What is the Difference Between Tribe and Clan

The main difference between tribe and clan is that tribe refers to a group of clans collectively who usually do not involve in the mainstream culture of a particular nation, whereas clan refers to a group of people who are bound together by kinship or lineage.

Unity and togetherness are the foundation of any tribe or clan. However, there exist several socio-political and structural variations when you closely look at the social units of tribe and clan.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is a Tribe 
     – Definition, Features
2. What is a Clan
     – Definition, Features
3. Similarities Between Tribe and Clan
     – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Tribe and Clan
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Clan, TribeDifference Between Tribe and Clan - Comparison Summary

What is a Tribe?

In brief, a tribe is a self-sufficient social unit within mainstream society. It consists of clans that are connected through socio-economic, religious or blood liaisons. Each tribe inherits a common culture and a dialect. Furthermore, a tribe possesses unique socio-political and cultural aspects which make it distinct from other tribes.

Moreover, tribal people inhabit a definite geographical location. Unless a group of people live in a common residence and possess a sense of unity, it is not considered a tribe. In brief, a sense of unity is the foundation of any true tribal life.

What is a Tribe

Besides, every tribe has a unique political structure. This political body looks after the interests and needs of tribal people. Also, every tribe has a tribal chief, and the political authority lies in his hands. In some tribes, the tribal chief appoints tribal committees. The tribal committees’ function is to support the tribal chief to fulfil his duties for the benefit of the tribe.

What is a Clan

A clan is an exogamous break-up of a tribe. In a clan, the members are related to one another by some common ties. Therefore, a clan is a combination of unilateral families who believe themselves to share the same lineage of a real or mythical forbear.

A clan is usually unilateral, and it is never formed with the combination of the lineages of both the mother and father. It will always have an either patrilineal or matrilineal lineage. Just like a tribe that consists of several clans, several lineages get together to form a clan. Clan names are formed after various grounds, such as a saint, a place, or a totem.

What is a Clan

The main function of a clan is mutual assistance and protection. Just like unity is the basis of any tribe, the members of a clan possess a strong feeling of togetherness, especially because they believe that they are the descents of a common ancestor. When one member of the clan is harmed or injured, all the members get together to share his pain.  “Strike my clan brother, and you strike me,” and “The blood of the clan is my blood.” are the most popular sayings among the members of any clan, which clearly depict their “We” feeling.

Similarities Between Tribe and Clan

  1. The foundation of any tribe or a clan is unity and togetherness.
  2. Religion plays an important role both within a clan and a tribe. The members of a clan and tribe follow a primary and rudimentary type of religion that revolves around myths.
  3. The members of a tribe and the clan members belonging to the same tribe inhabit a definite common topography:
  4. Members of a tribe and clan members of that tribe exchange their views in a common dialect.
  5. Blood-relation is the strongest tie and most influential force in creating a sense of unity among the tribal and the clan members.

Difference Between Tribe and Clan


A group of clans get together to form a tribe, whereas several lineages collectively form a clan.


A tribe is endogamous, while a clan is usually exogamous. Tribal people do not marry outside their tribe. In a tribe, the marriage inside the tribe is highly respected and appreciated. On the contrary, the belief that all the clan members share a common ancestor restrict them from marrying someone inside the clan.

Political Authority

Every tribe has a tribal chief who has the power to make significant decisions related to his tribe. A tribe is divided into a number of small clans, and each clan is headed by its own leader. The chief of each clan works according to the instructions received from the tribal chief.


Generally, a tribe has a larger population since its combination of several clans.


The members of a clan accord with the common culture of the tribe, the larger social unit to which they belong. However, a tribe stands unique and does not follow the common culture of mainstream society.


A tribe is a group of clans who reside within a specific geographical location. They stand apart from the mainstream socio-political, economic and cultural grounds of the country. In contrast, a clan is a family that believes that they descend from a common ancestor. The main difference between tribe and clan, therefore, is that a tribe is an endogamous group of people while a clan stays exogamous. Furthermore, the size of a clan is smaller than the size of a tribe.


1. “African Tribes – African Cultures & African Traditions.” African Budget Safaris.
2. “The Important Characteristics of Clan.” World’s Largest Collection of Essays! Published by Experts.

Image Courtesy:

1. “A Man from Gogo Tribe singing while palying Zeze with his tribe mate, Zeze is one of the famous Musical Instrumental In Tanzania” By Imani selemani Nsamila – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “2045499” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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