Clan (African Great Lakes)

In the African Great Lakes region, the clan is a unit of social organisation. It is the oldest societal structure in the region, other than family and direct lineage. The structure is found in modern-day Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania and Uganda.


The term clan was first used in the nineteenth century by Europeans, due to the similarities to other clan systems found across the world.[1] The people of the area use a variety of vernacular terms to describe the concept: ubwoko in Rwanda, umuryango in Burundi, ruganda in the Bunyoro and Buhaya kingdoms, igise in Buha, ishanja in Buhavu and ebika in Buganda.[2]


Clan membership is a loose concept, with the correlation to lineage based more on oral tradition and personal belief than on concrete evidence.[1] Clan members have dispersed over time, and are no longer associated with particular regions.[1] Clans differ somewhat in their nature from country to country: in Rwanda the clan is a very structured unit, with twenty in total, themselves divided into subclans. The same holds in Nkore, which has only four clans.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Chrétien 2003, p. 88.
  2. ^ a b Chrétien 2003, p. 89.


  • Chrétien, Jean-Pierre (2003). The Great Lakes of Africa: Two Thousand Years of History (Hardcover ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 1-890951-34-X. Retrieved 2010-10-18.

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