in·​dig·​e·​nous in-ˈdi-jə-nəs How to pronounce indigenous (audio)
: produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment
indigenous plants
the indigenous culture
Indigenous or less commonly indigenous : of or relating to the earliest known inhabitants of a place and especially of a place that was colonized by a now-dominant group
Indigenous peoples
indigenously adverb
indigenousness noun

Did you know?

Indigenous derives from the Latin noun indigena (meaning "native"), which was formed by combining Old Latin indu (meaning "in" or "within") with the verb gignere (meaning "to beget"). Another term that comes from the indigena root is indigene, a word for a plant or animal that lives, grows, or originates in a certain area. Indigene is the older of the two; it has been used in English since the late 16th century, whereas the earliest documented use of indigenous occurred nearly 50 years later. Indigenous is used in scientific contexts to describe organisms and the habitats to which they belong, and in expressly non-scientific contexts, as in "emotions indigenous to the human spirit." Most often, however, it's used to describe the native inhabitants of a place.

Choose the Right Synonym for indigenous

native, indigenous, endemic, aboriginal mean belonging to a locality.

native implies birth or origin in a place or region and may suggest compatibility with it.

native tribal customs

indigenous applies to that which is not only native but which, as far as can be determined, has never been introduced or brought from elsewhere.

indigenous plants

endemic implies being peculiar to a region.

a disease endemic in Africa

aboriginal implies having no known others preceding in occupancy of a particular region.

the aboriginal peoples of Australia

Examples of indigenous in a Sentence

Viking invaders quickly subdued the indigenous population, known as the Picts. Jared M. Diamond, Collapse, 2005
Unlike France, Italy relies on dozens of indigenous regional grape varieties for its prodigious range of wines. Gerald Asher, Gourmet, September 2002
Though Gilded Age architecture was not indigenous to America, at least it was borrowed from belle epoque Europe, from which much of America's late-nineteenth-century culture evolved. Robert D. Kaplan, An Empire Wilderness, 1988
There are several indigenous groups that still live in the area. the culture of the indigenous people of that country
Recent Examples on the Web People from all walks of life—including business leaders, doctors, nurses, human rights organizations, young people and indigenous populations—are calling for policymakers at COP28 to not just talk, but to act and move the world forward by accelerating the energy transition. María Mendiluce, Forbes, 29 Nov. 2023 Nearly 8 percent of employees are Hispanic, about 3 percent are Asian and less than 1 percent are indigenous. Taylor Telford, Washington Post, 4 Nov. 2023 San Diego-area Native American students and local tribe members said the flag-raising is important to honor the indigenous Kumeyaay people as the original inhabitants of the land that is now San Diego County. Kristen Taketa, San Diego Union-Tribune, 3 Nov. 2023 The fact that Jews have been indigenous to the Holy Land for millenniums and that more than half of Israel’s population are Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent who have often fled Arab persecution is generally passed over in this prism focused on white imperialism. Roger Cohen, New York Times, 31 Oct. 2023 While there’s some disagreement about the fruit’s origins, research on its history generally shows that watermelon is indigenous to Northern Africa, most likely Sudan. Alma Avalle, Bon Appétit, 31 Oct. 2023 But researchers have spotted signs that caimans might crowd out American alligators and American crocodiles, while preying on vulnerable indigenous species. Freda Kreier, New York Times, 24 Oct. 2023 On Saturday, Australians defeated a ballot initiative that would have changed the constitution to establish an indigenous advisory body to the federal parliament. Tom Switzer, National Review, 18 Oct. 2023 One of the most effective ways to protect the Amazon is to secure and expand the land rights of indigenous peoples. Gen Cleary, Rolling Stone, 11 Oct. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'indigenous.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Latin indigenus, from Latin indigena, noun, native, from Old Latin indu, endo in, within + Latin gignere to beget — more at end-, kin

First Known Use

1632, in the meaning defined at sense 1b

Time Traveler
The first known use of indigenous was in 1632


Dictionary Entries Near indigenous

Cite this Entry

“Indigenous.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


in·​dig·​e·​nous in-ˈdij-ə-nəs How to pronounce indigenous (audio)
: produced, growing, or living naturally in a particular region or environment
indigenous plants
indigenous tribes
indigenously adverb

Medical Definition


in·​dig·​e·​nous in-ˈdij-ə-nəs How to pronounce indigenous (audio)
: having originated in and being produced, growing, or living naturally in a particular region or environment
a disease indigenous to the tropics
colonization by small numbers of indigenous enteric bacteriaC. M. Kunin et al.
: being inborn or innate
a type of behavior that is indigenous to human beings
indigenously adverb

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