1. “Tribe”: What does it mean?

Is there any biological definition?

Are “they” (note the deictic “they” that entails spatio-temporal and personal distancing effect or process of othering) not human beings/Homo sapiens sapiens?

Is there any cultural/social definition?

Is it a politico-administrative term, adopted in Academiocracy?

Is it a colonial construct or historical apriori?

Is it a dividing practice deployed by different disciplinary technologies (subjectification) for the sake of objectification of subjects and subjection (governmentality) as well?

  1. Same questions are also applicable to the terms, “aborigines” and “aboriginals”.

Why are we branding a group of human being as ab-origines?

Is it not coined (with a new semantic value) by the colonizers as an exonym for “original” inhabitants of Australia (around 1788-90) by deliberately forgetting “their” endonyms? Hiding invasion?

I am deliberately using the term” endonym” instead of “ethnonym” as I have same questions regarding the status of “ethnic group”. Why are we not simply using “group”, “kowm” or “community” for such groups?

Are “we”, the earthians, Homo sapiens, species beings (please pardon me for such strategic essentialism!) not “original” inhabitants of this planet though some of us might be displaced (either willingly or forcefully) within the earth?

Some scholars say that “they” are “primitive”, “Neanderthal MAN” (sexism intended)! Levi-Strauss opposed such de-sign-ation: primitive (1963:pg. 102). It is not surprising, if findings of The Neanderthal genome project are to be believed, that “99.7% of the base pairs of the modern human and Neanderthal genomes are identical”!

NB: As I am not interested in etymology, searching “authentic “(?) meaning or metaphysical “origin” of word per se, for the obvious reason of semantic change, kindly emphasize on the political history at the time of explaining. cf. “Why Do I Forsake Historical Linguistics?” https://www.academia.edu...





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There's too much here to address seriously. I want to start with a parody.

Arnold Van Gennep wrote a satire of the social sciences, The Semi-Scholars, each chapter a different discipline. His anthropologist was a buffoon called Desire Pepin who goes off to the Congo clutching Sir James Frazer's field handbook. Walking down a jungle path, he runs into a native, grabs his handbook and asks, What is your tribe, caste or clan? When asked what these terms mean, he is at a loss, since all he knows is that the Romans had tribes, the Indians had castes and the Scots had clans.

Next for some serious etymology and social history. The Latins were a rabble living in the middle of what is now Italy. They were easily picked off by better organized neighbours. So to improve their self-organization, they divided themselves into three named goups (thirds or tribus), met occasionaly to slaughter an ox and distribute the meat among themselves (Geddit? dis-tribu-te, the origin of distribution). The principle is that division not only separates,but brings together in a more coherent way.

Ab origine is literally Latin (them again) for from the beginning - people, plants or animals who were thought to be original to a place.

Volk is German for the people. It is usually self-referential -- outsiders don't matter and everyone knows who the people are. It may of course be used to designate those who are not the people, sometimes with dire consequences.

I don't suppose any of this is of much use to you.


Thanks for sharing the anecdote that reveals the relative cultural semantics of the term ‘tribe’ etc. Even within the academic tribe(s) (If I would write a book/article on social anthropology of academiocracy, I wish to call the practitioners of institutionalized funded organized sciences as academic tribe), there are differences. The anthropologists’ concept of ‘tribe’ differs from biological taxonomy, though ‘tribe’ is seldom used here in taxonomizing species-genus. The politico-administrative (not epistemological) status of ‘tribe’ in the Indian constitution is peculiarly tautologous:  

“Article 366 (25) of the Constitution of India refers to Scheduled Tribes as those communities, who are scheduled in accordance with Article 342 of the Constitution. This Article says that only those communities who have been declared as such by the President through an initial public notification or through a subsequent amending Act of Parliament will be considered to be Scheduled Tribes.

The list of Scheduled Tribes is State/UT specific and a community declared as a Scheduled Tribe in a State need not be so in another State/UT.(emphasis added) The essential characteristics, first laid down by the Lokur Committee, for a community to be identified as Scheduled Tribes are –

• indications of primitive traits;

• distinctive culture;

• shyness of contact with the community at large;

• geographical isolation; and 

• backwardness” (http://tribal.nic.in/Content/IntroductionScheduledTribes.aspx )


All these distinctive features might be contested by just following Levi-Strauss and putting questions like: What is primitiveness, backwardness (in contrast with World Bank-sponsored ‘development”)? etc.

My agenda is to understand the discursive formations of dividing practice (with universal truth claims) that lead to such objectified categorization. Nothing more than that!  



Firstly, I must admit that I am not an etymologist nor I, unphenomenologically speaking,   am searching for the authentic (?) meaning of the ‘word’. (cf. Derek Attridge’s  article “Language as History/History as language: Saussure and the Romance of Etymology” in Attridge, D. Bennington, G. Young, R. (Ed.). 1987. Post-Structuralism and the Question of History.  New York. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. & “Why Do I Forsake Historical Linguistics?”


 Secondly, despite the fact of being  an anti-etymologist, I am skeptic about the interpretation of the prefix ‘ab-‘  as  “from the beginning” in the word “aborigine”.  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ab-  says—I am citing,  


“Word Origin


a formal element occurring in loanwords from Latin, where it meant “away from”:

abdicate; abolition.


< Latin ab (preposition and prefix) from, away, cognate with Greek apó, Sanskrit ápa, German ab, English of1,off


(See also https://au.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110504103743AAurthh


https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:English_words_prefixed_with... )


If it is believed to be ““away from” (origin), how could I interpret it as “from the beginning”. Furthermore, please note the meaning of the Sanskrit cognate “ápa-”, which is sometimes used as negative marker it “express deterioration”. Cf. http://www.sanskrit-lexicon.uni-koeln.de/monier/  Cf. English word “ abnormal”.

Thirdly, my foreparents are staying here at West Bengal, India “from the beginning (what is beginning? )”.  Are we aborigines? None calls us “aborigines”!

Lastly, I cannot decide the origin of “aborigine”.  Let us be homo sapiens (essentialism?).



I have talked a lot about it. Let me stop here.


I have another question:  may we, members of academic tribe, take value-loaded terms from the common usages and deploy them in the realm of our epistemological pursuit?


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