I need a word that refers to a society in which there are many distinct tribes. I know a word tribal society, but it may refer to a single tribe not the whole society-I'm not sure though.

  • 1
    Hello, Shayan. I agree: there's not much hellp in the dictionaries with this. Even multitribal is defined as 'relating to more than one tribe'. I think you're going to have to stick with 'a society consisting of / which includes many distinct tribes'. Apr 21, 2018 at 8:06
  • I think a society is characterized as being one thing: Bronze Age society or a tribal society. Ergo, how can its constituent parts consist of different tribes? A society is one thing. Anyway, tribal society is derogatory in some quarters (usages).
    – Lambie
    Apr 21, 2018 at 19:02
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    @EdwinAshworth Why doesn't multitribal work? A society with many ethnicities is multiethnic, one with many cultures is multicultural, doesn't multitribal work for one with many different tribes?
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 21, 2018 at 21:49
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    @Edwin So you're saying it's not suitable because technically multitribal could mean just two tribes, and the OP asked for many tribes? I've looked up mult- prefix and first definition is "many, much, multiple", then the second one is "more than one". If this is why you don't like the word, then if someone asked you what do you call a society with many different cultures and you said "multicultural" then "multicultural" wouldn't be a good word?
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 21, 2018 at 22:21
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    @EdwinAshworth Not sure why you're confining it to "pertaining to /consisting of two tribes" if the meaning is more than one. More than one is an open meaning, not restricted to two. Words starting in multi- don't in any way lean more towards two as opposed to a larger number. There are other prefixes which mean two, every definition of multi- means more than one or many.
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 22, 2018 at 19:21

4 Answers 4


Generally the word is:


If you look at the Iroquois native Americans, they are what's called a confederacy.

The Iroquois are a historically powerful northeast Native American confederacy.

...comprising the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, and Seneca. After 1722, they accepted the Tuscarora people from the Southeast into their confederacy, and became known as the "Six Nations".

All the aforementioned native groups are tribes.

The Iroquois have absorbed many other peoples into their tribes as a result of warfare, adoption of captives, and by offering shelter to displaced peoples.

From the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Five Nations (later Six Nations) better known as the Iroquois Confederacy.
Iroquois People

Notice the word "confederation" in the following:

Iroquois Confederacy, also called Iroquois League, Five Nations, or (from 1722) Six Nations, confederation of five (later six) Indian tribes across upper New York Iroquois Confederacy

The word is also used when referring to the Twelve Tribes of Israel from the Bible/Torah. Here they are called a confederation:

In the Bible's version of events, the period from the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel, passed with the tribes forming a loose confederation, described in the Book of Judges.
Twelve Tribes of Israel

Another example is the confederacy of the Gallic tribes under Vercingetorix who led the rebellion against Julius Caesar:

Vercingetorix was named the king of the Arverni and general of the confederates.
Encyclopaedia Britannica

Generally these two words are used. Probably less commonly "coalition" is used.

Also, if it's of any help, the adjective form is confederative or confederal. So you may say a confederal/confederative tribal society or group. This would mean that they are not separate or generally hostile against each other, because, well, they're confederates.

  • 1
    Thank you, but indeed what I mean is some tribes living next to each other without any alliance.
    – Shayan
    Apr 21, 2018 at 17:11
  • Generally a society not in alliance with each other experiences civil unrest or even breaks out into civil war. So I'm not sure what you're picturing as a multi-tribal society who aren't allied with each other. Anyway, it's your word.
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 21, 2018 at 17:17
  • In the current time, what you state may be reasonable. However, in ancient times when the population was very low, did the tribes living, e.g., in Arabian Peninsula had an alliance? Maybe not.
    – Shayan
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:01
  • @Shayan I'm not understanding what you need, but how about "intertribal"? I've added definitions to my answer.
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:26
  • Intertribal means between tribes.
    – Lambie
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:37

I suggest 'heterogeneous', e.g. 'the country is a heterogeneous society comprised of three northern tribes'. But there are quite good answers here so which one will work perfectly for you is only depending on the context, I guess.

By the way, I hope what you write about is not of this modern era. As the word 'tribe' connotes 'primative', 'uncivilised', taking 'tribe' instead of 'ethnicity' can be seen as derogatory, you know, esp. for sjw.


plural society (noun)

A society composed of different ethnic groups or cultural traditions, or in the political structure of which ethnic or cultural differences are reflected.

'Britain has been developing into an increasingly plural society'.

  • ODO adds the caveat that tribes are 'social divisions in a traditional society', and that the use of the term in a developed society is seen as derogatory: '1.2 derogatory A distinctive or close-knit group. "she made a stand against the social codes of her English middle-class tribe’' '. Apr 21, 2018 at 13:48

I've heard expressions using the word nation. From crystalinks.com:

Apache Nation. Apache is the collective name for several culturally related tribes of Native Americans, aboriginal inhabitants of North America, who speak a Southern Athabaskan language.

From Wikipedia:

The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma

  • I am inclined to think that this is actually the correct answer to the question posed - a 'nation' - but you have not given any links to your research and I think you need to expand the answer somewhat to earn an up-vote.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:35
  • @NigelJ The definitions I've looked up for Nation is "tribe" or "confederation" or "federation" of tribes. Isn't that what my answer gave?
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:46
  • @Zebrafish I was commenting on the answer given by Stu W, not your own answer. My own view is that Stu W's answer is correct - tribes, together, form a nation. I am just encouraging Stu W to go that little bit further and earn the up-vote. Your answer appearst o be 'confederacy'.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 21, 2018 at 18:49
  • @NigelJ confederacy and confederation, I've made citations of both. The Nation definitions I've seen include those two, and also includes "federation". Also, from what I understand often a Nation can refer to a single tribe. I've seen this in all the dictionaries, and for example in the Iroquois example the six Nations comprising the Iroquois were single tribes. The other three words exclude just a single tribe (has to be at least 2). Apart from all that, the OP doesn't want any of my suggestions, and doesn't want multitribal or intertribal either, so I'm kind of confused.
    – Zebrafish
    Apr 21, 2018 at 21:33

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