Indigenous People of the World

Indigenous People of the World: Culture, Journey, History

What does the term “Indigenous” mean?

Have you ever thought about the term ‘indigenous‘ and wondered what does it truly mean? Worry not, you aren’t the only one. In day to day life, we use many such words that we know nothing about, but use them anyways.

In this blog, I will lead you through the basic know-how about some of the first people of various continents. I’ll try my best to keep it as simple as possible, but sometimes the names and terms might go over your head. The ancient languages and their jargons can be a little confusing. But, try to keep up and I will make sure to keep you intertained.

According to international law, the term “Indigenous” refers to the people whose ancestors inhabited the land much before the newcomers arrived and claimed ownership of their ancestral land.

In doing so, whether through trade or force, over time, the outsiders become the common citizen, dominating the numbers of the first people of that land.

Indigenous people tend to have their own culture, tradition and their own divine worshiping ways. The indigenous people have their own worldview and their own ways of lives.

Currently, in 70 countries, around 370 million people claim to be indigenous people around the globe. There are more than 5000 groups identifying themselves as of indigenous origin that have survived the test of time from the ages past. About 4000 languages are known to be of indigenous heritage.

The problem with the after-effects of colonization is that, it caused the rapid decline of indigenous culture around the globe. Not only that, many of the indigenous people around the globe are treated as second class citizens in some places.

When you research in-depth about the topic, you will come to know about the horror stories related to the ancestral land being overtaken from the hands of the first people of that land.

If you actually wanted to offer polite nod to the indigenous people and their culture, this is the term that you should use instead of using the term “aboriginal”.

Indigenous people around the globe:


♦Ainu people of Japan;

Ainu people of Japan

Most of the Ainu people can be found presently staying in Sakhalin of Russia and Hokkaido of Japan.

Hokkaido has been referred as “Ainu Moshiri”(land of the Ainu) , by the them from ancient times. The Ainu lived their days hunting, foraging and gathering food for their tribes.

Fishing was also a major source of food as well as a part of habit for the Ainu people.
This Indigenous tribe of Japan mainly lived along the southern coast. They also used to trade with the Japanese people from time to time.
A stark difference occurred just around 150 years ago.

Have you heard about the Meiji Restoration?
Little by little, people from Japan trickled into the Hakkaido Island and slowly but surely became the dominant number as is commonly seen in any colonization.

The 1899 Hokkaido Former Aborigines Protection Act did just the opposite of what it sounds like. Rather then being a policy to aid the Indigenous population, it forced the Indigenous people to relocate from their ancestral lands into the wastelands of the central region of the island.

To this date it is known as as one of the well-known abuse of government power against the first people of any land.

Similar Indigenous Tribes
Assyrians of the Middle East (Aramaic speaking Christians)
• The Miao and Hmong of southern China, Laos and Thailand
•The Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and parts of the former Soviet


!Kung San of the Kalahari Desert

To get to know the kung San of the Kalahari desert, you need to know about the San people( or Saan).


The san people of Africa
©jenman African safaris

Sometimes referred to as the term bushmen or Saan, they are one of the most archaic indigenous people on planet earth.

The San are known to speak some of the old indigenous tongues, such as Khoe, Kx’a and Tuu. Their main method of procuring food for their families and tribes consisted of hunting and gathering.

If you research a bit about the San people, you will get to know that they are recognized as the first nations of Southern Africa.

Territories of the bushmen stretch from Nambia, Botswana ,Angola, South Africa to Zimbabwe and Zambia, with Botswana consisting of the highest percentage of San people out of all the nations.,

What does the term ‘San’ mean?

Like many historic terms, the term San has a meaningnations it too.
Although not the kind of profound depth you might be looking for the ancient indigenous people around the world but known to be simplistic and practical with their nomenclature.

The term is an appellation of Hunter gatherers without material or sustainable wealth. Saa literally stands for “picking up from the ground”(from khoekhoe) and -n is a plural inserted from the haillom dialect.

However, you should keep this in mind that they prefer to be called with the terms indicating their nations such as !kung, rather than getting lumped together under one term(San)

!Kung San People

!kung san people

Known to live primarily around the western periphery of the Kalahari desert, the !Kung people are one of the San people. Their territory spans from Ovamboland , western Kalahari edges, and Botswana.

Most of the !Kung people inhabit the European ranchers and Bantu pastoralist villages.
Like the word San, !Kung has it’s own meaning. Ju and !Kung (!Xun) both ultimately mean “people”.

!Kung San Culture;

While indigenous communities maybe practical in their makeup, their depths remain unexplored that you can only know through spending some time with them.

• Rituals of Healing

Rituals of healing are famously known cultural aspect of the !Kung people.
Among the !Kung, it is a belief that health whether physical or mental is quite an important aspect for harmony in their tribe. This led to appointment of healers in their society.

The interesting thing about this is, that almost anyone among their number can become a healer. It is an open position which can be filled by any of their member as long as they first successfully go through the trials of apprenticeship from their elder healers.

• Beliefs and Shamanism;

The !Kung people have their own religious beliefs and worldview. You may think it different from rest of the world but if you truly comprehend the concepts of religions then you must already know, that almost all of them center around the concept of a higher power.(i.e.: a deity)

The !Kung people believe in a divine being with the power and responsibility of creation as well as maintenance of life on earth.
The spirits of the dead are considered divine and guiding supernatural forces in the beliefs of the Kung people.

Berbers of Morocco
Hadza People of Tanzania


♦Indigenous people and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia

Torres strait Islanders
©women love tech

Indigenous culture may be considered one of the most remarkable things about Australian tourism. The fact of the matter is, however, that barely four per cent of the Australian society can be considered indigenous.

it’s one of the oldest living ones existing to date. It’s known to have existed around 50,000 years ago.

While the mainland Australia as a whole is thought to be Aboriginal land, the Islander nations(i.e. the Torres Strait Islanders) have their separate kind of cultural traditions, world view and connection to their land.

Saltwater People(Larrakia)

The Australian indigenous communities that existed from ancient times surrounded by ocean waters, prefer to refer themselves as salt water people. Rather than being referred as aborigines or before being known by their individual names, the indigenous people may ask you to known them by their homeland.

Freshwater People-

The first people of Australia that lived around rivers and nutrient rich fields prefer to be known by the name freshwater people.

Desert People-

The indigenous people that found a way to survive in one of the most extreme environments on planet earth, call themselves the desert people.

If you want to know more about the Indigenous tribes and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia then you can learn about it here.

Similar Indigenous Culture—

Maori of New Zealand

Europe and the Americas

American Indians of the U.S.

American Indians

When people think American Indians the indigenous peoples of Eskimos or Western Hemisphere and Aleuts are usually excused from this chart. There is Of course an interesting reason behind it.

Did you know that American Indians, also known as Native Americans, Indigenous American, Indian or Amerind have a closer genetic relation to the Arctic people, rather than the indigenous groups of the South?
You can also find cultural similarities between them.

The American Indians were a people of nomadic habits, gathering and hunting their food from ancient times.

Ancestors of American Indians roamed from Asia to North America during ice age.

It is said that around 30,000 years ago the two continents were connected by a gap, caused by extremely low sea levels during that time. The land bridge of natural origin connected two places that are presently known as Siberia and Alaska.

Some of the indigenous tribe went on their way to the Southern region of Pacific Coast and some others choose to move towards the glacier-free region. They meandered through middle of the land that is now known as Canada.

Although it is known that both these places were chosen as their travel destinations by the indigenous people, the roads themselves have been washed away and destroyed by natural turn of events during all this time.

The cultural diversity of Native American people can be found in myriad varieties throughout the country. From their lifestyle to their clothing, art forms to indigenous worldview, their way of life and the religious beliefs, Native Americans make their own impression. It can be said to be distinctly different from the other indigenous communities around the globe.

Even among the Native Americans themselves there can be found a lot of variations are cultural aspects. although that may be so there are certain elements certain features that bind all the Native Americans together.

Some of these traditional traits can be said to be their hierarchical social structure, their interest in salmon fishing and similar belief in elder ancestral spirits, etc.

Similar indigenous culture—
• First Nations and Métis of Canada
• Mayans of Guatemala and Mexico

There are numerous indigenous communities around the globe that continue to practice the old ways, but for now, this will be it for a basic overview of the first people of different continents.

In the next blog I will try to illuminate in finer details about some of the more reclusive indigenous tribes around the globe.

Go on now explorer, have fun, happy travels!

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