Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

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.


10 Responses »

  1. Great analogy in differentiating between the word Ethnicity and Tribe but the writer seems to lack better knowledge when it comes to what ethnic group has the majority in Afghanistan.
    Throughout history the Pashtoon tribe had the majority in the country, keep in mind that not every Pashtoon tribe speaks the Pashto language. Popalzai’s (mostly popolated in Kabul and sarounding area) are one of those tribes that although they speak Dari and yet are part of the Durani tribe and when asked they proudly claim that they are from the Pashtoon tribe.

    This majority has remind in place despite of the fact that the Pashtoon tribes have lost more men, women and children in wars since 1978, first by the Russians, then during the civil war and for the past 12 years of the US invasion.

  2. its very interesting story to here the unity of that contry


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