Before They Pass Away

“The purity of humanity exists. It is there in the mountains, the ice fields, the jungle, along the rivers and in the valleys.”
Esteemed photographer Jimmy Nelson forces us to see, to understand and to remember the world’s last and most beautiful tribesmen Before They Pass Awayin a unique global documentationWhether in Papua New Guinea or in Kazakhstan, in Ethiopia or in Siberia, tribes are the last resorts of natural authenticity.

‘’In 2009, I planned to become a guest of 31 secluded and visually unique tribes. I wanted to witness their time-honoured traditions, join in their rituals and discover how the rest of the world is threatening to change their way of life forever. Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world. Elegant and evocative portraits created with a 4×5 camera. The detail that is attained by using such large negatives would provide an extraordinary view into the emotional and spiritual lives of the last indigenous peoples of the world. At the same time, it would glorify their varying and unique cultural creativity with their painted faces, scarified bodies, jewellery, extravagant hairstyles and ritual language.”

Of all the 29 Tribes photographed by Nelson, I am largely drawn to the vivid images of the Rabaris of Western India.



This tribe, with a peculiar Persian physiognomy is believed to have migrated from the Iranian plateau more than a millennium ago.


Rabri women can be easily identified by their long black headscarves, heavy brass earrings and ‘magic symbol’ tattoos on their neck, breasts and arms.


While the men are always on the move searching for grazing pastures for their livestock, the women, who are considered shrewd and intelligent, manage the hamlets and all money matters.



Extravagant events like weddings are given utmost importance and childhood marriage is still very much in vogue with the tribe.


Embroidery is a vital, living and evolving expression of the crafted textile tradition of the Rabaris. As far back as the tribe’s collective memory stretches, Rabari women have diligently embroidered textiles as an expression of creativity, aesthetics and identity. Designs are taken from mythology and the tribe’s desert surroundings. Girls learn the art of embroidery at a young age, practising their new-found skills by working on a collection of embroidered items that will later become their dowry. This collection can sometimes take two or three years to complete.




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