Ancient African Warrior Tribes

African warriors were known for their resilience, power, and strength. As a process of survival, many of the cultures and tribes were required to focus on ensuring that they had the best weapons and training. Throughout the history of ancient Africa, various kingdoms held battles and wars against each other to gain land, power, gold, food, and trade routes.

  • Shona:
  • This group established the Great Zimbabwe Empire of Southern Africa and they are part of the Bantu tribe. They took over other cultures and tribes, including the Swahilis, making them pay tribute to the rulers of Shona.
  • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Fulani:
    • These peoples are considered to be the largest West African nomadic tribe. Although they are traders and herders, they were required to develop their expertise in fighting, and their warriors were well-known. The Fulani traveled in the countries of: Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Their fierceness included the fact that they would enslave captured West Africans.
    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Massai:
    • Of the many Africans, the Massai people are some of those most known as being fierce warriors. They also are herders and travel in the plains of Tanzania and Kenya for their livestock. These incredible warriors are known for their strength, including hunting and fighting lions to demonstrate their prowess.
    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Mali:
    • The Mali Empire was one of the most glorious and powerful in the West African area. The Mali people had the ability to conquer, colonize, and unite many of the West African tribes through the use of their powerful and large military. Their cunning on the battlefield allowed them to resist the Portuguese invaders as well as force the Berbers of North Africa to pay tribute to their leaders.
    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Oromo:
    • This is the largest East African tribe and well-known for their brutality. During the 16th century they conquered and expanded their territories in the Horn of Africa for the purpose of gaining fertile lands to raise crops for their people. The land that they took allowed their population to expand, as they took some of the best agricultural areas in Africa.

      From a military standpoint, the Oromo people are known for destroying the Abyssinian Kingdom and they replaced it with the Yejju Dynasty.

      BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Berbers:
    • The Berbers include many tribes that are scattered in areas including Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, and the Western Sahara. These peoples had a strong military population and are most well-known for conquering Spain, defeating the Roman Empire attempt at invasion, and resistance against the colonizers from ancient Persia.

      The Berbers had powerful armies and they expanded their conquered territories to include many of the kingdoms in West Africa. Their reputation allowed them to maintain a dominant presence of the Mediterranean Sea.

    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Zulu:
    • Of all of the warrior tribes in Africa, the Zulu have one of the most famous names. Their ability to calculate excellent military strategies gave them the opportunity to become the largest South African tribe. The Zulu people had a large army, but their success was also based on their ability to take over other tribes and absorb them rather than just destroy them.
    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Abyssinian:
    • This group of people has a history that dates back to the Axum period where Arabians conquered and then colonized them. The Abyssinian people have both cultural and political dominance of Eritrea and Ethiopia, sharing the languages of both countries.

      Their strength comes from the mountainous environment that they lived in and they developed military skills and training that gave them the ability to resist almost all of the invasions of their area.

    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Nubian:
    • The military prowess of the Nubian people allowed them to conquer and then create enough land and tribes to establish the Kush Kingdom. The kingdom maintained one of the longest lasting of any African kingdom, with the ability to resist and fight off all of the Middle Eastern invaders.

      The Kush Kingdom became so prosperous and powerful that it eventually conquered Egypt, which was failing. Nubians are known for their successful defeat and resistance of the Arab Caliphate.

    • BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    • Somali:
    • In all of Africa, the Somali people carry the name of the most powerful and brutal of African warrior tribes. The history of their military skills, strength, and prowess dates back to the Land of Punt where they sent their powerful armies to Egypt and defeated the ancient Hittites.

      The Somali people lived in one of the largest African territories, covering four countries, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, and Kenya. They have the ability to be both incredible herders and traders while balancing their talents as fierce warriors.

      The Somali maintained a reputation as one of the cultures that had the richest maritime successes in all of ancient Africa. The Somali people were the first ancient Africans involved in any form of naval warfare. They also resisted the Oromo expansion.

      During the medieval period, the Somalis were the first to adopt modern weaponry, and used them when Ahmed Gurrey, their Somali commander conquered and then colonized Abyssinia. During this same time period they established the most colonies in the entire history of Africa, while sailing as far as Southeast Asia to flex their power.

    BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region

    Q&A:

    Which two ancient African warrior tribes are the most well-known?

    Zulu and Somali

    Which African tribe would hunt and fight lions to show off their warrior strength?

    Massai

    Which warrior tribe established the Great Zimbabwe?

    Shona

    Which African warrior tribe established the Kush Kingdom?

    Nubia

    Which tribe is most well-known for conquering Spain, defeating the Roman Empire attempt at invasion, and resistance against the colonizers from ancient Persia?

    Berbers

    Which tribe sailied as far as Southeast Asia to flex their power?

    Somali