A tribe is viewed, developmentally or historically, as a [social group] existing before the development of nation states, or outside them. A tribe is a group of distinct people, dependent on their land for their livelihood, who are largely self-sufficient, and not integrated into the national society. It is perhaps the term most readily understood and used by the general public to describe such communities. Stephen Corry defines tribal people as those who "have followed ways of life for many generations that are largely self-sufficient, and are clearly different from the mainstream and dominant society". This definition, however, would not apply to countries in the Middle East such as Iraq and Yemen, South Asia such as Afghanistan and many African countries such as South Sudan, where the entire population is a member of one tribe or another, and tribalism itself is dominant and mainstream.
There are an estimated one hundred and fifty million tribal individuals worldwide, constituting around forty percent of indigenous individuals. Although nearly all tribal people are indigenous, some are not indigenous to the areas where they now live.
The distinction between tribal and indigenous is important because tribal peoples have a special status acknowledged in international law. They often face particular issues in addition to those faced by the wider category of indigenous peoples.
Many people used the term "tribal society" to refer to societies organized largely on the basis of social, especially familial, descent groups (see clan and kinship). A customary tribe in these terms is a face-to-face community, relatively bound by kinship relations, reciprocal exchange, and strong ties to place.
"Tribe" is a contested term due to its roots of being defined by outsiders during the period of colonialism. The word has no shared referent, whether in political form, kinship relations or shared culture. Some argue that it conveys a negative connotation of a timeless unchanging past. To avoid these implications, some have chosen to use the terms ethnic group, or nation instead.
In some places, such as India and North America, tribes are polities that have been granted legal recognition and limited autonomy by the national states.