Tribes still exist worldwide, but the pervasive influence of modern society has infiltrated many of these indigenous groups. As CNN pointed out, this has become so prevalent that many customs that date back thousands of years are at risk of being lost forever.
Photographer Jimmy Nelson spent part of his childhood moving throughout various African countries, which gave him some insight into tribal life. Almost 40 years later, he returned to Africa and, eventually, a total of five continents to capture the daily life of 35 tribes.
This work has been collected under the heading of Before They Pass Away, and it documents long-standing traditions such as lip piercings and clay plates. Perhaps even more importantly, Jimmy Nelson’s three-year project makes it clear that tribal life isn’t as different from ours as you might think. For example, the photographer noted during his journey that many tribal members place a big emphasis on their appearance. Relatable, right?
The Maasai Tribe in Tanzania has an important hierarchy for all women. Mothers are expected to build and maintain a home for themselves and their children.
Siberia’s Chuckchi Tribe exists in frigid conditions and relies heavily upon reindeer for survival. In fact, they often dine on reindeer brains, reindeer blood soup, and venison.
The Huli Wigman of Papua New Guinea strike a commanding pose. This was an area and tribe that the photographer had no prior knowledge of before approaching them for a photoshoot.
Ladakhi is an Indian tribe with folklore that predates the Buddhist-Era. They form cooperative groups with several unrelated families to provide friendship and help, as needed.
The Dassanech Tribe in Ethiopia has a clever way of dealing with modern trash. They’ve converted everything from old sim cards to bottle caps into jewelry.
These warriors from the Banna Tribe in Ethiopia paint their skin for ceremonial purposes. The paint is created from a mixture of red iron ore, yellow rock, charcoal, and white chalk.
These ornately dressed women are part of the Rabari Tribe. This nomadic group travels throughout India herding camel and cattle.
The Kalam Tribe is one of the many diverse indigenous groups in Papua New Guinea. They use thousands of emerald green beetle heads to create their headdresses.
These boys in Goroka, New Papua Guinea, are part of a little-known tribe called Gogine. Many families in this area have turned to livestock and agricultural as a way to generate trades and other income sources.
Nikum Nusu is another Papua New Guinea tribe that isn’t well-documented outside their local area. The locals won independence from Australia in the 1970s.
Ponowi Villagers in Papua New Guinea. Per the photographer’s Facebook post, one of the subjects of this photo believes that “knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle.”
Lufa tribal members live in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Like many other local tribes, they participate in the annual Goroka Festival to celebrate their nation’s independence.
Māori people live in multiple parts of the world, but they are most prevalent in New Zealand. Tattoos, art, and performances are all major parts of their culture.
The Nenets have lived in Siberia since at least the 12th Century, and they migrate more than 600 miles annually. Environmental damage is the biggest threat to their way of life.
The Upper Mustang region contains indigenous groups that consider themselves to be Nepalese. However, most of their ethnic and cultural influence comes from Tibet.
They call this group of Kazakhs eagle hunters, but they don’t eat them. Instead, this Mongolian tribe catches and trains eagles, then they hunt with them for food.
The Mursi Tribe in Ethiopia has been exposed to multiple faiths and cultures, including Muslim and Christian. Animism remains their faith, which means they believe every natural object has a soul, even rocks.
Mursi women are the last known tribal members in the world to stretch out their lips by wearing clay plates. This practice started because it protected them from slave traders; now, due to influence from modern society, the current generation is considering abandoning the clay plates.
Karo tribal members have ritualized dancing and singing, along with many other ceremonies. Young Karo men must leap over a bull before they’re allowed to get married.
The Vanuatu Tribe has a royal connection. They worship Prince Phillip and gave Prince Charles the status of honorary high chief during a 2018 visit.
Although tribal life may soon change forever, the world will always be able to experience the history, culture, and beauty of it thanks to Jimmy Nelson’s tireless efforts. He plans to resume his journey soon by visiting 35 more tribes.
By Holly Chavez