Wordsmithing: Tribal

Western travelers to Kerala at first can be startled by the frequent use of this word, which has been replaced by the word indigenous in other parts of the world, but whose noun form has special mention in OED:

A member of a tribal community (usu. in pl.). Chiefly Indian English.

1958    New India: Progress through Democracy iii. vi. 378   Illiteracy is almost universal among tribal peoples.‥ Tribals are being trained as teachers.

1964    Economist 18 Apr. 261/1   More are arriving daily, among them Christian and Buddhist tribals.

1979    South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) 28 Dec. 3/1   Teams of mountain tribals are to join the search for three Singapore Air Force Skyhawks which disappeared over the northern Philippines eight days ago.

The word has no “tone” to it, at least not perceptible to foreigners living in Kerala. 

And the original noun root of the word is about as objective a word as any:

1. A group of people forming a community and claiming descent from a common ancestor; spec. each of the twelve divisions of the people of Israel, claiming descent from the twelve sons of Jacob. ten tribes, the tribes of Israel which revolted from the House of David, leaving only Judah and Benjamin to the kingdom of Judah. Their history after their deportation by Shalmaneser is lost, and they are often referred to as the lost tribes, whose identification in remote regions has been a matter of frequent speculation.


a1325  (1250)    Gen. & Exod. l. 3813   Ðog he wenen ðat god sal taken Of ðo .xij. tribuz summe mo.
c1449    R. Pecock Repressor  173   The same preest schulde office to God..in her tribu or kinred as he dide bifore in the hous of Miche. And in this officicing the tribu of Dan contynued.
1481    Caxton tr. Siege & Conqueste Jerusalem clxxi. 253   Whan the .x lygnages or trybus departed fro the heyer of Salamon And helde them to Ieroboam.
1526    W. Bonde Pylgrimage of Perfection ii. Shall syt in trones‥and iudge the .xii. tribus of Israel.
1531    T. Elyot Bk. named Gouernour i. ii. sig. Bi,   Wherfore ix partes of them, which they called Tribus, forsoke hym, and elected Hieroboaz‥to be theyr kynge.


c1380    Wyclif Wks. 365   Þe trybe or kynrede of leuy.
1390    J. Gower Confessio Amantis III. 279   Of whom‥The tribes tuelve of Irahel Engendred were.
1520    Chron. Eng. iii. f. 20v/2,   The dukes were euer of the trybe of Iuda.
1535    Bible Psalms lxxvii. 67 He refused the tabernacle of Ioseph, and chose not the trybe of Ephraim.
1671    Milton Samson Agonistes 1540   An Ebrew, as I guess, and of our Tribe.
1715    Pope tr. Homer Iliad I. ii. 431   In Tribes and Nations to divide thy Train.
1819    Scott Ivanhoe III. v. 111   Where dwelt a Jewish Rabbi of his tribe.
1863    J. A. Hessey in W. Smith Dict. Bible III. 1099/2   Samaria retained its dignity as the capital of the ten tribes.‥ In B.C. 721, Samaria was taken,‥and the kingdom of the ten tribes was put an end to.
1866    W. Smith Smaller Dict. Bible 487/2   Since the deportation of the ten tribes by Shalmaneser.
1910    Encycl. Brit. I. 315/1   A circumstance which led Bernier to speculate on the Kashmiris representing the lost tribes of Israel.

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