The Forgotten Tribes and The Indigenous People

The Forgotten Tribes and The Indigenous People



The Tigre are an nomadic-pastoralist ethnic group residing in Eritrea and Sudan. They are related to the Biher-Tigrinya of Eritrea and to the Beja people of Sudan. They are mostly Muslims and they are distinguished from other regional peoples by the fact that they possess hereditary slaves. Historically, most of the Tigre have been scattered between Eritrea’s northern highlands and western lowlands. They have somewhat shifted into Sudan in search of water and grazing lands.

Mensa’e Tigre man from Keren, Eritrea

The Tigre, descendants of the ancient Egyptians, are generally tall and have narrow noses and brown skin. Most of the Tigre converted to Islam during the 1800’s, influenced by Muslim Arab missionaries.
The Tigre are a predominantly Muslim nomadic people who inhabit the northern, western, and coastal lowlands of Eritrea (Gash-Barka, Anseba and Northern Red Sea regions of Eritrea), as well as areas in eastern Sudan. 99.5% of the Tigre people adhere to the Islamic religion Sunni Islam, but there are a considerable amount of Christians among them as well (often referred to as the Mensaï in Eritrea).
The first Tigre converts to Islam were those who lived on islands in the Red Sea and were converted in the seventh century. Mainland Tigre were not converted to Islam until the nineteenth century.
They suffered persecution from both the Imperial and the Marxist governments of Ethiopia in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, since they were both nomadic and Muslim. The Ethiopian government’s efforts to settle the Tigre, combined with the Eritrean–Ethiopian War, resulted in the resettling of tens of thousands of Tigre in Sudan.

Portrait of girl from Tigre tribe in traditional dress

Tigre hairstyle
The most common hairstyles found among Tigre women are called fegiret and qedamit. These hairstyles consists of small micro-braids that run sideways and straight back to the nape of the neck. Fegiret also features seven strands of braids grouped together into two separate areas that cover the forehead slightly.




The Bilen, or Blin ( “Blin” is the English spelling preferred by native speakers, but Bilinand Bilen are also commonly used),  are an African ethnic group of south-central Eritrea, in and around the Keren area, and south toward Asmara, the capital city. Keren is the second largest city in Eritrea, lying northwest of Asmara.

After the decline of the Axumite Kingdom in Eritrea, it remained limited to southern Ethiopia and was not functioning as a kingdom and there was a lot of looting and chaos ensued in the region. As a result the Agaw people migrated northward and settled in Keren. Those settled in the Keren are the ancestors of the present day Bilen Ethnic group.
The direct descendants of the Agaw people in Eritrea are the Bilen Ethnic group, but there were also other descendants that settled in the former Seraye, Hamassien and Akleguzai provinces.

The Bilen are agriculturalists and their living is from ploughing and from cattle,camel, and goats. Their villages stay each at its place: they do not move. Their houses are [of the] qes’asa or tukul kind. Their beasts of burden are oxen,donkeys and mules.


Some of the Bilen entered Eritrea from Ethiopia during the 16th century. Primarily agriculturists, they number about  111,000 and represent around 2.1% of Eritrea’s population. Globally, this group totals 330,000 in 2 countries.   About thirty percent of their population is Christian, primarily Orthodox and catholic , while the other seventy percent are  Islam or Muslim , a monotheistic religion built around the teachings of the Qur’an and of the prophet Muhammad. Muslim adherents mainly inhabit rural areas and have interbred with the adjacent Tigre, while Christian Bilen tend to reside in urban areas and have intermingled with the Biher-Tigrinya.They all dress the same similar to Islamic fashion. 

New Modern Mosque in Keren

Bilen Christian woman

Festival of Mariam Dearit – Keren Eritrea – May 29th . Ten thousands of people from all over Eritrea flock to Keren to enjoy the celebrations and congregate. To attend the prayers, the procession of the statue of the Virgin Mary around the baobab tree and to to dance and sing afterwards.

Shrine inside tree at Maryam Dearit

St. Mariam Dearit’s shrine in Keren, built into a huge baobab tree.

Procession around the shrine of the Holy Mary of Mariam Dearit – Keren.

Despite the continuous migration of the Agaw people towards north, the Bilen were the only ethnic group that kept the language of their ancestors, while the others intermarried with the people of their surroundings and lost their ancestral language. The Bilen speak the Bilen language as a mother tongue, which belongs to the Cushitic  branch of the Afro-Asiaticlanguage family. Many also speak other Afro-Asiatic languages such as Tigre and Tigrinya. In addition, younger Bilen often employ Arabic words and expressions in their everyday speech.  

The Agaws who migrated to Eritrean lowlands adopted the Tigre/beja customs and culture and Became “Bilen” which is a name given to them by Saho people. They were formerly known as the Bogo or North Agaw. The meaning of the word ‘Bilin’ also is not known. Some version of the tradition holds that it is Saho word (belen) for Christian. In fact, ‘Belen’ in Saho means a Christian.

Bilen did not mixed at all with other groups and they still look original Agaws.Its easy to tell between “mixed blen” and original kushitic blens. The mixed Blen Agaw are more in number than the Original kushitc looking Blen agaws. Bilen traditional society is organised into kinship groups. The women are known for their brightly coloured clothes and their gold, silver or copper nose-rings which indicate their social status.

The most common cereal among this ethnic group is millet. This cereal is ground by women on millstones and the flour into kitcha, ga’at (thick porridge eaten with ghee), taita and hanza. Some cereals are eaten boiled. Most of the utensils used in the preparation of this food items are homemade.
The Bilen use dairy products as their staple food, specializing in curd. This is because most of the members of this ethnic group are farmers raising livestock. Shiro is also one of the usually prepared dishes. Meat is eaten especially during holidays such as negdet (anniversary of patron saints), Easter, New Year, etc. and in some rare occasions when cattle are about to die for one reason or another they are slaughtered for meat. The members of the Bilen ethnic group consume a good amount of fruits and vegetables and use nug and sesame oils for cooking their food.

Once grace is said, the children take their respective seats and wait for morsels of bread (which have been blessed by elder) to be handed out to them. Forbidden are drinking water while eating, eating from someone else’s side and taking a big morsel.
After every one is satiated, the eldest child goes around with bowl and a tin-can full of water helping the rest to wash their hands. The whole ceremony ends with a prayer.

In the people of Sharkin (members of Bilen ethnic group), an unmarried girl puts an earring made of silver (and of gold if she is from rich family) called telal, and bracelets. If she is married, she puts four in each ear, and she puts a gold ornament (known as Sardat) on her forehead. Women who cannot afford silver or gold use beads instead.  During mourning, a wife is expected to get rid of all her ornament and stays like that for a period of two years.


Men sometimes use silver leg bands and silver earring, especially during the initiation ceremony.


Those who are ready to get married and establish families are given land to construct houses. Women and strangers do not have rights to land.  It is common to see young spouses and less often long married couples living in agnets as temporary shelters. The commonest type of dwelling house is the augudo. However, some rich people are seen to build merebas.

Smoke bath is very common among the female members of this ethnic group, especially among married women. They do it for hygienic and aesthetic reasons. Smoke bath is not always without its inconveniences and requires patience and great endurance to physical pain (as the heated smoke that is produced from the not completely dried twigs and leaves does sometimes burn the sensitive skin of the orifices and cause pain). Nevertheless, whether they like it or not, married women are expected by tradition to undergo the treatment until the ‘old’ skin is peeled off and a new yellowish and ‘beautiful’ one is grown instead.

Among the members of this ethnic group, the houses are constructed through village cooperation. The person whose house is being built by the village volunteer task force is expected to provide the workers with food, drink and tobacco. However, for the rich, they build their houses through professional masons.

Traditional dwelling (Tukul) Keren - Eritrea

This is a traditional dwelling in Keren (Tukul). A round hut with a cone shaped straw roof.


At present, the trend is to build merebas, and here and there, cement, lime, chiseled stones are making their gradual introduction. The walls are nowadays built a bit higher than the past. The old traditional houses had only doors and no windows. But now not only windows are in use but doors are being made of woods crafted by professional carpenters.


Whenever one thinks about Eritrea, the immediate thing that comes to one’s mind is the existing strong harmony and coexistence among the nine ethnic groups of the country. Mutual respect and tolerance are deeply rooted in the Eritrean society which in turn serves as pillar for the present firm unity and nationalism – an asset rarely found in other countries. All these noble values of mutual respect and harmony symbolize the cherished slogan of unity in diversity. Despite the prevailing unity among all ethnic groups, each nationality is endowed with its own rich culture and tradition that distinguish the country as a multicultural nation.

These 9 women represent the 9 official tribes of Eritrea. They each have different languages they speak, music they play, clothes they wear, foods that are seen as special ( yes its true not everyone eats ingera ALL the time), customs they keep sacred like wedding, childbirth, funerals etc, and culture that has been passed down from generation to generation. They are NOT the same. In Eritrea we’re all different in all the above mentioned ways but are united as a nation.


San Bushmen
The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20 000 years. The term San is commonly used to refer to a diverse group of hunter-gatherers living in Southern Africa who share historical and linguistic connections. The San were also referred to as Bushmen, but this term has since been abandoned as it is considered derogatory. There are many different San groups – they have no collective name for themselves, and the terms ‘Bushman’, ‘San’, ‘Basarwa’ (in Botswana) are used. The term, ‘bushman’, came from the Dutch term, ‘bossiesman’, which meant ‘bandit’ or ‘outlaw’.

This term was given to the San during their long battle against the colonists. The San interpreted this as a proud and respected reference to their brave fight for freedom from domination and colonization. Many now accept the terms Bushmen or San. Like the first people to inhabit other countries in the world, the San have an unfortunate history of poverty, social rejection, decline of cultural identity and the discrimination of their rights as a group. Yet, the San have also received the attention of anthropologists and the media with their survival and hunting skills,wealth of indigenous knowledge of the flora and fauna of Southern Africa, and their rich cultural traditions.

San people speak numerous dialects of a group of languages known for the characteristic ‘clicks’ that can be heard in their pronunciation, represented in writing by symbols such as ! or /. Made up of small mobile groups, San communities comprise up to about 25 men, women and children. At certain times of the year groups join for exchange of news and gifts, for marriage arrangements and for social occasions.

Not related to the BaNtu tribes, the San are descendants of Early Stone Age ancestors. Clans and loosely connected family groups followed seasonal game migrations between mountain range and coastline. They made their homes in caves, under rocky overhangs or in temporary shelters. These migratory people do not domesticate animals or cultivate crops, even though their knowledge of both flora and fauna is vast. The San categorized thousands of plants and their uses, from nutritional to medicinal, mystical to recreational and lethal. San men have a formidable reputation as trackers and hunters. San trackers will follow the ‘spoor’ (tracks) of an animal across virtually any kind of surface or terrain. Their skills even enable them to distinguish between the “spoor” of a wounded animal and that of the rest of the herd.
At about the beginning of the Christian era a group of people who owned small livestock (sheep and perhaps goats) moved into the northern and western parts of South Africa and migrated southward. These pastoralists, called Khoikhoi or ‘Hottentot’ resembled the San in many ways and lived by gathering wild plants and domesticating animals. Coincidently in the eastern parts of the country another migration was occurring – the BaNtu speaking peoples were moving southward bringing with them cattle, the concept of planting crops and settled village life. Ultimately, the ‘Hottentots’ met these black-skinned farmers and obtained from them cattle in exchange for animal skins and other items.

An older San woman wearing beaded tabs or medallions in her hair.

Archaeological evidence shows that South Africa was part of a large region, including North and East Africa, in which modern humans first evolved and lived. Hundreds of thousands of generations of Stone Age hunter-gatherers populated the South African landscape for nearly two million years, yet for most of that time we know nothing of their names, language, memories beliefs, wars or alliances.

The San are the best model we have for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that saw so many generations through the Stone Age, and it is tempting to say that the history of the later Stone Age is the history of the San. This can only be done at a very broad level of generalization, but evidence does points to a ‘San’ history.

For example, human skeletal remains buried mainly in the last 10 000 years are broadly similar to those of the ninetieth and twentieth century San people. The ‘toolkits’ of the more modern San people are similar to those artefacts found and dated back to later Stone Age hunter-gatherers. Finally, the uniqueness and diversity of the San ‘click’ languages suggest very ancient roots that possibly date back into the middle Stone Age period.

There are three kinds of evidence that give us clues as to the development of the early South African hunter-gatherers and later the San. These consist of human bone fragments and art artefacts (like beadwork and rock art) as well as the examination of the places where these people lived, and the food remains that they left behind.

Rock art by the late Stone Age hunter-gatherers can be found in the form of paintings or engravings in almost every district in South Africa. There is no comprehensive list of all sites, and many have not been recorded, but it is estimated that there are at least 20 000 to 30 000 sites and well over a million individual images. Although many are not well preserved, collectively they represent a remarkable record of the beliefs and cultural practices of the people who made them. Most were created by San hunter-gatherers, but Khoikhoi herders and Iron Age farmers added to the collection.

The San have a rich oral history and have passed stories down from generation to generation. The oldest rock paintings they created are in Namibia and have been radiocarbon-dated to be 26 000 years old. The San rock art gives us clues about their social and belief systems.

One of the most significant pieces of Rock art found in South Africa was found on Linton Farm in the Eastern Cape. The panel was removed from the farm in 1917 and taken to the South African Museum in Cape Town. It is known as the Linton panel, and an image from this panel was used in the new South African Coat of Arms.

Eighty-three years in museum care, protected from the elements, has made the Linton panel one of the best preserved of all pieces of South African rock art. In 1995, the panel featured as one of the premiere attractions in the international exhibition, “Africa: the Art of a Continent”.

Of prime importance in all San groups is a ritual dance that serves to heal the group. The great ‘medicine or healing dance’ and the rain dance were rituals in which everyone participated. During these dances, the women usually sat around a central fire as they sang and clapped their hands. The men then first danced around the women in a clockwise direction and then vice versa. As the dance increased in intensity, the dancers reached trance-like, altered, states of consciousness and were transported into the spirit realm where they could plead for the souls of the sick.

These trance dances are depicted in the rock art left behind by the San. The shamanic figures are often painted in strange ‘bending forward’ postures. Shamans or ‘medicine men’ explained later that they adopted this posture during their trance dances because they experienced a great deal of pain when the ‘potency’ started boiling in their stomachs and their stomach muscles started contracting. They also often experienced spontaneous nosebleeds at this time. These nosebleeds are depicted in the many rock paintings of trance dances. As other groups invaded the territory of the San and influenced their way of life, the pictures of soldiers, wagons and horses served to record historical events.

Trance dance

The hardiness of the San allowed them to survive their changed fortunes and the harsh conditions of the Kalahari Desert in which they are now mostly concentrated. Today, the small group that remains has adopted many strategies for political, economic and social survival. The San retain many of their ancient practices but have made certain compromises to modern living. The westernised myths regarding the San have caused considerable damage. They portray the San as simple, childlike people without a problem in the world. This could not be further from the truth.

In the 1960s, the Department of Nature Conservation began to take over large sections of the traditional hunting lands of the Kalahari San for game and nature reserves. A law passed in 1970 meant that the !Kung lost 90% of their traditional land in Nyae Nyae. Today, they have hardly any land on which to hunt and gather.

Due to absorption but mostly extinction, the San may soon cease to existas a separate people. Unfortunately, they may soon only be viewed in national museums. Their traditions, beliefs and culture may soon only be found in historical journals.



Government officials in Brazil have confirmed the existence of an uncontacted population in the Amazon rainforest after the tribe  was spotted by satellite.

Three large clearings were identified in a southwestern area near the Peruvian border this week, but the tribe’s existence was only verified after airplane expeditions in April,2011 gathered more data.

Local government agency the National Indian Foundation uses the aircraft to avoid disrupting isolated groups.

The community is near the border with Peru in the massive Vale do Javari reservation, which is nearly the size of Portugal and is home to at least 14 uncontacted tribes.

Funai coordinator for Vale do Javari, Fabricio Amorim, said: ‘The work of identifying and protecting isolated groups is part of Brazilian public policy.

Aerial photo of uncontacted tribe in Brazil. Photo courtesy of the Government of Brazil.

Brazil has a policy of not contacting such tribes but working to prevent the invasion of their land to preserve their autonomy.Their decision not to maintain contact with other tribes and outsiders is almost certainly a result of previous disastrous encounters and the ongoing invasion and destruction of their forest home.

It is likely that the survivors escaped by fleeing up the rivers. Memories of the atrocities against their ancestors may still be strong.

Very little is known about these peoples. What we do know is that they wish to remain uncontacted: they have shot arrows at outsiders and airplanes, or they simply avoid contact by hiding deep in the forest.

Some, like the uncontacted Awá, are nomadic hunter gatherers constantly on the move, able to build a home within hours and abandon it days later.

STANDING TALL Awá men and boys, in the Território Indígena Awá, in the Brazilian Amazon.

Others are more settled, living in communal houses and planting manioc and other crops in forest clearings as well as hunting and fishing.

The confirmed tribe live in four large, straw-roofed buildings and grow corn, bananas, peanuts and other crops.

In Acre there could be as many as 600 Indians belonging to four different groups. Here they live in relative tranquility in several demarcated territories which are largely untouched.

Amazon tribes Festival Brazil

Perhaps 300 uncontacted Indians live in the Massacó territory in Rondônia.

According to FUNAI, preliminary observation indicates the population likely belongs to the pano language group, which extends from the Brazilian Amazon into the Peruvian and Bolivian jungle.





Veddas  are an indigenous people of Sri Lanka. They, amongst other self-identified native communities such as Coast Veddas and Anuradhapura Veddas and , are accorded indigenous status.

According to the genesis Chronicle of the Sinhala people, the Mahavamsa (“Great Chronicle“), written in the 5th century CE, the Pulindas believed to refer to Veddas are descended from Prince Vijaya (6th–5th century BCE), the founding father of the Sinhalese nation, through Kuveni, a woman of the indigenous Yakkha he married. The Mahavansa relates that following the repudiation of Kuveni by Vijaya, in favour of a Kshatriya-caste princess from Pandya, their two children, a boy and a girl, departed to the region ofSumanakuta (Adam’s Peak in theRatnapuraDistrict), where they multiplied, giving rise to the Veddas. Anthropologists such as the Seligmanns (The Veddhas 1911) believed the Veddas to be identical with the Yakkha.

Dambana is situated about 300 km away from Colombo it is near the Mahiyanganaya. It is a jungle village. The Sri Lankan Vedda people  are still living in this jungle village.Vedda of Dambana has own tradition and culture. Many tourists like to discover indigenous people of Sri Lanka. Vedda has original language called as Vedda language which is different from Sinhala language.

The original religion of Veddas is animism. The Sinhalized interior Veddahs follow a mix of animism and nominal Buddhism, whereas the Tamilized east coast Veddahs follow a mix of animism and nominal Hinduism, which is known as folk Hinduism among anthropologists.
Kiri koraha is traditional dance of vedda which used to obtain  bless of their gods.


Women, children and old people do not engage in shamanism as it demands physical strength to perform the ceremonial dances, sometimes for two full nights and days. It is also not morally ‘good’ for a woman to-walk from hamlet to hamlet. She is supposed to be at home and take care of the house and the children. While letting the spirits take possession of the body the dances can become very intense, with shaking, shivering jumps, swirls, and leaps. It is not socially acceptable for a woman to perform such acrobatics as the movements are not considered feminine.

To Robert Knox, who wrote in 1681 after a captivity  by the King of Kandy  in Ceylon in 17th century lasting 20 years, belongs the credit of having first accurately described the Veddas:

“Of these Natives there be two sorts Wild and Tame. I will begin with the former. For as in these Woods there are Wild Beasts so Wild Men also. The Land of Bintan is all covered with mighty Woods, filled with abundance of Deer. In this Land are many of these wild men; they call themVaddahs, dwelling near no other Inhabi­tants. They speak the Chingulayes Language. They killDeer, and dry the Flesh over the fire, and the people of the Countrey come and buy it of them. They never Till any ground for Corn, their Food being only Flesh. They are very expert with their Bows. They have a little ax, which they stick by their sides, to cut hony out of hollow Trees. Some few, which are near Inhabitants, have commerce with other people. They have no Towns nor Houses, only live by the waters under a Tree, with some boughs cut and laid about them, to give notice when any wild Beasts come near, Which they may hear by their rustling and trampling upon them. Many of these Habitations we saw when we fled through the Woods, but God be praised the Vaddahs were gone.

They never cut their hair but tye it up on their Crowns in a bunch. The cloth they use, is not broad nor large, scarcely enough to cover their Buttocks. Thewilder and tamer sort of them do both observe a Religion. They have a God peculiar to themselves. The tamer do build Temples, the wild only bring their sacrifice under Trees, and while it is offering, dance round it both men and women.

They are so curious of their Arrows that no smith can please them: The King once to gratifie them for a great Present they brought him, gave all of them of his best made Arrow-blades: which nevertheless would not please their humour. For they went all of them to a Rock by a River and ground them into another form. The Arrows they use are of a different fashion from all other, and the Chingulays will not use them.

They have a peculiar way by themselves of preserving Flesh. They cut a hollow Tree and put honey in it, and then fill it up with flesh, and stop it up with clay. Which lyes for a reserve to eat in time of want.

It has usually been told me that their way of catching Elephants is, that when the. Elephant lyes asleep they strike their ax into the sole of his foot, and so laming him he is in their power to take him. But I take this for a fable, because I know the sole of the Elephants foot is so hard, that no axe can pierce it at a blow; and he is so wakeful that they can have no opportunity to do it.

For portions with their Daughters in marriage they give hunting Dogs. They are reported to be courteous. Some of the Chingulays in discontent will leave their houses and friends, and go and live among them, where they are civilly entertained. The tamer sort of them, as hath been said, will sometimes appear, and hold some kind of trade with the tame Inhabitants, but the wilder called Ramba Vaddahs never show themselves.”

From Knox’s account it is evident that they sometimes served in the king’s army.

If the father dies, the oldest son assumes responsibility for his mother and siblings, that is if he is old enough to hunt and take care of the chena. Hence, he takes his father’s tools and continues the work. Eventually he will form his own family. Therefore when the annual cycle of the year is closed and the crops harvested, the widow moves back with her parents. If her parents are not alive she may marry an unmarried brother or a relative of the deceased husband, who can take care of her. Polygynous levirate is not customary among the Veddas. It is economically too burdensome for Vedda man to maintain two women. In some instances two sisters marry two brothers, in that case the widow may remain in the deceased husband’s hamlet and carry on with her chores as she has her sister there.

Dambana is famous for bees Horney and Vedda’s Traditional foods.Vedda used bows and arrows to hunt before 1980. But they are not using bows and arrows to hunt now vaddas depend on cultivation. They use chena for cultivation.  Beauty of their small world is fading away day by day

Sri Lanka has completely prohibited hunting Presently sri lanka has about 2500 veddas and chief of the veddas is Uruwarige Wannila Aththo .

Chief of the veddas is Uruwarige Wannila Aththo






What are your thoughts?