A Look at Tribal Culture

by Josh, a sometime member of the London Rainbow Tribe.

All around the country, "tribes" are springing up. Maybe none of us could give you a clear definition of exactly what a "tribe" is, but the word seems to fit well, so we use it. A tribe is something like an extended family, pulled together by twists of fate, shared experiences and a more-or-less common sense of purpose. Many of the new tribes have formed out of road-protest camps, and the experience of living together and supporting each other in situations involving daily struggle can build bonds at least as strong as family ties and blood relationships.

Many more people live as tribes, even if they do not use the word. People living "on the road" - whether in vehicles, with horses or in benders - find themselves outside of mainstream society and often under attack from it. They need to look out for eachother, to support eachother. Travelling together as a Tribe provides the emotional and physical support needed to face the frequent harassment, hassle - and even attacks - that many travellers get from some settled people and the forces of the State. Both road-protesters and travellers are people with strong criticisms of modern British life and culture, who have found a need to actually get off their arses and do something about it.

The idea of Tribal Culture is very emotionally and symbolically meaningful to many of these people. There is a sense in which tribes are the "natural" human social structure.

Before the Roman invasion this was a tribal country - as indeed most of Europe was tribal. Tribal culture represents a world without the excesses of hierarchical and patriarchal organisation that came to us with the Romans; a world in which human beings were more in touch with the Earth and with the cycles of the Moon and Sun.

The tribes of pre-Roman Britain were often matriarchal in structure. They were nomadic and the land was sacred to them. The deep spiritual relationship between the Celtic peoples and the land on which they lived has profound meaning for many people struggling to find a spiritual identity in today's material world - much as many similar people in America are turning to Native American belief-systems for inspiration.


Judaeo-Christian religion has lost touch with the Earth Mother for many centuries, and this has been a vital factor in allowing Western society to cause immense destruction all over the planet. Many of today's tribal Britons have found an intense bond with Nature to be an ever-increasing part of our lives. In contrast, many people in Britain today have no sense at all of the part Nature plays in their lives.

In the City, especially one as large as London, it is possible to lose touch with Nature almost completely. Food comes from the supermarket. If it is eaten, then it is disposed of down a hole from which it simply disappears. If not, it goes in the rubbish with the packaging it came in and someone comes and takes it away. It is all too easy to not even think about where it really came from, or where the waste ends up.

More and more of city life is enclosed indoors. The parks are being gradually built over. Shopping is in huge indoor malls. Travel is in air-conditioned cars. Entertainment is in pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas, indoor bowling rings, amusement arcades or, most often, at home with the TV.

The outdoors is smelly and dangerous and many people seem to avoid it completely. Obviously this situation is not as bad in the summer as in the winter, which is just ending as I write this, but the contrast with rural areas, where fewer and fewer Britons now live, remains vast. Yet Tribal Culture is starting to blossom in cities all around the country, drawing its numbers from green activists and the dispossessed.

Many homeless people in towns and cities are in a similar situation to travellers, in terms of building tribes (whether or not they use that word) out of necessity. People living literally on the street are forced into a situation where everyone has to look out for themselves in order to survive. One way out of this situation is to squat an empty building, but this is not something you can really do on your own. Squatting a building can be a testing experience on many different levels - getting in, maintenance, dealing with landlords and police, making the squat secure, legal wrangles - so it helps to be with people you can trust. Being poor in the city is also far from easy. Squatting communities build strong bonds of trust and mutual reliance out of necessity - for survival.


The London Rainbow Tribe is an example of one such community, living together both out of necessity and with a purpose - to bring environmental information and activism to the people of London. Soon this purpose will be taken out all over the country with the Rainbow Earth Circus. Tribe-members have been, and continue to be, involved in peaceful direct action against environmental destruction - especially road-building - in London and elsewhere. We have proposed positive solutions and started to implement them through taking over public buildings which are not being used, and recycling them into homes and community resource-centres.

An important difference between the new tribal culture and most historical tribes is that today's tribes are not exclusive. Although people who have been together for some time become closely bonded through living and working together in difficult circumstances, the Tribe is always open to new people to get involved. "Membership," if there is such a thing, is based on self-determination. People can be "members" of more than one tribe - many of us are essentially nomadic and get involved in different places at different times.

The new tribes are rapidly becoming one extended Tribe, linked together by many separate bonds of trust and friendship. People who live locally to a DIY Centre like the Rainbow Centre, or to a Road Protest camp become involved in that local activity, and then go on from there to get involved elsewhere, through the network that is building up.

The introduction of the Criminal Justice Act has played a large part in this, encouraging us all to make this network ever-stronger in order to help eachother and fight together for our rights and the survival of our communities. The CJA is rapidly making the separate - although already overlapping - communities of squatters, road-protesters, travellers, ravers, hunt sabs and eco-activists into one massive national community. This community is growing ever stronger, and a great part of that strength comes from its organic organisation in tribe-like units.

Finally, no look at Tribal Culture in Britain today would be complete without talking about Dancing. Dancing has always been a central part of Tribal Culture throughout history. Dancing brings the tribe together and is a vital way of celebrating life and making positive use of excess energy - especially vital in the city, where less energy is expended on basic survival and it is also harder to get adequate personal space. Dancing all night to "repetitive beats" (to quote the CJA) is also a shamanic experience, lifting the individual and communal mind to higher states of consciousness and increased attunement with eachother and the planet. The rave scene has blossomed so rapidly because it fills a basic need of human existence that is much neglected in modern city life. More and more people are getting into drumming as well. At the Rainbow Centre we have regular weekly drumming sessions - and many more spontaneous ones.


As well as all the benefits of dancing, these are also participatory and, of course, involve no electricity. Drumming is a constant accompaniment to most road-protest actions, providing moral support to the protesters and often bewildering the security-guards and construction workers. The Spirit raised up in communal dancing is a central strength of Tribal Culture (both old and new). Indeed it has been the threat to outdoor raves (the best kind of all - where many a city-dweller has first "tuned in" to Nature) that has motivated the most opposition to the CJA.

Increasingly, rave-goers are being introduced to Tribal Culture through information-stalls at many rave events and through meeting people at anti-CJA events.


These links were being made at an incredible rate at the old Free Festivals over the summer period - which the police have temporarily succeeded in stopping.

Tribal Culture in London is growing ever stronger. It is linked in with a rising scene across the whole country. New people become involved every day - many have very little in their lives and suddenly find a space in which to grow. We are committed to finding new and fruitful ways of living together and to fighting to save the Earth.

In the words of the chant:

"We are the Old People.
We are the New People.
We are the same People,
Stronger every day."

To reply...

Home New Tribes