Tropical Tribes Facts

The Tropics are home to ancient civilizations who've struggled at the hands of western culture. And from cannibalism to bizarre coming of age rituals, today's tribes certainly have a tale to tell...

Tribe in Papua New Guinea
  • The Inca of Peru was one of the most powerful tropical tribes, although their Empire was short-lived, lasting from 1438 AD until the coming of the Spanish in 1532. In that time however, their mighty kingdom spread into large parts of modern Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.

  • The Huli is a conservative tribe living in the remote highland forests of Papua New Guinea. All the men and women live separately, in large group houses.

  • The Pygmies live in the rainforests of Central Africa. Adults have an average height of 150 centimetres (4 feet 11 inches).

  • The Kayapo Indians live in the Amazon River Basin of Brazil in an area about the size of Austria. They always wear body paint; men and boys apply their own paint, women get together every ten days to reapply themselves and their female children.

  • The Minangkabau tribe of Indonesia have formed a matriarchal society. There, women propose marriage to men who then become 'guests' in their family homes.

  • When it comes to our understanding Mayan culture, we owe a huge debt of thanks to chewing gum! Workers entering the jungle to collect chickle, the sap of the sapodilla tree from which chewing gum is made, stumbled on ruins from this lost Mexican tribe.

  • Young women of the Amazonian Ticuna tribe face a particularly harsh rite of passage called the Ceremony of Pelazon. The girl is kept in isolation for up to a year, with only her mother and female teachers allowed to visit, after which time her hair is pulled out strand by strand and her body is painted black.

  • The native people known as the Yanomami live in small villages along the Brazilian/Venezuelan border and are currently being put on reserves in order for the government to work around them. The Yanomami are giving up almost 70 per cent of the land rights they used to have.

  • Cannibalism has been common practice in several tribes who have lived along the equator, such as in the African region of the Congo. As recently as 2003 the United Nations publicly condemned confirmed reports of cannibalism – among other human rights violations- by the Ugandan-backed Movement for the Liberation of Congo.

  • The largest tribe in Kenya is the Kikuyu. They used to believe that when a child was born, the deceased grandparent's spirit, whom the child was always named after, would enter the new child. This belief has diminished lately due to the increase in life-span, since nowadays grandparents are still alive when the children are born.