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Arts + Culture

Snapshot: The World’s Last Tribes

Photographer Jimmy Nelson spent six years capturing the world's last indigenous tribes on film – and his portraits are nothing short of mind-blowing.

Hunter-gatherers in Ethiopia. Cattle raiders and warriors in the Sudan. Polygamist pygmies in Papua Indonesia.

We consider ourselves somewhat well-traveled, yet we knew virtually nothing about the people at the core of the countries Nelson documented (and we’re guessing most of you didn’t either). Which is why we had to share Before They Pass Away, a breathtaking peek at indigenous tribes around the globe. Come with us on an eye-opening tour of the body paint, jewelry, tattoos, clothing and rich history that define 35 of the world’s remaining clans.

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Kazakh, Altantsogts, Bayan Olgii, Mongolia, 2011

The Kazakh people live in the land between Siberia and the Black Sea; for centuries they have been leading a nomadic lifestyle, herding livestock in western Mongolia. The group descends from various ethnic tribes including the Turkic, Mongol and Huns.

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Drokpa, Dhagi, Dha Village, Kashmir, India, 2012

The Drokpa tribe – which is split among three villages between India and Pakistan (in the Himalayas) – is known for its ornate jewelry, floral headdresses and clothing. The group of 2,500 earn their living vegetable gardening, and are thought to be the lost tribe of Alexander the Great.

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Ladakhi, Perak Lady, Lamayuru Monastery, Lamayuru Village, Ladakh, India, 2012

In northern India, in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Ladakhi people (of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan lineage) practice small-scale farming for four months out of the year, reserving the eight winter months for celebrations and festivals. Traditional dress includes male gonchas and female tsulmas, as well as intricate turquoise, coral, silver, and pearl headdresses and jewelry, fur-trimmed velvet coats, and embroidered robes.

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Maori, Gisborne Festival, North Island, New Zealand, 2011

The Eastern Polynesian Maori tribe has inhabited New Zealand since the 13th century (though they link their ancestral origins to the fabled Hawaiki). One of the most distinct aspects of Maori culture is their traditional tattoos – tā moko. Historically, the markings signified social rank, marriage, and skill sets, and both men and women used the body ink. While some modern Maori still have tattoos to depict ancestry, others embrace designs for pure aesthetic quality.

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Maori, Taupo Village, North Island, New Zealand, 2011

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Nenet, Yakim, Brigade 2, Yamal Peninsula, Ural Mountains, Russia, 2011

The Nenets live primarily in northern Russia where they’ve been herding reindeer across the arctic Yamal peninsula for thousands of years. Following the Russian Revolution and Soviet industrialization, their culture withstood dramatic change. Nenet children are now enrolled in state-run boarding schools and the gas and oil industry has severely slashed the number of reindeer pastures leading to overgrazing.

For more from Before They Pass Away and other Jimmy Nelson projects, follow him on Instagram and Twitter and check here for current exhibitions.

Principal image: Himba, Hartmann Valley, Cafema, Namibia, 2011 ©Jimmy Nelson Pictures B.V.

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