What is a clan?

A clan is a group of individuals that trace real or perceived royalty and descent. Although the term clan is generally associated with the Scottish Highlands, in a broader anthropological understanding, a clan is any non-corporate group in which genealogical ties are assumed between members.

Clans by continent or region

African Great Lakes Region

Based on the definition of the Great African Lakes region, a clan is a unit of social organization that has the oldest structure, bringing together people who share a common origin and surname. Most clans in this region are confined to individual countries, for example, Hutus and Tutsis are located in Rwanda and Burundi. However, members of the clan dispersed over time due to limited space. The term clan found its way into the region through nineteenth-century Europeans who found similarities with other clans in Europe. The importance attributed to the clan is different with the countries; in Rwanda, a clan is an exceptional structure with sub-divisions called sub-clans where company decisions are made,

The Americas

In North America, the Anishinaabe followed their lineage through patrilineal clans, totems. The Anishinaabe were classified into groups called Odoodeman (clan) in which each Odoodem (singular of Odoodeman) was represented by a particular animal. The clans used to dictate the occupants of traditional positions, inter-tribal relations and marriages. To this day, the clan still plays a crucial role in the life and identity of the Alaninaabe.

Central Asia

Clans are seen as political groups that guide their programs through tribal and regional loyalties. They often have control over some government departments. However, within the government, members of the same clans occasionally differ in some matters. For example, in the government of Uzbekistan, the Samarkand clan holds one of the powerful government ministries, the Ministry of the Interior. Before the expansion of the Russians, the inhabitants of Central Asia used to identify with the clans.


The clans in this region, for example the Irish clan, had a traditional relationship divided into groups with a shared heritage and surname. The clan (clan) represented extended families by introducing the word Mac which means “son of” to pluralize surnames, for example, the MacCarthy family was represented by “Clann Carthaihg”. Furthermore, the clan indicated a subgroup, for example children of recent ancestors. The Irish people attach importance to the clans and the stability it brings to society, and it has maintained its existence for centuries.

Importance of clans

The society is organized entirely around the clan and was seen as a large extended family. Members share a detached ancestor and assist each other during difficult times. The elder members of the clan have confidence in the responsibility to bring order to society. Clan members unite in the face of external threats and fight these threats together. Although the culture of the clan is gradually disappearing, it continues to play a dominant role in remote and rural areas in different parts of the world.

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