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Saturday 23 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
# Jimmy Nelson
Before They Pass Away: 12 incredible photos of the world's disappearing tribes
Photojournalism at its finest.

DOZENS OF TRIBES around the world have managed to survive outside of the modern world, though their existence is perpetually at risk.

British photographer Jimmy Nelson tried to record them as they exist today, traveling to meet 31 tribes from 2009 to 2012.

“My dream had always been to preserve our world’s tribes through my photography,” Nelson told Business Insider.

“Their lifestyle is one of much more purity and beauty than ‘ours’. It is free of corruption and greed. I want the tribes to be proud of their authenticity and defend it in order to preserve it.

I feel that we must try to let the tribes co-exist in these modern times, by supporting their cause, respecting their habitats, recording their pride and helping them to pass on their traditions to generations to come.

Nelson shared photos of some tribes, from the Tsaatan people of northern Mongolia to the Maasai people of Kenya.

For the rest, check out his website and his book, Before They Pass Away.

When Nelson first made contact with the tribes, he left his cameras behind. After staying and talking with the tribe for several days, Nelson would ask about photographing them.

All images: Jimmy Nelson BV published by teNeues

imageThe Nenets of Siberia (pictured) hunt and herd reindeer.


Melanesians (pictured) occupy parts of a number of Pacific islands.

In order to communicate, Nelson had to use translators. He says that approaching the tribes with respect made it easy for the locals to trust them.


He says that visiting tribes living in extremely cold climates, like these Kazakh men, was “very intense, because they are surviving on the edge of the planet”.


When Nelson took his gloves off to take this photo of three Kazakh men, his hands froze to the camera in the -20 degree weather. Nelson was crying in pain and a local woman broke custom, putting his hands under her jacket until he returned feeling. It was an extraordinary example of their kindness, he says.


The natives of the Mustang region of Nepal are traditionally animal herders.


When Nelson first met the Tsaatan people, they invited him to drink with them. After a night of drinking, Nelson struggled to pee outside the teepee in −40 degree weather. He peed on himself, attracting a stampede of reindeer (who are attracted to salt). The reindeer began licking him and the group started laughing hysterically.


Nelson, who used to be an advertising photographer, says that he wanted to make the tribes look “monumental” and “important”. The men of New Guinea’s Huli people (pictured) wear elaborate headdresses and ceremonial wigs when they go to war.


The Maori people of New Zealand recently received control of large tracts of forested land as redress for breaches by the government of a 19th-Century treaty.


The Yali people live in Papua, Indonesia. Their territory is isolated from outside civilization due to challenging geography.


The Samburu people of Kenya are a gerontocracy, meaning that the elders control the tribe. They have a monopoly on marriages and herds.


Himba people live in Northern Namibia and Angola. They are semi-nomadic and pastoral, known for covering themselves in otjize, a mixture of fat and ochre, which gives their skin a reddish tint.


The Maasai people of Kenya are well regarded for their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands.


Read: Irishman shortlisted for world photography award

More: 22 of the most unforgettable war photos you will ever see

Photojournalism: Violence, addiction, funerals…How Mexico’s drugs war impacts regular people

Published with permission from
Business Insider
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