you know it, I had a whole tribe of Somalis wanting to rent.’
      • ‘There are plenty of theories, such as group theory, that are not meant to be complete in that sense, because they describe a whole tribe of structures.’
  • 2Biology
    A taxonomic category that ranks above genus and below family or subfamily, usually ending in -ini (in zoology) or -eae (in botany).

    • ‘The family Blenniidae is the largest family in its suborder, consisting of six tribes with 53 genera and 345 species.’
    • ‘If ornaments appeared in subfamilies or tribes that were phylogenetically separated, these were counted as evolutionarily independent events.’
    • ‘Many genera in the subfamily Ambleminae, tribe Lampsilini exhibit sexual dimorphism.’
    • ‘A broad investigation was initiated into the floral development of 30 taxa out of 15 tribes, focussing on the initiation of bracteoles and on the sequence of sepal initiation.’
    • ‘In all, 32 species from 10 genera of four tribes in subfamily Zingiberoideae, and five species from one genus of subfamily Costoideae were tested.’


In historical contexts the word tribe is broadly accepted (the area was inhabited by Slavic tribes), but in contemporary contexts it is problematic when used to refer to a community living within a traditional society. It is strongly associated with past attitudes of white colonialists towards so-called primitive or uncivilized peoples living in remote undeveloped places. For this reason it is generally preferable to use alternative terms such as community or people


Middle English: from Old French tribu or Latin tribus (singular and plural); perhaps related to tri- three and referring to the three divisions of the early people of Rome.