Any of a variety of social units, including some defined by unilineal descent and some defined by ethnic origin. Cultural anthropologists now usually apply the term to a unit of social organization that is culturally homogeneous and consists of multiple kinship groups—such as the family, lineage, or clan—that prohibit marriages within themselves but endorse or require marriages with persons of the other kinship groups. (See exogamy and endogamy.) Most tribes are organized as unitary political entities, within which people share a common language and culture. Some tribes are spread across large territories, and individual members may never meet or know all of the others. Some are small groups, confined to a limited territory, sometimes a single small island, within which everyone knows everyone else very well. What unites societies of such diverse scales as being “tribal” is their own internal sense of “being a single people,” but—anthropologists would add—a people that lacks the equipment of citizenship, a constitution, or a formalized legal system that would define them as a nation-state. Throughout most of the history of modern cultural anthropology, the terms tribe and primitive were usually linked; however, in recent years primitive has been avoided by most anthropologists because it appears to carry with it an unintended judgment of the moral or technological development of a people. See also ethnic group.

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