Why ‘Tribe’ Matters

           “your vibe attracts your tribe”

If you read the title of this post and assumed it to be divisive, then the title is a test on assumptions without questions.

This entry is anything but divisive. What this post does however, is encourage you to evaluate your ‘tribe’ if you have one, or form one, if not. 

What do I mean by ‘Tribe’?

Our mainstream understanding of the term has been built around characteristics that make a group of people different from another and have been the basis of differentiation. Often having negative connotations, the term is at times used interchangeably with ‘ethnic group.’ Anthropological definitions explain ‘tribe’ as “a notional form of human organization based on a set of small groups, having temporary or permanent political integration, and defined by traditions of common descent, language, culture, and ideology.” 

In the case of this piece, I would like to appropriate the term ‘tribe’ and informally use it to define a group of people who may or may not know each other, but constitute a circle of loyal, honest and resourceful people in which you are at the centre. You probably also stand in the circle of several others, making up the tribe in which they are in the centre. But mind you, I don’t refer to tight or loose links of acquaintanceships, friendships and familial relationships in my articulation of evaluating or forming your tribe. Although, members from these groupings can constitute it.

Marking distinctions

Over the past two years, I have been reflecting a great deal on how people weave in and out of each other’s lives and the purpose with which this entry and exit happens. At previous points in life, I have been plagued with the expectation that such entries need to have permanency; over time developing a more nuanced understanding and filtering of which types of relationships/friendships/acquaintanceships need to remain and how to nurture that remaining. Further refining the meaning and purpose of each layer. Perhaps the most contemplative piece of writing, and visual taxonomy, that has engaged me in these distinctions is an exploratory piece by Maria Papova, Seneca On True and False Friendships, which gives depth to the meaning of friendships and challenges the current ‘overuse’ of the term.


Image 1: Visual taxonomy on the four levels of platonic friendships

Using these musings and visual aides, I would probably place my articulation of ‘tribe’ in between ‘friends’ and ‘kindred spirits’ in the above visual taxonomy of the four levels of platonic friendships. A kindred spirit being ‘a person who shares beliefs, attitudes, feelings, or features with another’ and in Seneca’s definition, a friend being someone you wholly trust as yourself, indicting that true friends are uniquely rare.

Image 2: Roman Philosopher Seneca’s view on friendship

Value of a ‘Tribe’

The importance and value of this tribe that I write of, and which I place in between friends and kindred spirits, is most often reflected in how members of this tribe become a mirror for where you are and where you want to go in your growth pursuits. Members of your tribe are connectors who hold you and what you stand for in close thought, providing insights; inquiring about your steps; gently keeping you in line when you step out, and serving as sound boards for your queries, based on mutual trust, respect and acceptance of the individual that you are. 

In my personal process of ‘tribe’ formation, I came across in recent times individuals who really inspired me to begin the stocktaking process of people in my life and where they stand. This evaluation process has at times culminated in a reshuffling of priorities or releasing from the various layers of my circle, individuals who proved to be toxic. Tribe membership after all has to be based on principles of positive value addition and inquiry rather on assumption and negativity.

In forming (if you haven’t consciously done so already), and in evaluating your ‘tribe’, I propose asking the following questions:

  • Can I be my full self with these tribe members?
  • Am I being positively challenged to be a better version of myself?
  • Do they enable me to seek and find greatness within?
  • Do I feel I am part of a community I would be hard pressed to find elsewhere? 

Paving the path to other ‘Tribe’ members

In 2015, a ‘tribe’ member (who I did not recognize as such then) and my boss by default (my then boss’s boss) encouraged me to apply for the Acumen Regional Fellowship program focused on building leadership capacity. Our own work was on building leadership capacity for systems shifting partnership in the agriculture sector, so she thought my participation in this fellowship would be a natural extension to the work that we were doing and further enhance our work. And as eligibility to the Fellowship required demonstrable experience in the project one is working on, I applied through the organization I was working for at the time and which she was leading from abroad.

As a connector and supporter, she went out of her way to recommend me to the organizers, citing characteristics she shared I possess which I myself had been blind to. Now, three years down the line when I often reflect on the core ‘Tribe’ members I have been fortunate to include in my circle through the Acumen Fellowship, I often think of her and the role she played in not only paving the path to meeting and nurturing tribe members, but also in inspiring the thinking behind tribes that work for us.

But when I say that work for us, I don’t suggest tribes as means and tools of achievement; rather ‘working for us’ in our path of seeking and growing our true selves so we claim space in this world rooted in a genuine understanding of our human fallacies and potential for greatness. See, tribes consciously built and strengthened serve as bridges to show up in the world truly aligned with our purpose and ready to serve. Similarly, the awareness we bring to being tribe members for others is an equally important rumination.

Who’s in your tribe?


Billene is the Managing Director of Earuyan Solutions (www.earuyan.com) and also writes at www.africanfeminism.com