Difference between “Ethnic Group” and “Tribe”
Anthropologist and consultant Dr. Whitney Azoy answered the following question on Afghanistan.
What do the words “ethnic group” and “tribe” mean with regard to Afghanistan?
Good question for two reasons. First, because the two words are often confused by outsiders. Second, because both concepts are of enormous importance.
“Ethnic group” is the largest traditional cultural unit to which any Afghan belongs. Examples include Pashtun (a plurality but not a majority), Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkoman, Nuristani, etc. Each of these has its own history, language, and home region. In the post-1978 period of chaos, each ethnic group has also produced its own leaders, some of whom are described as “warlord” by outsiders and as “champions” by group members.
“Tribe” refers – should properly refer – to a ethnic sub-set within which all or most human activities are organized on the basis of kinship. Tribal peoples interact with each other primarily in term of family relationships, both by descent and by marriage. Most Afghans are no longer tribal. The main exception is found in the so-called “Pashtun Belt” where family ties remain exceptionally strong. Here is the main reason why combating the Pashtun Taliban is so difficult on their own turf.