Mindblowing Photographs of the last surviving tribes on Earth

Photographer Jimmy Nelson spent the past three years exploring the most remote places on Earth to capture mindblowing photographs of the last surviving tribes on Earth. Though his work albeit with good intentions has come under fierce controversy for painting a misconstrued picture of these tribes naturally ‘passing away’ and glosses over the genocidal violence to which many of the tribes pictured are being subjected. The less fortunate story is of indigenous people struggling to survive amongst and economically obsessed ‘progressive’ society. Here’s 80 images from the full series that convey the kind of drama and emotion that testifies to the irrepressible human will to beautify.

The full photographic book ‘Before They Pass Away’ is on Amazon here.


Location: Indonesia + Papua New Guinea
Photographed in 2010
last surviving tribes on Earth

The legendary Asaro Mudmen first met with the Western world in the middle of the 20th century. For countless years, the Asaro would frequently apply their mud and masks and terrorise other villages with occasional early- morning visits.

“Individually the people are all very sweet, but as their culture is being threatened they’re forced to stand up for themselves.”
– Jimmy Nelson

mindblowing photos ancient tribes


Location: Guangxi, China
Photographed in 2010

photographs ancient tribes

Cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method using cormorants – a species of aquatic birds . To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird’s throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are held in their throat, but the birds can swallow smaller fish.


Location: Kenya + Tanzania
Photographed in 2010

ancient tribes earth photographs
To be a Maasai is to be born into one of the last great warrior cultures. From boyhood to adulthood, young Maasai begin to learn the responsibilities of being a man and a warrior. The role of a warrior is to protect the livestock from human and animal predators and to provide security to their families. Through rituals and ceremonies, Maasai boys are guided and mentored by their fathers and other elders on how to become a warrior. 09 - YVWvSwm

“Lions can run faster than us, but we can run farther”

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Location: Siberia – Yamal
Photographed in 2011
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The Nenets are reindeer herders, migrating across the Yamal peninsula, thriving for more then 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.

“If you don’t drink warm blood and eat fresh meat, you are doomed to die on the tundra”

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Location: Indonesia + Papua New Guinea
Photographed in 2010

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The Korowai are one of the few Papuan tribes that do not wear the Koteka, a penis gourd. Instead, the men ‘hide’ their penises in their scrotums, to which a leaf is then tightly tied. They are hunter-gatherers, living in tree houses. They adhere to strict separatism between men and women.


Location: Indonesia + Papua New Guinea
Photographed in 2010
They live in the virgin forests of the highlands. The Yali are officially recognised as pygmies, with men standing at just 150 cm tall. The Koteka, penis gourd (work by the men on each side of the image below), is a piece of traditional clothing used to distinguish indigenous identity.17 - 5LhS7qE


Location: Ethiopia
Photographed in 2011
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The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley, is home to an estimated 200,000 indigenous peoples who have lived there for millennia.
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The tribes here have always traded between each other, for beads, food, cattle and cloth. More recently, the trade has been in guns and bullets. Inevitably, as roads are made through the area, other goods like beer and food find their way into the villages.
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Location: Ethiopia
Photographed in 2011

The tribe is typical in that it is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone can be admitted.
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Location: Argentina + Ecuador
Photographed in 2011
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For at least a thousand years, the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador, the Oriente, has been home to the Huaorani (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.



Location: Rah Lava Island, Torba Province
Photographed in 2011

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Many Vanuatu believe that wealth can be obtained through ceremonies. Dance is an important part of their culture; many villages have dancing grounds called Nasara. 40 - 0n0tOWb 39 - 6lbhjp6


Location: India
Photographed in 2012

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The Ladakhi share the beliefs of their Tibetan neighbours. Tibetan Buddhism, mixed with images of ferocious demons from the pre-Buddhist Bon religion, has been the principal religion in Ladakh for more than a thousand years.
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Location: Ethiopia
Photographed in 2011

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“It’s better to die than live without killing”

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Mursi warriors are marked with horseshoe- shaped scars on their bodies. Men are gashed on their right arms, whereas women are gashed on their left arms. Very successful warriors have their thighs marked.


Location: India
Photographed in 2012

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For almost 1,000 years, the Rabari have roamed the deserts and plains of what is today western India. The Rabari women dedicate long hours to embroidery, a vital and evolving expression of their crafted textile tradition. They also manage the hamlets and all money matters while the men are on the move with the herds.



Location: Kenya + Tanzania
Photographed in 2010

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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. 57 - J8O1I2Q


Location: Nepal
Photographed in 2011

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Most of the Mustang still believe that the world is flat. They are highly religious, prayers and festivals are an integral part of their lives. Now Tibetan culture is in danger of disappearing, it stands alone as one of the last truly Tibetan cultures existing today. Until 1991 no outsiders were allowed to enter Mustang. 65 - m3S9Rcl


Location: New Zealand
Photographed in 2011

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“My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul”

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As a polytheist culture, the Maori worshipped many gods, goddesses and spirits. Maori believe that ancestors and supernatural beings are ever-present and able to help the tribe in times of need. Myths are set in the remote past. They present Maori ideas about the creation of the universe and the origins of gods and of people.

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Location: Indonesia + Papua New Guinea
Photographed in 2011

77 - pDXN45N 76 - p0N88SALife is simple in the highland villages. The residents have plenty of good food, close-knit families and 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.

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“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle”

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Location: Indonesia + Papua New Guinea
Photographed in 2010

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The indigenous groups fight over land, pigs and women. Great effort is made to impress the enemy. 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. 82 - uxL26Go


Location: Namibia
Photographed in 2011

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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 of the indigenous group.

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Location: Mongolia
Photographed in 2011

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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. 91 - Q0w2XRY

The ancient art of eagle hunting is one of many traditions and skills that the Kazakhs 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. Here’s a fascinating video of the eagles hunting down wolves in Mongolia93 - TpJdY55

Thanks for reading. The full photographic book with more images of the last surviving tribes on earth – ‘Before They Pass Away’ is on Amazon here.

Related Posts:
The Forgotten Knowledge of Ancient Civilisations
Video: What is Wrong with Our Culture


  2. It’s so strange to see things like this that make you stop and think. Sometimes we forget how good we have it.

  3. I appreciate the efforts involved to travel the world, meet tribal persons, share stories, and spend hours photographing their lives…..It’s about documenting and sharing…..who cares what may or may not be in this book….it’s a beautiful slice of life on this planet….before it’s truly gone….and we are dust.
    And last, like my mom used to say, “If you don’t like what is cooked, then invite me to your kitchen”!

  4. wow! this is a great share… your clicks are quite beautiful. these travel photos with stories behind each of them give a great insight of how people are enjoying and living their wonderful lives around the planet.

  5. I really enjoyed these photos .. It’s so interesting how the different tribes dress and mark themselves..absolutely beautiful..Thank You !

  6. Someone shared this post on social media and I was fortunate to stumble upon it. Getting to witness the surviving tribes on Earth in beautiful pictures is pure bliss 🙂

  7. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing. These peoples have preserved the world through many generations and we are so fortunate to enjoy what we have remaining today. Let’s make sure that they can continue to live the way they want to live, not on our somewhat congruous ‘progressive’ terms.

  8. Absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing. These peoples have preserved the world through many generations and we are so fortunate to enjoy what we have remaining today. Let’s make sure that they can continue to live the way they want to live, not on our somewhat congruous ‘progressive’ terms.

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