Amazing Photographs of The Last Living Tribes On Earth

Apr 13, 2018 by Lisa Scarpa
22 MIN

On the road, through desert and jungle, alongside rivers and mountains, intense freezing conditions and boiling heat, he spent 3 years discovering a people we don't know that are gradually disappearing as our modern world becomes more and more progressive. Photographer Jimmy Nelson explored the most remote places on Earth to capture exclusive photographs of the last surviving tribes on Earth. He captured the lives of many of the world tribes that still exist and their ways of life. More than 80 images came out of his traveling and the beautiful book "Before They Pass Away" is available everywhere. After this incredible experience, he decided to start a foundation to help these colorfully cultured tribes, to keep the peace and our modern civilization out of their way. 


“Indigenous and original knowledge can teach us invariably much about ourselves, about others and about how to look after our planet. It can contribute to the planet’s modern vision on technology, science, even medicine – and provide us with examples of sustainable living. In anticipation of losing cultural colors in the process of global change, we want to emphasize that these cultures have not “passed away” yet. In fact, we want to highlight they are there and celebrate that our world still guards all this richness in diversity!  Therefore we enable photography projects that promote positive visibility and appreciation for indigenous cultures. Our goal: to empower young indigenous individuals and incite pride for their cultural heritage. Join us on this journey and help us create a documentation-like fireplace of traditions, stories, and faces – before our world has forever changed. “




Location: Indonesia + Papua New Guinea

“A number of different indigenous groups have lived scattered around the highland plateau of Papua New Guinea for 1000 years, in small agrarian clans, isolated by the harsh terrain and divided by language, custom, and tradition. The legendary Asaro Mudmen first met with the Western world in the middle of the 20th century. They are known to cover themselves in mud, wearing terrifying masks and brandish spears. Legend has it that the Mudmen were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee into the Asaro River. They waited until dusk before attempting to escape. The enemy saw them rise from the river banks covered in mud and thought they were spirits. Terrified, they ran back to their village. After that episode, all of the neighboring villages came to believe the Asaro had the spirits of the river on their side. Clever elders of the village saw the advantage of this and kept the illusion alive!”



Location: Siberia

"The Arctic Chukchi people live on the peninsula of the Chukotka. Unlike other native groups of Siberia, they have never been conquered by Russian troops. Their environment and ancient traditional culture endured destruction under Soviet rule, by weapon testing and pollution. Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi people. They believe that all natural phenomena are considered to have their own spirits. Their traditional lifestyle still survives but is increasingly supplemented."



Location: India & Pakistan

"Around 2,500 Drokpa people live in three small villages in a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. This is the only fertile valley of Ladakh. The Drokpa people are completely different– physically, culturally, linguistically and socially – from the Tibeto-Burman inhabitants of most of Ladakh. For centuries, the Drokpa culture has indulged in kissing in public and wife-swapping without inhibitions. Their cultural exuberance is reflected in exquisite dresses and ornaments. Their main sources of income are products from the well-tended vegetable gardens."



Location: Papua New Guinea

"The indigenous Goroka population of Papua New Guinea lives on the world’s second-largest island and is one of the most heterogeneous cultural groups in the world. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare has lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different groups are scattered across the highland plateau. In the highland villages, there is plenty of good food for the residents, who live in close-knit families and have a great respect for the wonders of nature. They survive by hunting, gathering plants and growing crops. Indigenous warfare is common and men go through great effort to impress the enemy with make-up and ornaments."



Location: Namibia

"The Himba are an indigenous group of tall, slender and statuesque herders in Namibia. Since the 16th century, they have lived in scattered settlements, leading a life that has remained unchanged, surviving war and droughts. The tribal structure helps them to live in one of the most extreme environments on earth. Each member belongs to two clans, through the father and the mother. Marriages are arranged with a view to spreading wealth. Looks are vital, it tells everything about one’s place within the group and phase of life. The headman, normally a grandfather, is responsible for the rules within each indigenous group."



 Location: Amazone

"For at least a thousand years, the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador, the Oriente, has been home to the Huaorani people (meaning ‘human beings’ or ‘the people’). They consider themselves to be the bravest indigenous group in the Amazon. Until 1956, they had never had any contact with the outside world. Huaorani are outstanding hunters and feared warriors. Threatened by oil exploration and illegal logging practices, their hunter-gatherer society has today shifted to mostly living in settlements. They have a vast knowledge of animals, plants and trees, which stems from a total reliance on the natural world."



Location: Papua New Guinea

"It is believed that the first Papua New Guineans migrated to the island over 45000 years ago. Today over 3 million people, half of the heterogeneous population, live in the highlands. Some of these communities have engaged in low-scale indigenous conflict with their neighbors for millennia. The indigenous groups fight over land, women and pigs. Great effort is made to impress the enemy as well. The largest indigenous group, the Huli wigmen, paint their faces yellow, red and white and are famous for their tradition of making ornamented wigs from their own hair. An axe with a claw completes the intimidating appearance."



Location: Papua New Guinea

"The eastern half of New Guinea gained full independence from Australia in 1975, after which “Papua New Guinea was born”. The indigenous population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Traditionally, the different groups live across the highland plateau, in small agrarian clans. In the valleys, you can find carefully planned gardens and irrigation ditches, since the women of the indigenous groups are exceptional farmers. The men hunt and fight other tribes over land, women and pigs. Great effort is made to impress the enemy with terrifying masks, wigs and paint as well." 



Location: Omo Valley

"The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for thousands of years. Amongst them are 1,000 to 3,000 Karo people, who live on the eastern banks of the Omo River. This is where the Karo practice flood-retreat cultivation, growing sorghum, maize, and beans. The Karo were known for their magnificent houses (when still rich in cattle). Yet after they lost their wealth, they adopted the much lighter conical huts. Every Karo family owns two houses: the Ono, the principal living room of the family, and the Gappa, the center of several household activities."



Location: Mongolia

"The Kazakhs are the descendants of Turkic, Mongolic and Indo-Iranian indigenous groups and Huns that populated the territory between Siberia and the Black Sea. They are a semi-nomadic people and have lived in the mountains and valleys of western Mongolia with their herds since the 19th century. The ancient art of eagle hunting is one of many traditions and skills that the Kazakh people have been able to hold on to for the last decades. They rely on their clan and herds, believing in pre-Islamic cults of the sky, the ancestors, fire and the supernatural forces of good and evil spirits."



Location: Rift Valley

"When the Maasai migrated from Sudan in the 15th century, they attacked the indigenous groups they met along the way and raided cattle. By the end of their journey, they had taken over almost all of the land in the Rift Valley. To be a Maasai is to be born into one of the last great warrior cultures. The Maasai’s entire way of life has historically depended on their cattle, following patterns of rainfall over vast land in search of food and water. Nowadays, it is common to see young Maasai men and women in cities selling not just goats and cows, but also beads, mobile phones, charcoal, and grain."



Location: Mount Kenya


"The Samburu people live in northern Kenya, where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert. As cattle-herding Nilotic people, they reached Kenya some five hundred years ago, moving southwards along the plains of the Rift Valley in a rapid, all-conquering advance. The Samburu have to relocate every 5 to 6 weeks to ensure their cattle can feed themselves. They are independent and egalitarian people, much more traditional than the Masaai. Since their society has depended on cattle and warfare for so long, they find it hard to change to a more sedentary lifestyle."



Location: Hawaiki, Eastern Polynesia

"The long and intriguing story of the origins of the indigenous Maori people can be traced back to the 13th century, to the mythical homeland Hawaiki in Eastern Polynesia. Due to centuries of isolation, the Maori established a distinct society with characteristic art, a separate language and unique mythology. Defining aspects of Maori traditional culture include their tattoos, their dances (of which the Haka is still performed by the National Rugby Team of New Zealand, All Blacks), their art, legends, and community. While the arrival of European colonists in the 18th century had a profound impact on the Maori way of life, many aspects of traditional society have survived into the 21st century."




Location: Baliem Valley

"One of the indigenous groups inhabiting the Baliem Valley region, in the midst of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua Indonesia, is the Yali (meaning ‘Lords of the Earth’). They live in the virgin forests of the highlands. The Yali people are officially recognized as pygmies. Papuan indigenous groups differ much in appearance and language but do have a similar way of life. They are all polygamist and conduct rituals for important occasions, at which the reciprocal exchange of gifts is obligated. The Koteka, penis gourd, is a piece of traditional clothing used to distinguish indigenous identity."



Location: Vanuatu Islands 


"In the 85 Vanuatu islands, settlements date back to around 500 BC. There is evidence that Melanesian navigators from Papua New Guinea were once the first to colonize Vanuatu. Over the centuries afterward, other migrations followed as well. Nowadays, all the inhabited islands have their own languages, customs, and traditions. However, many Vanuatu people believe that wealth can be obtained through ceremonies. Therefore dance is seen as an important part of their culture (many villages have dancing grounds which are called Nasara). A significant traditional event is the Toka festival on Tanna Island, which is a beautiful symbol of alliance and friendship between different indigenous groups. During this ceremony, up to 2,000 participants attempt to outdo each other with their lavish gifts, dancing skills, and ornate make-up.  The women at the festival wear grass skirts – using leaves, woven mats or the fibers of the hibiscus." 



Location: Yamal Peninsula


"The Nenets are reindeer herders, migrating across the Yamal peninsula, thriving for more than a millennium with temperatures from minus 50°C in winter to 35°C in summer. Their annual migration of over a 1000 km includes a 48 km crossing of the frozen waters of the Ob River. The discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1970s and the expanding infrastructure on the peninsula, has challenged their indigenous lifestyle of today. Moreover, from the late Stalin period, all children have been enrolled in Soviet boarding schools. Hence, this has become a part of the typical Nenets life cycle."



Location: Tibet


"The former kingdom of Lo is linked by religion, culture, and history to Tibet, but is politically part of Nepal. Today, Mustang culture is in danger of disappearing and stands alone as one of the last truly Tibetan cultures existing today. The fact that up until 1991, no outsiders were allowed to enter Mustang, might have been of influence on this. The traditions of the people of Lo are closely related to early Buddhism. Even more so, most Mustang people still believe that the world is flat. They are highly religious and prayers and festivals are an integral part of their lives. The grandeur of the monasteries illustrates this prominent position of religion."


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