A Kayapo man, a native of the Amazon rainforestA Kayapo man, a native of the Amazon rainforest Modern humans probably evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago. About 70,000 years ago, they began to move to other parts of the world. By about 15,000 years ago, they had spread to every continent of the world except Antarctica. As people settled in different parts of the world, different ethnic groups emerged. These are large communities of people who have physical characteristics, languages, religions and other traits in common. People developed languages so that they could communicate with each other. Different cultures, including art and religion, soon followed.


800 languages are spoken in New York City.800 languages are spoken in New York City.People have moved around throughout history, because of the opportunities offered by the discovery of new lands, or for better economic prospects. War or natural disasters such as flooding or drought have also led to mass-migrations of people. When groups of people settle in a new country, they often bring their own religions and cultures with them. Some nations, including the United States, are now considered multicultural, with people from different ethnic groups often marrying one another and having children of mixed ethnicity.


Members of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon Members of an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon

Traditional lifestyles

In a very few parts of the world, people still live as they have done for thousands of years, although nearly all are affected in some way by the modern world. Many of these peoples have ritual dances (performed for religious purposes) which go back to ancient traditions. A few traditional peoples still hunt and fish in the rainforests of the Amazon Basin or New Guinea just as their ancestors did. Their lifestyle is threatened by destruction of the forests. A very few peoples have never been in contact with modern civilization. They include the inhabitants of some islands in the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, several tribes on the island of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, and some tribes living in remote parts of the Amazon rainforest.

Award-winning Aboriginal actress Deborah MailmanAward-winning Aboriginal actress Deborah Mailman

Aboriginal Australians

Aboriginal Australians are descended from people who arrived in Australia from Southeast Asia between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago. For thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians lived by hunting with spears and boomerangs and taking care not to disturb the environment. Just over 200 years ago, European settlers arrived, seizing their hunting grounds and sacred sites. Many Aboriginals were killed, or died from European diseases. Today, most Aboriginals live in Australia’s towns and cities. Some of their land has been returned to them.

An Aboriginal ritual dance An Aboriginal ritual dance The Aboriginals of Australia traditionally believe that the Earth and everything that lives on it were created by mythical beings. This process of creation is called “Dreamtime”. They believe that the spirit goes on for ever, known as “Eternal Dreaming”. The music, dance and art of Aboriginal Australians has been inspired by these religious beliefs and the importance of the land itself.


A Bedouin shepherd living in the Syrian desertA Bedouin shepherd living in the Syrian desert

The Bedouin: a nomadic people

The Bedouins (from the Arabic word badawi, meaning "desert dweller") are nomads who live in the deserts of Arabia and North Africa, herding cattle, sheep and goats. Traditionally, they do not have permanent houses but carry tents with them as they travel around. The tents are made of woollen cloth stretched across wooden poles and held in place with ropes. 

Many Bedouins now work in towns and cities instead of following the nomadic life, but some still choose to live in traditional tents in the desert.A Bedouin boyA Bedouin boy  

A Maasai girl in traditional costumeA Maasai girl in traditional costume

The Maasai

The Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania are cattle-herders who live a semi-nomadic life. They wear the same richly coloured clothes and ornaments as their ancestors did centuries ago. Each Maasai family has its own cattle herd, and young calves and goats even live in a special den inside their house. Young Maasai boys become members of the warrior class. Warriors are expected to be brave and fearless hunters, even though they do not rely on hunting for food.

Maasai warriors perform the NambaMaasai warriors perform the NambaClick to play videoOne test of a warrior's courage is the traditional lion hunt, although lion-hunting is banned where the Maasai live so it is now rarely done. Before the hunt, the warriors perform ritual dances. One of these is the Namba, in which the dancers leap up in the air and land with their legs braced stiff.


Consultant: Philip Wilkinson

See also in Geography

There are around 100 “uncontacted tribes” in the world. These traditional peoples, who mostly live in densely forested parts of South America and New Guinea, have had no significant contact with the modern world.

Young women of the Mursi people of Ethiopia, Africa, have their lower lips pierced and then use increasingly large clay plates to stretch the lips. Eventually the lip plates reach more than 12 cm (5 inches) in diameter.

The Inupiat people of Alaska are the world's northernmost people. Those who still live traditionally hunt walrus, seals and whales.

The Moken people, who live on wooden boats on the Andaman Sea of Southeast Asia, have developed an enhanced ability to focus underwater, in order to dive for food. Moken children’s underwater vision is 50% more powerful than that of European children.

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