Photography by Jimmy Nelson
Before they pass away
Before they pass away
Photography by Jimmy Nelson
In life, much is about the right timing. When
from the start. And by introducing Hannelore
of beauty will be more than just a source of
Jimmy Nelson came into my office I was, as
Vandenbussche and Bram Vis to the team,
joy. Pure beauty, as in pure soul, is able to
usual, submerged in a pile of new ideas,
I facilitated unthought-of opportunities for
inspire us all to contribute to more harmony
plans, projects and thousands of decisions
realizing Jimmy’s dream.
and peace in this troubled world. May this
to be made. I was just wondering how I was
Of course, I had thought of the necessity of
book be used to teach our grandchildren,
going to find the time to do all that had to
leaving a footprint, humanitarian, cultural
and their grandchildren after them, how it
be done when in came a man with a dream.
or other. What could I, as an individual,
used to be. Lessons in humanity, survival
Not my dream, at that moment, but I saw
leave behind other than family, friends,
instantly that this was not the umpteenth
business and good memories? Could I
I am proud to have been Jimmy’s travel
artist seeking sponsorship. Jimmy’s passion
contribute, if even for just a tiny bit, to a
companion, in more than one way. And I am
was irresistible. I remember he had tears in
more conscious world, a world beyond
extremely happy to announce that we are
his eyes when he explained his project to
materialism and greed? Jimmy Nelson put
planning to spend ten percent of the profit of
me. I could hardly focus on the tribes, the
me on the path I was secretly looking for. He
this book on directly helping the tribes Jimmy
threatened cultures, the absolute necessity
gave me the opportunity, not only to help,
and his team have followed. The money,
to make pictures of isolated and distant
but to understand a little more of mankind.
safely kept in the books of a Dutch notary,
peoples before they disappeared forever. I
And by doing so, I got to understand a little
will be used to buy cattle, chickens or horses,
was just looking at the man, and I thought:
more about life. And myself. Accompanying
depending on the traditions, for those in
if someone has such a deep desire, I need to
Jimmy, Hannelore and Bram on one of
need. We cannot influence the climate, nor
help him to make it happen. And so I decided
their trips to the Amazon, I witnessed
are we master of war and peace, but we can
to facilitate his dream. It was only along
firsthand their commitment and was deeply
show our deep respect by giving what people
the way that I understood what we were
impressed by their genuine passion for the
need most: food for their children, a horizon
doing. We were actually saving the last pure
tribes and this project. Not to mention the
and a future. If the tribes are on the way to
people from being forgotten. We were taking
fun we had!
disappearing, may our small contribution at
responsibility for the history of traditions
I sincerely hope his work, collected in this
least extend their lives, habits and rituals for
that were fading away. We were in it together,
wonderful book, will enhance your respect
as long as possible.
on an important mission, away from daily
for what we may call the origins of man.
I want to thank you for believing in this cause
worries and short-term visions. Even though
Jimmy’s aesthetic approach will prove to be
as much as I do. Thank you for helping by
it wasn’t immediately clear to me, it felt good
timeless, and I am convinced that his sense
buying this book. Marcel Boekhoorn
Painted souls The Beauty of our Origins
Jimmy Nelson is not a scientist, nor does
cries, hugs, laughs and even climbs trees to
New Guinea or in Kazakhstan, in Ethiopia
he pretend to have answers to the complex
explain what he wants. At the end of the day
or in Siberia, tribes are the last resorts of
questions surrounding the extinction of
he is nursing cuts and bruises. How can any
cultures or tribes. He travels to extreme
tribesman refuse a thing to a stranger with
Jimmy Nelson merely shows us the tip of the
places out of an inner necessity, remembering
so much passion? He becomes one of them,
iceberg. He consciously chose just thirty-
how at age 16, he already wanted to find out
almost wilder and prouder than they are.
one of the threatened tribes and cultures,
about his own eccentricity, not by hiding, but
What seemed unimportant to them, becomes
based on their geographical and traditional
by encountering others like him: atypical,
essential to him. Show us the essence of
extravagance, but above all for their
individualistic nomads. He found them
your being, he orders, and out come the belts
illuminating beauty. What drives him is not
in Tibet, not in London, and knew that he
and jewels, the knives and spears hidden in
compassion for poverty or illness, but passion
wanted to record these unique personalities
cupboards, the traditional chief’s headwear
for painted bodies: mirrors of pure souls,
in order to save them from anonymity or,
and the warrior’s face paint. A catalyst is
messages in flesh, worn as a second skin. His
worse, from being forgotten. He discovered
exactly what he is. He literally begs us all to
fascination for the rapidly vanishing harmony
that a camera is the perfect tool for making
open our eyes and start caring.
between man and nature takes us to places
BooQs / Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV
contact and building friendships. Initially he
The purity of humanity exists. It is there in
we thought had disappeared long ago. His cry
concentrated on wars, gang culture, violence
the mountains, the ice fields, the jungle,
for attention is so loud that we cannot help
1013 BX Amsterdam
and pain. Later he focused on purity and
along the rivers and in the valleys. Jimmy
beauty, trying to be a catalyst, demanding our
Nelson found them and observed them. He
Entire communities are disappearing due
Tel: +32 477 303 393
attention for the untouched, inauspiciously
smiled and drank their mysterious brews
to global evolution and communication.
melting in the distance.
before taking out his camera. He shared what
However, owning a cell phone does not
Jimmy Nelson is not about facts: he is
real people share: vibrations, invisible but
mean that roots have to vanish. What can
a romantic, an idealist, an aesthete. By
palpable. He adjusted his antenna to the
we do to avoid this? How will we feel if our
celebrating the beauty and uniqueness of
same level as theirs. As trust grew, a shared
grandchildren ask where all the tribes have
shrinking communities in distant parts of our
understanding of the mission developed: the
gone? What were they like? Why did nobody
world, he wants us to wake up to a reality
world must never forget the way things were.
care? There is still time to find an answer.
Before They Pass Away team:
that most of us are trying to deny. If we do
How great, and yet how difficult. Hunters and
By supporting their cause, respecting
Photography: Jimmy Nelson
not document these last unspoilt men and
gatherers in their natural habitat. Free men
their habitats, recording their pride and
their rituals, they will disappear without a
and women, not in a human zoo, but in their
helping them to pass on their traditions to
trace. It will be too late to mourn when the
trees, on their rocks, across their deserts and
generations to come, we might be able to
last tribesmen are wearing suits and living
in their ice fields.
delay the seemingly inevitable. With this
in townhouses. In their quest for modernism
The pictures may be directed, but they
book, Jimmy Nelson wants to open our eyes,
Project coordinator and curator
the tribes themselves bury their traditional
still capture the hidden truth that the
our minds and our hearts. He is a witness
photography: Narda van ‘t Veer
dresses, jewellery, weapons and symbols and
photographer yearns to open our eyes
to the most original of all people, bridging
Text: Mark Blaisse
give up their body paintings: the mysterious
and minds to. This is where we, the urban
worlds that seem far apart but have so much
Graphic design: ReiNarDus
messages within themselves. Because
dwellers, come from. A world where justice
in common. They are part of our history, our
nobody has told them how distinctively
and honour are natural ingredients. Where
origins and our fundamental being. They
The Language Lab
unique they are, they don’t consider their
wars are fought out of the need to survive.
Post production images:
culture to be an inheritance worth protecting.
A world with strict rules and rituals. A
We must give them as many chances as we
Magic Group & Souverein
With the exception of the Maori in New
transparent world, free of hypocrisy. Tribal
can to let them co-exist in modern times. This
Project owner & director:
Zealand, the people that we incorrectly
people can teach modern man about values
will not happen without intelligent plans.
Frans van Hapert
tend to call ‘primitive cultures’ do not feel
and hope, optimism and courage, solidarity
We are invited to organise their continuity,
different, let alone threatened.
and friendship. They are the enemy of
to paint their souls for posterity. If we don’t,
However, being confronted by a photographer
corruption and lies, of stupidity and greed,
they will indeed disappear forever and an
who insists that they are unique incites an
with a ‘give in order to get’ philosophy.
essential part of us will disappear with them.
Copyright: Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV-
extraordinary change in their attitude. Men,
Tribes and forgotten cultures teach us about
What may be needed is a new concept, a
Rhenen - The Netherlands. All rights
women and children become proud, if not
aspects of humanity such as love, respect,
Museum for Aesthetic Cultures: a temple for
reserved. No part of this book may be
rather vain. And insisting may even be too
peace, survival and sharing. There is a pure
the celebration of timeless fashion, timeless
used or reproduced in any manner
weak a description when it comes to Jimmy
beauty in their goals and family ties, their
examples, and timeless beauty.
whatsoever without written permission
Nelson. When you see him at work you would
belief in gods and nature, and their will to
from the publisher and Jimmy Nelson
believe the devil has taken possession of his
do the right thing in order to be taken care
A home for painted souls,
whole being. He shouts, jumps, gesticulates,
of when their time comes. Whether in Papua
before the people pass away.
Printed in Italy
248MURSI 370dassanech, banna & karo 214SAMBURU
402dani, yali & korowai 58huli, asaro & kalam
The Kazakhs of Mongolia are (like their brothers in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China and Russia) a Turkic people originating from the northern parts of Central Asia. They are the descendants of Turkic, Mongolic and Indo-Iranian tribes and Huns that populated the territory between Siberia and the Black Sea. Kazakhs trace their roots to the 15th century. In Mongolia, the Kazakhs form the largest minority and live mainly in the westernmost province of Bayan-Ölgii, meaning ‘Rich Cradle’ in Mongolian. Most Kazakhs in this remote, mountainous region are dependent on domestic animals for their livelihood. They have roamed the mountains and valleys of western Mongolia with their herds since the 19th century. The area has many peaks, ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 metres. Today the Kazakhs in the province of Bayan-Ölgii number around 87,000 or about 88.7% of the provincial population, while across the country they represent around 4% of the total Mongolian population (about 110,000 people).
Among many Kazakh traditions is the ancient art of eagle hunting. For more than two centuries, Kazakh men have hunted on horseback with trained golden eagles. Across mountains and steppes, a large variety of animals – including rabbits, marmots, foxes and even wolves – are hunted for their fur, an integral part of traditional Kazakh clothing. The skill of training a golden eagle is passed on through generations. Eagle hunters wear boots, black coats and fox-fur hats called loovuuz. The mid-October Golden Eagle Festival signals the opening of the hunting season. It is a colourful and picturesque event attracting the best hunters and birds and an important celebration for the community. The Kazakhs indulge in richly embroidered clothing; women wear bright headscarves (ah jaulih) and men wear skullcaps (tuhia) or fox-fur hats. Kazakh culture is quite different from Mongolian culture: even Kazakh saddles are a different shape. Many Kazakhs are skilled in the performance of traditional music. The dombra, a plucked lute with two strings, and the kobyz, a bow instrument played on the knees, are mentioned in early documents. Kazakhs have a tradition of oral history. They lean heavily on their clan and are supposed to remember at least seven generations of their ancestors names in order ‘not to forget where we come from’. In recent decades, the Mongolian Kazakhs have been able to hold on to their traditions and skills much more than their brothers in neighbouring Kazakhstan.
Islam was brought to the ancestors of the Kazakhs in the 8th century. Most Kazakhs are Sunni Muslims, who more often than not continue to believe in pre-Islamic cults of the sky, the ancestors, fire and the supernatural forces of good and evil spirits, of giants and wood goblins. They wear beads and talismans to protect themselves from evil. Shamanic beliefs have been widely preserved among the Kazakhs, as well as belief in the strength of the bearers of this cult - the shamans, which the Kazakhs call bakhsy.
The Kazakhs are a semi-nomadic, pastoral people. Many families move several times a year with their herds between fixed seasonal settlements. Others with smaller herds stay closer to their winter home during the summer but will nevertheless set up a yurt (kiiz yi, meaning ‘felt house’). The summertime yurt (and to a lesser extent the winter house) is richly furnished with embroidered, felt and woven textiles. Up until 1930, the nomads could freely move between Kazakhstan, Mongolia and the Chinese province of Xinjiang. However, after the founding of the Mongolian People’s Republic in 1924, many of them gave up their semi-nomadic lifestyle and began settling down in the western Mongolian highlands.
For hundreds of years, Kazakhs have been herders raising fat-tailed sheep, camels, and horses, relying on these animals for food, clothing and transportation. Mutton and horse are the preferred meats. There is widespread practice of salting and drying meat to preserve it, and there is a preference for sour milk, as it is easier to store and therefore better suits their nomadic lifestyle.
â€œFine horses and fierce eagles are the wings of the Kazakhs.â€?
The Himba are an ancient tribe of seminomadic herders, many of whom still live and dress according to ancient traditions. They speak Herero and since the 16th century, they have lived in scattered settlements throughout the region of the Kunene River in north-west Namibia and south-west Angola. The homes of the Himba are simple cone-shaped structures of saplings bound together with palm leaves and plastered with mud and dung. A family may move from one home to another several times a year to seek grazing pastures for their goats and cattle. The Himba are a tall, slender and statuesque people, currently numbering an estimated 15,000. Although constantly jeopardised by development, including proposed hydroelectric projects, many Himba lead a traditional lifestyle that has remained unchanged for generations, surviving war and droughts.
The Himba live under a tribal structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth. Every tribe member belongs to two clans: one through the father (patriclan or oruzo), another through the mother (matriclan or eanda). The eldest male leads the clan. Sons live in their father’s clan. A son doesn’t inherit his father’s cattle, but that of his mother’s brother instead. Marriages are arranged with a view to spreading wealth. Once married, the women move to the villages of their husbands where they adopt the rules of the new clan. Himba men are not monogamous and may have a number of wives and children in different homesteads. Women are not monogamous either and may have a number of partners. However, courtship and relationships are bound by strict rules and modes of behaviour. Himba children are cared for by all the members of the family in the homestead. Between the ages of 10 and 12, the bottom four incisor teeth of the child are knocked out in a ceremony that is believed to protect the child from dangerous influences and ensure the protection of the ancestors. Young males are circumcised and undergo a coming-of-age ritual. Young girls also have a coming-of-age ceremony. Though scarcely clad, looks are vital to the Himba. It tells everything about one’s place within the group and phase of life. The characteristic ‘look’ of the Himba comes from intricate hairstyles, traditional clothing, personal adornments in the form of jewellery and the use of a mixture of goat fat, herbs and red ochre. This paste, known as otjize, is not only rubbed on the skin, but also into hair and on traditional clothing. There has been much speculation about the origins of this practice, with some claiming it is to protect their skin from the sun or repel insects. But the Himba say it is an aesthetic consideration, a sort of traditional make-up that women apply every morning when they wake. Men do not use otjize. For centuries, necklaces and bracelets have been made of shells, leather and copper. Married women wear a small crown made of goat skin on their heads. Girls wear their hair in two braids over their brow. When reaching puberty, they adopt a hairstyle with a multitude of tiny braids that have been ‘waxed’ with otjize. Himba boys can be recognised by a small plaited pony tail that runs from crown to forehead. Boys that wish to marry sport the same tail, but wear it tied in a bow. A married man wears his hair in a ‘turban’.
The Himba practice monotheism and ancestor worship. Their god is Mukuru, creator of everything, but a remote god. Communication with Mukuru only takes place through the spirits of the male ancestors. For this reason the ancestral fire, or okuruwo, is kept burning 24 hours a day. Mukuru created man, woman and cattle from the same tree, although he does not have unlimited power and ancestors can also greatly influence worldly events. One of the duties of the male leader of the family is to maintain the ancestral fire, where he prays to departed progenitors and asks for their blessings for his family. Whereas Mukuru has power over most physical elements of the earth, such as the land, water and weather, ancestors control more immediate concerns, such as the health of kin or cattle. Himba believe in omiti, meaning ‘bad medicine’ or ‘witchcraft’.
The Himba day starts early. Women arise before or at dawn and apply otjize. They milk the cattle, which are then herded to the grazing areas by the men. If the grazing pasture is poor, the entire village will move to a place with lusher grazing land. Young men often set up separate, temporary villages and move around with the cattle, leaving the women, children and older men at the main homestead. Women take care of cooking, gardening, milking cattle, looking after children, caring for livestock in the kraal and making clothes, jewellery and otjize. Flour is made from maize and butter is churned. Wood has to be collected, and water has to be carried from wells. The children help with the tasks. The Himba homestead is a family unit, overseen by the headman who is normally a grandfather and the oldest male in the village. He is responsible for residence, religious aspects of life embodied by the sacred fire and ensuring that the rules of tradition and the specific rules of the clan are obeyed. The matrilineal aspect is responsible for movable property and economic matters such as handling of money and property. The Himba headman’s authority is identified by an erenge bracelet. He oversees births, marriages and coming-of-age ceremonies. He performs the various ceremonies at the sacred fire, involving the spirits of the ancestors in the daily life of the village. The headman is also responsible for the rules of the tribe.
The diet of the Himba consists mainly of a porridge made from maize and milk. Milk left over after making the porridge is used to make butter, which is churned in gourds. Although meat is a part of the Himba diet, beef is consumed sparingly as cattle represent the wealth of a clan. Meat from small stock such as goats is more likely to be found in Himba meals. When cattle are slaughtered, it is usually done ceremonially. Married men eat meat that is kept separately for them.
“Don’t start your farming with cattle, start it with people.”
Huli, Asaro & Kalam papua new guinea
The eastern half of New Guinea, the worldâ€™s second largest island, gained full independence from Australia in 1975, when the nation of Papua New Guinea was born. The indigenous population is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. It is believed that the first Papua New Guineans migrated to the island over 45,000 years ago. Today, over three million people, approximately half of the total population, live in the highlands. The harsh terrain and historic inter-tribal warfare has lead to village isolation and the proliferation of distinct languages. A number of different tribes are scattered across the highland plateau, surrounded by mountains. Traditionally they live in small agrarian clans consisting of a group of families. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, some of these communities have engaged in low-scale tribal conflict with their neighbours for millennia. The largest highland tribe are the Huli Wigmen, who are famous for their tradition of making ornamental wigs from their own hair. Another tribe, living in the eastern highlands, are the legendary Asaro Mudmen. The highlanders have lived in their regions for 1,000 years and recount lengthy oral histories relating to individuals and their clans. Both tribes first met with the Western world in the middle of the 20th century.
The traditional highland apparel is scant: women wear grass skirts, men wear nothing but a koteka, or penis gourd. However, to impress and scare off the enemy, men go to considerably more effort. The Asaro cover themselves in mud, wear terrifying masks and brandish spears. Legend has it that the Mudmen were defeated by an enemy tribe and forced to flee into the Asaro River. They waited until dusk before attempting to escape. The enemy saw them rise from the muddy banks covered in mud and thought they were spirits. Terrified, they ran back to their village. After that episode, all of the neighbouring villages came to believe the Asaro had the spirits of the river on their side. Clever elders of the village saw the advantage of this and kept the illusion alive. For countless years, the Asaro would frequently apply their mud and masks and terrorise other villages with occasional earlymorning visits. The Huli paint their faces yellow, red, and white. They also make wigs from their own hair. These look like plumed hats, intricately decorated with feathers of birds of paradise and parrots. Other ornaments include shells, beads, pig tusks, hornbill skulls and foliage. An axe with a cassowary claw completes the intimidating effect. Tribal warfare is a common among the highland tribes of Papua New Guinea. They fight over three things: land, pigs and women - in that order. To be regarded as important, men need plenty of each: land for farming, pigs as a measure of wealth and a number of wives to tend to land and livestock. The tribes comply with a payback system, within which punishment for a wrongdoing must be more severe than the original misdeed. To forgive and forget would be an unthinkable crime. To end a feud, elaborate peace ceremonies are organised, usually involving the slaughter and cooking of a large number of pigs.
The highlanders are traditionally animists who abide by strict ritualised offerings to appease the spirits of their ancestors. Sickness and misfortune are thought to be the work of witchcraft and sorcery.
Life 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. The highlanders live by hunting, done primarily by men, and by gathering plants and growing crops, done primarily by women. The men help clear the land, but the rest of the cultivation is the responsibility of the women. They practice cyclical agriculture, moving to a new location after the soil is exhausted to allow reforestation and recovery. The women are exceptional farmers. The first Westerners to visit the highlands were impressed to find vast valleys of carefully planned gardens and irrigation ditches. Crops grown include sweet potatoes, corn, cabbages and maniocs. Women and children also care for the prized possession of the family: the pigs. The highlanders live in grass huts - two to four in each community - which are surrounded by split wood and mud walls. The walls of the compound serve a dual purpose of keeping domesticated pigs in the compound, while keeping enemies and evil spirits out. Traditionally, the men sleep in one hut and the women and children sleep in another.
The highlanders subsist primarily on a diet of sweet potatoes, and occasionally meat from locally raised pigs, wild cassowary or other forest game.
“Knowledge is only a rumour until it is in the muscle”
The Chukchi are an ancient Arctic people who chiefly live on the peninsula of Chukotka. They are unusual among the Northern people in having two distinct cultures: the nomadic reindeer herders (Chauchu) who live in the interior of the peninsula, and the village-based marine mammal hunters (Ankalyn) who live along the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, the Chukchi Sea and the Bering Sea. The Chukchi, who call themselves the Lygoravetlat - meaning ‘genuine people’ - presently number slightly over 15,000. Their territory is mostly treeless tundra. The climate is harsh, with winter temperatures sometimes dropping as low as minus 54°C. The cool summers average around 10°C. Chukchi folklore includes myths about the creation of the earth, moon, sun, and stars; tales about animals; anecdotes and jokes about foolish people; stories about evil spirits responsible for disease and other misfortunes; and stories about shamans with supernatural powers. Ancient legends and archaeological evidence suggest that Chukchi takeover of Chukotka was anything but peaceful. Unlike other native groups of Siberia, they were fiercely militant, and have never been conquered by Russian troops. Under Soviet rule, the Chukchi people endured mass imprisonment and destruction of their traditional culture Pollution, weapons testing, strip mining and overuse of industrial equipment and vehicles have greatly damaged Chukotka’s environment and endangered its ability to support traditional Chukchi activities.
Sculpture and carving on bone and walrus tusk are the most highly developed forms of folk art among the Chukchi. Common traditional themes are landscapes and scenes from everyday life: hunting parties, reindeer herding and animals native to Chukotka. In traditional Chukchi society, only men engage in these arts. Chukchi women are skilled at sewing and embroidering. The traditional dress for Chukchi women is a kerker, a knee-length coverall made from reindeer or seal hide and trimmed with fox, wolverine, wolf, or dog fur. On holidays and special occasions, women can be seen wearing robe-like dresses of fawn skins beautifully decorated with beads, embroidery and fur trimmings. At important traditional events, we see men wearing loose shirts and trousers made of the same material. Due to the harsh climate and difficulty of life in the tundra, hospitality and generosity are highly prized among the Chukchi. It is forbidden to refuse anyone, even a stranger, shelter and food. The community is expected to provide for orphans, widows and the poor. Miserliness is considered the worst character defect a person can have. Traditional Chukchi sports are reindeer and dog-sled races, wrestling, and foot races. Competitions of these types are often performed following the reindeer sacrifices of the inland Chukchi and the sea-spirit sacrifices of the coastal Chukchi. The coastal Chukchi, like the neighbouring Eskimo, enjoy tossing each other high into the air on walrusskin blankets. Chukchi of all ages traditionally enjoy singing, dancing, listening to folk tales and reciting tongue twisters.
Chukchi beliefs and practices are best described as a form of shamanism. Animals, plants, heavenly bodies, rivers, forests and other natural phenomena are all considered to have their own spirits. During their rituals, Chukchi shamans fall into trances (sometimes with the aid of hallucinogenic mushrooms), communicate with the spirits, allow the spirits to speak through them, predict the future, and cast spells of various kinds. The most important traditional Chukchi holidays were festivals in which sacrifices were made to the spirits that the Chukchi depended upon for their survival.
For at least a few hundred years, the coneshaped yaranga has been the traditional home of Chukchi reindeer herders. It takes about 80 reindeer skins to build a yaranga. Nowadays, fewer and fewer Chukchi live in yarangas. The coastal Chukchi traditionally used dogsleds and skin boats for transportation, while inland Chukchi rode in sledges pulled by reindeer. These traditional methods of transportation still survive, but are increasingly supplemented by air travel, motorboats, and snowmobiles. Although both sexes share responsibility for running the household, they have different tasks. Chukchi men drive their reindeer in search of vegetation and travel to the edge of the taiga to hunt sea mammals and gather firewood and fish. The women’s work includes cleaning and repairing the yaranga, cooking food, sewing and repairing clothing and preparing reindeer or walrus hides. It is considered unseemly for a man to perform work usually done by women.
The staple foods eaten by the inland Chukchi are
products of reindeer farming: boiled venison, reindeer brains and bone marrow, and reindeerblood soup. One traditional dish, rilkeil, is made from semi-digested moss from a slaughtered reindeer’s stomach mixed with blood, fat, and pieces of boiled reindeer intestine. Coastal Chukchi cuisine is based on boiled walrus, seal, whale meat/fat and seaweed. Both groups eat frozen fish and edible leaves and roots. Traditional Chukchi cuisine is now supplemented with canned vegetables and other foodstuffs purchased in stores.
â€œThe way you treat your dog in this life determines your place in heaven.â€?
Maori NEW ZEALAND
The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and their story is both long and intriguing. On the basis of oral records, archaeological finds and genetic analyses, we can place the arrival of Maori in New Zealand in the thirteenth century AD. The origin of the Maori has been reliably traced to the islands of Eastern Polynesia. Their journey to New Zealand from the mythical homeland Hawaiki occurred in a number of epic waka (canoe) voyages over a significant period of time. Legend has it that twelve large canoes each carried a different tribe (iwi). Even today, most Maori people can tell which original tribe they are descendants of. These journeys established the Maori as daring and resourceful adventurers, and as one of the greatest navigating peoples of all time. Due to centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, the Maori established a distinct society with characteristic art, a separate language and unique mythology. The early Maori were very peaceful in comparison to later generations, amongst whom a warfare culture emerged with many battles between tribes. The early settlers did not call themselves Maori until the arrival of the European colonists in the 18th century. They then needed a name to mark their distinction from the newcomers and used Maori, meaning â€˜ordinaryâ€™ (as in different from the extraordinary gods). By the end of the nineteenth century, the effects of early colonisation, wars and epidemics had reduced the Maori population to a low of around 40,000. In early 20th century, the Maori population numbers began to recover and Maori culture underwent a renaissance. There are currently around 650,000 Maori in New Zealand.
Defining aspects of Maori traditional culture include art, legends, tattoos (ta moko), performances (notably kapa haka), customs, hospitality and community. The haka war dance, meant to intimidate the enemy, is one of the best-known cultural traditions of the Maori. These dances are accompanied by song and body percussion created by clapping hands, stomping feet, and slapping thighs. The dance itself involves energetic postures representing warlike and aggressive poses. Maori chanting follows very strict rules. To break a chant in midstream is to invite disaster or even death for a community. These chants often tell of family lines or the exploits of ancestors. Tattooing has always been an important part of Maori culture. Receiving tattoos was an important step to maturity and there were many rites and rituals associated with the event. Every member of a Maori tribe had a specific role and a specific place within the social order. An individualâ€™s place within society was often signified by their garments and tattoos. People of high social status were always tattooed, whereas tribesmen with no tattoos were considered worthless. Maori tribe members who had great skill in a particular craft such as wood carving or weaving were given the title Tohunga. These individuals would not only be very skilled in their craft but also highly knowledgeable in the rituals of the craft. Contemporary Maori culture has been shaped by the traditions of its rich cultural heritage, with an outward view of the challenges faced by indigenous peoples in a global society.
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. The mythology accounts for natural phenomena, the weather, the stars and the moon, the fish in the sea, the birds of the forest, and the forests themselves. The Maori understanding of the development of the universe was expressed in genealogical form. The cosmogonic genealogies are usually united by the two names Rangi and Papa (Father Sky and Mother Earth). The marriage of this celestial pair produced the gods and, in due course, all living things on Earth.
While the arrival of Europeans had a profound impact on the Maori way of life, many aspects of traditional society have survived into the 21st century. The Maori participate fully in all spheres of New Zealand culture and society, leading largely Western lifestyles while also maintaining their own cultural and social customs. Traditional kinship ties are actively maintained, and the whanau (extended family) in particular remains an integral part of Maori life. Though many Maori migrated to larger rural towns and cities, they remained almost exclusively a rural population. Maori society is particularly visible at the marae. Formerly the central meeting spaces in traditional villages, marae frequently host events such as weddings, funerals and other large gatherings, with traditional protocol and etiquette usually observed. These events are great occasions to show off their colourful traditional garments, jewellery, intricate tattoos, dances and chants: in short, to reestablish Maori traditions.
Kai is the Maori word for food. The Maori diet was based on birds and fish, supplemented by wild herbs and roots. In their tribal gardens, Maori also grew root crops including yams, gourds and kumara (sweet potatoes). The Maori usually cooked in underground ovens called hangi. To this day, this traditional cooking method is still used on special occasions, creating feasts made from traditional ingredients.
“My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul.”
Mustang kingdom of lo - nepal
Mustang (from Tibetan Mun Tan, meaning ‘fertile plain’) is the former Kingdom of Lo, lying on a high and windswept plateau between north-west Nepal and Tibet, in one of the most remote regions in the world. Although Mustang is linked by religion, culture and history to Tibet, politically it is part of Nepal. At a time when Tibetan culture in Tibet is in danger of disappearing, Mustang now stands alone as one of the last truly Tibetan cultures existing today. The people of Lo are called ‘Lopa’, and their language is a dialect of Tibetan. The ‘Land of Lo’, as it is known to its 7,000 inhabitants, occupies a mere 2,000 square kilometres in the upper valley of the Kali Ghandaki River, which flows straight from north to south. Routes parallel to the river once served as a major trade route. Salt from the vast lakes deep inside Tibet and wool from mountain yaks were traded for grain and spices from India. Mustang in particular was a thoroughfare for this immensely important trade, providing the surplus that enabled the construction of large monasteries and the creation of stunning works of art, particularly from the late 14th to the 17th centuries. At the end of the 18th century, the kingdom was annexed by Nepal. Though still recognised by many Mustang residents, the monarchy officially ceased to exist in 2008, when Nepal became a republic. The last official king (raja or gyelpo) is Jigme Dorje Palbar Bista (b. 1933), who remains king to this day albeit in an unofficial capacity, traces his lineage directly back to Ame Pal, the warrior who founded the Buddhist Kingdom of Lo in 1380. Ame Pal oversaw the founding and building of much of Mustang’s capital Lo Manthang, a walled city that has changed surprisingly little in appearance since that period. Until 1991, the king refused to allow outsiders to enter Mustang. The longforbidden kingdom was then cautiously unlocked, although even then, only 1,000 visitors a year were allowed in by the raja, who considers this the only way to preserve the kingdom.
The Loba’s traditions are closely related to early Buddhism. Most people in Mustang still believe that the world is flat, illness is caused by evil spirits and monks heal diseases with exorcisms. Honouring an ancient Tibetan custom, a woman can marry several brothers at the same time. One of Mustang’s most unusual Tibetan customs is polyandry amongst brothers. In Mustang, the fertile land is scarce and if each brother married a different wife, the land would be divided, making the family poor. Lama doctors, or amchis, practise Tibetan medicine, the roots of which stretch back more than 2,000 years. They believe that the body is a microcosm of the universe, made up of the five basic elements: earth, fire, water, air and space. Tension between the elements is the major cause of disease. There’s good blood for the healthy and bad blood for the ill, and there are 72 kinds of bad blood to be taken from different parts of the body. If the illness in question is not caused by bad blood, the amchis believe that it is caused by one of 1,080 demons, or dus, which invade the body to cause the 404 known diseases in humans. The amchi then writes a prayer prescription for a fellow lama to chant, beseeching one of the eight medical gods to vanquish the demon. Lama’s are also religious scholars who dispute the evidence that the earth is round. The Tibetan way teaches that the world is flat, with Lhasa at its centre. An important traditional event is the Tiji festival, a three-day ritual known as ‘the chasing of the demons’. Monks wearing masks and colourful costumes enact the story of a deity named Dorje Jono, who battles against his demon father to save the Kingdom of Mustang from destruction. The demon father wreaks havoc on Mustang by causing a shortage of water, which in this extremely arid land is the most precious life-sustaining resource. Dorje Jono eventually defeats the demon and banishes him from the land. Tiji is considered the most important Buddhist festival, held annually at the onset of spring. The spring season symbolises the regeneration of life, and the festival is about hope, revival and affirmation of life. Dressed in their finery, people from all over Mustang gather in Lo Manthang to celebrate. In summer, the capital is host to the Yarlung horse festival, with races, dancing, drinking and all sorts of festivities.
The people of Lo practise Tibetan Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, monasteries and monastic communities play a major role. The people of Mustang are highly religious, and prayers and festivals such as Tiji form an integral part of their lives. In Mustang, nearly every village has a monastery. The stunning grandeur of the monasteries in Lo Manthang, in particular, illustrates the prominent position of religion. This is also evident in traditional family structure, where the eldest son will inherit the family’s property and families are expected to give up their secondborn sons to the monasteries when they are six or seven years old.
Daily life in arid Mustang revolves around animal husbandry (goats, horses, mules, donkeys, cows and yaks), agriculture, trade and - since 1992 - tourism. Most of the population of Mustang lives near the Kali Gandaki river, 2,800 - 3,900 metres above sea level. The presence of water makes sustenance agriculture possible. The main crops are barley and buckwheat, while maize, apples, apricots and different vegetables are also grown. The land is carefully terraced and irrigated. In winter, a large migration takes place into the lower regions of Nepal to escape the harsh conditions.
Oily Tibetan tea laced with salt and yak butter is a staple of the Mustang diet. Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat or mutton. Yak yoghurt, butter and cheese are frequently eaten and flour milled from roasted barley is always an ingredient in Lopa cuisine.
â€œThe one who is guilty has the higher voice.â€?
The Argentinian Pampas - rolling terrains of grasses, flowers and herbs - are the home of the Gauchos. The nomadic and colourful horsemen and cowboys have wandered the prairies since as early as the 1700s, when the flatlands were overpopulated by wild Cimarron cattle, originally brought to South America by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Mendoza in 1538. In the 18th century, when leather was in high demand and hides fetched great prices, gauchos arose to clandestinely hunt the huge herds of horses and cattle that had escaped more than a century earlier. Gauchos were usually of mixed European and indigenous ancestry, but sometimes were of largely African or part-African descent. Some presume that the name gaucho is derived from the Mapauche cauchu, meaning ‘vagabond’. Others consider the Quechua word huachu, meaning ‘orphan’, to be a better candidate. Whatever its roots, the word ‘gaucho’ came into existence for the first time in the late 1800s to describe a roguish individual that would ride alone, sometimes with a woman, whose only baggage was a facon (knife), boleadoras (three iron or stone balls on leather cords thrown at the legs of an animal to immobilise it) and a reata (lasso), in order to capture running cattle or game. The gauchos were self-sufficient free spirits who were wedded to their horse and the open plain. Not only were the gauchos independent and tough, they knew the pampas intimately and were extremely skilled horsemen, which made them ideal cavalry during the wars of independence (1810-1818) and the civil wars that followed. The life of the gaucho got increasingly difficult during the 19th century, as anti-vagrancy and other laws forced the horsemen further inland. Extensive portions of the prairies were settled, leaving less room for the gauchos to roam with their ponies and the wild herds of cattle they lived on. By then, commercial cattle ranching had begun, and the pampas had been fenced into huge estancias. The ranch and landowners (estancieros) needed
Gauchos were loners who were hardy and uncompromising, but famed for their kindness to fellow travellers, always sharing their food or what little shelter they had. Sons of gauchos invariably became gauchos too. The pastimes of the gauchos included gambling, drinking, playing the guitar and singing about their skills in hunting, fighting and love-making. The gaucho, his horse and his facon were inseparable. Knives could open cows and close discussions. Knives were used mostly as tools during the gaucho’s long days in the prairie, to perform hundreds of minor and major tasks. Duels amongst gauchos were not intended to kill. They just wanted to mark the other, preferably on the face. That mark would make it obvious and forever to all that the bearer of the scar had lost a duel. If one of the gauchos unintentionally wounded his opponent fatally, sympathy was felt for the killer who would from then on be considered a man in disgrace in need of protection and help to escape. Little sympathy was felt for gauchos known to be deliberate killers. The typical gaucho outfit would include a poncho (which doubled as a saddle blanket and sleeping gear), a facon, a rebenque (leather whip) and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas. Nowadays, working gauchos are as likely to be found in overalls and wellington boots as in their traditional dress, the latter usually worn in desfiles (parades) during festivities and celebrations.
Gaucho beliefs consisted mainly of ageold superstitions varnished with Roman Catholicism. Setting themselves apart from society and being free spirited allowed gauchos to do whatever they thought necessary to survive, without being worried about fate, destination, sin, guilt, heaven or hell.
The gauchos spent their days caring for their herds and catching wild cattle. Being nomadic, the gauchos would spend little time at home, which was a mud hut covered with cowhides and containing a few horse skulls to sit on. Gauchos usually did not marry the woman they lived with. She raised their children (with sons following in their father’s footsteps) and took care of housekeeping. Over time, the early gauchos gave up their solitary existence to work for the estancieros. They settled down, rounded up cattle, mended fences, branded animals and tended sheep. As their way of living changed, the legend of the gaucho grew.
When on the range, the gaucho diet consisted almost entirely of beef, supplemented by yerba mate, a herbal tea-like drink rich in caffeine and nutrients. Cows were slaughtered for their hides, leaving the meat for the gauchos, who promptly roasted it on an open fire before it spoiled. Argentina’s national dishes are derived from simple gaucho cooking (assado).
managers to control cattle breeding and herding, and none were better qualified for the job than the gauchos.
“A Gaucho without a horse is only half a man.”
The Tsaatan (reindeer people) of northern Mongolia are a nomadic tribe who depend on reindeer for nearly all aspects of their survival. Inhabiting the remotest subarctic taiga, where winter temperatures can drop to minus 50°C, the Tsaatan are Mongolia’s last surviving reindeer herders. Originally from Siberia, the Tuvan speaking Tsaatan are a Turkic people. For thousands of years, the Tsaatan have survived the harsh conditions of the forested mountains, moving their families, ortz (tepees), animals and their few worldly possessions between five and ten times a year. This tribe of ethnic people has developed a unique culture and tradition in which reindeer play a pivotal role. In fact, the Tsaa, the Mongolian reindeer themselves, have dictated the Tsaatan’s way of life for as long as we know. Presently, only 44 families remain. It is estimated that those 44 families number between 200 to 400 people in total, although there are no official figures to draw upon. The greatest threat to the Tsaatan existence is the dwindling number of their reindeer herd, as well as the wildlife around them, to which their destiny is intrinsically linked. Reproductive diseases have infected their herds of domesticated reindeer, causing the numbers to dwindle from thousands to less than 600.
The customs and traditions of the Tsaatan people are defined by migration, governed by the needs of their reindeer. The Tsaatan rely on the animal for most, if not all, of their basic needs: the milk, which is also used to make cheese; the antlers, which they use to make tools; and first and foremost, transport. Tsaatan ride their reindeer and use them as pack animals. Not surprisingly, the Tsaatan treat their reindeer almost reverently. Their very identity and survival is linked directly to their reindeer herd. The relationship between human and animal is mutual. The tribe put a lot of effort into finding optimal pastures for the animals, as well as protecting them from natural predators like wolves. The Tsaatan have traditionally ridden their reindeer to hunt wild game as they can move swiftly across both snow and the slushy terrain that the taiga turns into when the ground thaws. Reindeer have never been reared as food. Urtyn duu (long song) is a means of chronicling local and family history, and is even considered to be a way of communicating with animals. In an elaborate ritual of song, the Tsaatan compose pleasing melodies to reward individual animals or ‘tell’ the herd of the needs of the young reindeer. The yearly Tsaatan reindeer festival highlights the traditions of the tribe and its nomadic lifestyle. It features folk singing, shamanistic rituals, marching reindeer herds, reindeer riding and reindeer polo. Both men and women wear their finest deels (big overcoats usually worn with a large belt).
Shamanism, the traditional spiritual belief system based on nature worship, is still practised among the Tsaatan. To influence and extract meaning from their environment, they perform many mystical holy rituals and use many different magic charms in their daily life, for hunting, calling, preventing the rain etc.
The Tsaatan’s daily life is perhaps best described as bordering on subsistence living, meaning they survive only by virtue of man’s basic needs: air, water, food, clothing and shelter. The traditional dwelling of the Tsaatan is the ortz, a conical tent made of animal skin and wooden poles, which is easy to set up and pack. They certainly cannot be said to lead a sedentary life. Reindeer play an integral role in the day-to-day life of the Tsaatan. They use their milk as a staple in their diet and creatively use shed antlers for a myriad of different purposes. Men leave early in the morning to lead their reindeer and forage for moss in the surrounding high mountains. The women go about their daily chores and milk the reindeer when they return, while the men chop wood for cooking and warmth in the brutally cold weather. The reindeer are highly domesticated. They roam freely and even enter the ortz without being chased out (except when their antlers are too large).
The Tsaatan do not use the reindeer for meat, preferring instead to subsist on elk, moose, or boars caught in the wilderness. This makes the tribe unique among reindeer-herding communities. Reindeer milk is a favourite beverage and is also used to make yoghurt, cream, dried curds and cheeses. The milk is preserved in containers dunked into a stream or river: perfect natural refrigeration.
“If there were no reindeer, we would not exist.”
The Samburu people, approximately 140,000 in number, live slightly south of Lake Turkana in the Rift Valley in northern Kenya, where the foothills of Mount Kenya merge into the northern desert. In an arid region with sparse vegetation, they have traditionally herded cattle, sheep, goats and camels, all of utmost importance to the Samburu culture and way of life. The Samburu are extremely dependent on their animals for survival. A nomadic lifestyle is essential for their survival since attempts to settle down in permanent locations have reduced their self-sufficiency and ability to maintain their traditional values and practices. As cattle-herding Nilotes, the Samburu reached Kenya some five hundred years ago, moving southwards from the Sudan Nile Valley along the plains of the Rift Valley in a rapid, all-conquering advance. Their Maasai ‘cousins’ moved further south into what is now Tanzania. The Samburu language is a Maa-language and very close to that of the Maasai. Severe droughts have reduced the amount of available pasture and thus the number of cattle, with a resulting decline of wealth, status and stature of family groups. Their society has depended on cattle and warfare (for both defence and raiding others) for so long that they find it hard to change to a more sedentary lifestyle. The purported benefits of modern life are often undesirable to the Samburu. Their lifestyle and attitude remains much more traditional than the Maasai.
Marriage is a unique series of elaborate rituals. Great importance is given to the gifts from the bridegroom (two goatskins, two copper earrings, a gourd for keeping milk and a sheep) and the gifts for the ceremony. The marriage is concluded when a bull - guided by the bride’s mother - enters the hut and is killed. Fertility is very important for the Samburu. Childless women are ridiculed, even by children. Samburu boys throw cow dung at the huts of women thought to be sterile. A fertility ritual involves placing a mud figure in front of the woman’s house. One week later, a feast will be given in which the husband invites neighbours to join him in eating a slaughtered bull. The people gathered will pray for a child. Both boys and girls go through an initiation into adulthood, which involves training in adult responsibilities and circumcision for boys. Two five-year stages of initiation lead eventually to becoming a senior warrior (moran). The initiates are then free to marry and join the married men (the junior elders). For girls, entry into womanhood is also marked with a circumcision ceremony. The Samburu love to sing and dance, but traditionally use no instruments, not even drums. They have dances for various occasions in life. The men’s dance involves jumping, and high jumping from a standing position is a very popular sport. Most dances involve the men and women dancing in their separate circles with particular dance moves for each sex. They do however coordinate their dances.
The Samburu tribe have had cultural conflicts with the Somali, and so regard Islam with great suspicion. Virtually no Samburu have become Muslims. Traditionally they believe in a distant creator, one supreme god, whom they call Nkai or Ngai, as do other Maaspeaking peoples. Nkai is thought to dwell in beautiful mountains, large trees, caverns, and water springs. The greatest hope of an old man approaching death is to be buried facing a majestic mountain, the seat of Nkai. Belief in the spirits of the ancestors and even witchcraft are common. The Samburu believe in charms and have traditional rituals for fertility, protection, healing and other needs. They also believe in a evil spirit called Milika. Diviners (laibon) predict the future and cast spells to influence this predicted future.
The Rift Valley in Kenya is a dry, somewhat barren land, and the Samburu have to relocate to ensure their cattle can feed. Generally, between five and ten families set up encampments for five to six weeks before moving on to pastures new. Their huts are built from mud, hide and grass mats strung over poles. A thorny fence is built around the huts for protection from wild animals. These settlements are called manyattas. The huts are constructed to be easy to dismantle and transport when the Samburu move to a new location. Men take care of the grazing cattle, which is their main livelihood. Women are in charge of gathering roots and vegetables, milking cows, fetching water, gathering firewood, cooking and tending to children. They are also in charge of maintaining their homes. Duties of boys and girls are clearly delineated along the same division of labour, helping their fathers or mothers. Samburu are very independent and egalitarian. Community decisions are normally made by men (senior elders or both senior and junior elders), often under a tree designated as a ‘council’ meeting site. Women may sit in an outer circle and may make comments or express concerns through a male relative. However, women may have their own meetings and then carry the results of such discussions to men for consideration by the men’s council. Both men and women wear brightly coloured traditional shukka, a length of cloth that they loosely wrap around their bodies. This is enhanced with many colourful beaded necklaces, earrings and bracelets. Both men and women wear jewellery, which is made by the women. Samburu men dye their hair with red ochre, and warriors keep their long hair in braids. The Samburu paint their faces using striking patterns to accentuate their facial features.
The Samburu diet consists mostly of milk and sometimes blood from their cows. The blood is collected by making a tiny nick in the jugular of the cow, and draining the blood into a cup. The wound is then quickly sealed with hot ash. The Samburu diet is supplemented with roots, vegetables and stems which are dug up and made into a soup. They don’t slaughter their animals often, only eating meat on special occasions and during ceremonies such as the birth of a child, initiation and marriage.
“A deaf ear meets with death, a listening ear with blessings.”
For almost 1,000 years, the people of the Rabari tribe have roamed the deserts and plains of what is today western India. It is believed that this tribe, with a peculiar Persian physiognomy, migrated from the Iranian plateau more than a millennium ago. The Rabari are now found largely in Gujarat and Rajasthan. Their name, meaning ‘outsider’, refers to the fact that as nomadic herders, they would be found not within town walls, but in the periphery and further, where there was enough land for their grazing herds. Traditionally the Rabari were camel herders, crossing desert areas that were off-limits to other tribal groups, but presently most Rabari herdsmen also keep sheep and goats. Although only about one to two percent still practise an entirely nomadic lifestyle, the main sources of Rabari income remain livestock and related products such as milk, wool, leather and dung. Shepherds are often hired to herd the combined livestock of entire villages, with flocks sometimes numbering more than 500. Rabaris can be easily identified by looking at their womenfolk, who usually wear long black headscarves (lobadi) and distinctive heavy brass earrings. They tattoo magical symbols on their necks, breasts and arms. A Rabari man commonly appears in white dress, sporting golden earrings.
Rabari have a very rich cultural past and present. 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. Marriage, which celebrates the vitality of life and ensures its continuity, is considered of utmost importance. Traditionally, weddings can be extravagant events, and they take place on a particular day of the year: the feast of Gokulashtami, Krishna’s birthday. Childhood marriage is still very much in vogue with the tribe. Rabaris marry only within the tribe and often into families that are closely related. For hundreds of years, the tribal women have practiced tattooing for decorative, religious and therapeutic purposes. Traditional patterns (trajuva) are passed down through the generations. The female elders of the tribe women still work as tattoo artists at fairs, festivals and markets where the Rabari gather to trade their goods. Nearly all surfaces of the body are tattooed. Rare folk songs and stories are part of the rich Rabari culture. Traditionally, women sing about their loved one’s death.
Rabari are devout Hindus. According to their myths, they were created by Parvati, the consort of Shiva. As Shiva was meditating, Parvati wiped the dust and sweat from his body and modelled the very first camel from the dust balls she collected. Once Shiva had breathed life into the camel, it kept running away. So, Parvati fashioned and gave life to a man – the first Rabari – to look after the camel. Keeping animals has thus always been a devout occupation and the Rabari people see themselves primarily as custodians, rather than owners, of animals. It is also their belief that Parvati is their guardian. Her advice is taken on many occasions and animals are commended to her care.
While the men are on the move in search of grazing pastures for their livestock, the women and children remain in the villages. The villages are usually small, featuring no more than the most basic amenities, and they are almost always set in bleak, barren surroundings. In a typical village, two-room rectangular houses (vandhas) with whitewashed mud walls and tiled roofs may look stark, but the interior decoration of these houses reflect the Rabari’s fondness for adornments of all sorts. The women are shrewd and intelligent and manage the hamlets and all money matters. Going to the local village or town markets is an important part of daily life. There, the Rabari women trade milk and milk products from their livestock. Wool and leather are sold in order to purchase commodities they do not produce themselves. Rabari women dedicate long hours to sewing, traditional embroidery and bead work.
As the Rabari are Hindu, they do not eat beef. Staple foods include millet and milk, curd and butter milk. Milk is deemed sacred food and offering it to someone is considered a gesture of friendship and welcoming. Tea was introduced by the British for medicinal purposes, to counteract the plague epidemic in the early 19th century. Since then, tea – with milk and sugar – has become the most popular drink in the region.
“It is morning whenever you wake up.”
The Mursi tribe lives in the lower Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley in south-west Ethiopia, not far from the Kenyan border. The Mursi number about 4,000 and have their own language, known as Mursi, which is one of the Surmic languages. They are a nomadic tribe of herdsmen who, over the past few decades have encountered growing threats to their livelihood. Extreme drought has made it more and more difficult for many Mursi families to feed themselves by means of their traditional activities such as cultivation and cattle herding. Furthermore, the establishment of national parks with their fences and roads has seriously restricted the access of local tribes and threatened their natural resources. The cattle-herding Mursi fear that they will be denied grazing rights in areas designated as game parks.
Mursi women are known all over the world for wearing clay plates in their lower lips. At the age of 15, girls get pierced, after which their lips are stretched out to create enough space to place the lip plate. It is said that the lip plates were invented to make Mursi women less attractive to slave traders. In the tribe today, the bigger the lip plate, the more cattle the girl is worth by the time she is traded into marriage. In order for young tribesmen to qualify for marriage, own cattle and have children, they must face up to a unique dare, known as the bull-leaping ceremony. It is also a rite of passage to mark the boys’ coming of age. Cows are lined up in a row. Each boy, naked, has to make four clean runs over the back of the cows, without falling. Success gains him the right to marry. During this impressive display, the young man is accompanied by women of his tribe, cheering for him, dancing and singing. Polygamy is permitted: a man is allowed to have as many wives as he wants, but must be able to afford them. Mursi warriors are marked with horseshoeshaped 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. The Mursi are also very famous for their stick-fighting ceremony, the donga.
Even though the Mursi tribe has been in contact with Christian evangelist missionaries and has been influenced by nearby Muslim tribes, their main religion is classified as Animism. Nowadays the tribe practises a mixture of monotheistic and traditional animist beliefs, resulting in what is actually polytheism. In accordance with animist traditions, people believe that all natural objects, like trees and even rocks, have spirits. Muslim legend has also added the jinni, a spirit that can assume human or animal form and influence people by means of supernatural powers.
The Mursi, like the other tribes in the region, build huts using a range of materials such as thatch, river reed, branches and sticks. During migration, they sometimes leave the huts and sometimes bring them along. It is the women’s job to build and dismantle the huts. The Mursi are considered to be a rather primitive tribe within the Omo Valley, even though their way of living isn’t so different compared to other tribes. Mursi have always shown reluctant and aggressive behaviour towards foreigners in general, but since tourists have found their way to their land, that attitude has become even worse. In the past, the Mursi economy concentrated on bartering, and the tribes’ possessions were mostly shared. This changed when tourists arrived, offering money in exchange for photographs. Today the Mursi have a hard time dealing with this new form of economy, resulting in many Mursi men consuming more alcohol than they can handle.
Mursi mainly live off their cattle, corn and honey. In rare cases it is known they have hunted wildlife. Unlike some other regional tribes, they do not fish.
“It’s better to die than live without killing.”
The people of Ladakh (meaning ‘land of the passes’) live in very high mountain valleys between the Himalaya and Karakoram ranges in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Ladakh is divided into the mainly Muslim district of Kargil and the primarily Buddhist Leh district. The ancient inhabitants of the region were the Dards (Dropka), an Indo-Aryan tribe. However, immigration from Tibet more than a thousand years ago largely overwhelmed the Dard culture and its distinguishing characteristics and features. In eastern and central Ladakh, today’s population seems to be mostly of Tibetan origin. Leh, the capital of Ladakh, was the home of an independent monarchy for a thousand years. The Ladakhi royal family, which traces its lineage back to 300 BC, still lives in Leh, but since India’s independence in 1947, its influence has been merely symbolic. Ladakh is a cold desert, with winter temperatures of minus 30°C, rainfall of no more than eight centimetres per year and very limited sources of water. Despite this, it has been home to a thriving culture for more than a millennium. The self-sufficiency of the Ladakh, having developed unique irrigation systems over many centuries, is essentially based on an economy of small agricultural communities. For centuries, Ladakh’s culture was preserved by geographic isolation. Since 1974, when foreigners were permitted to visit this strategically sensitive area, there has been an increasing influx of tourists (currently around 15,000 per year).
The people of Ladakh are conservative and traditional, and their lifestyle is much the same as it was 2,000 years ago. They have a rich folklore, remarkable for its songs and legends, some of which date back to the preBuddhist era. Most of the Ladakhi festivals fall in winter, and serve as an excuse for social and convivial gatherings. In summers, archery competitions and a native version of polo are common. Folk songs and dances add to the jovial atmosphere and chang, the local barley wine, flows liberally. The folk musical instruments surna (oboe) and daman (drum) accompany the ceremonies and public events. The Ladakh festival is held every year in September. Performers adorned with gold and silver ornaments and turquoise headgear throng the streets. Monks wear colourful masks and dance to the rhythm of cymbals, flutes and trumpets. Dances depict the many legends and fables of Ladakh. Buddhist monasteries sport prayer flags and thankas (silk paintings of deities), and archery and polo competitions are organised. Festivals and celebrations are unmissable opportunities for the Ladakh to display goncha, the traditional dress. Typical costumes include gonchas of velvet, elaborately embroidered waistcoats and boots and hats. Well-to-do Ladakhi women have a striking and opulent appearance. Their gonchas are made of heavy Chinese silk and they wear impressive jewellery, with baroque pearls, turquoises, coral and amber bedecking their necks and ears. The gonchas of the less fortunate are made of coarse, home-spun, woollen cloth in a dark shade of maroon. Newborn children are given a warm welcome, with celebrations on their 15th and 30th day in the world, as well as on their first birthdays. The family invites friends, relatives and neighbours and serves tsampa (roasted barley flour) mixed with butter tea. Weddings in Ladakh are occasions for music, dance and feasting. Boys are generally promised or married by the age of 16 and girls by the age of 12. The relatives of the groom bring gifts to the bride’s home. If accepted, the wedding takes place within a few months. New wives move in with their husbands and - depending on their status and wealth - her parents offer clothes, animals and land to the couple as a dowry or raqtqaq. Men are the head of the family and the eldest son inherits the property of his father, which passes to the next brother after him. If there are no sons in the family, the father brings in the husband of the eldest daughter and property gets transferred in the daughter’s name and then passes on to her first son.
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. Traces of influence from the dark, distant past are found in the demonic masks and re-enactments of human sacrifices that make up their festivals. Buddhism has very deep roots in Ladakh, as this region was introduced to the faith as far back as the 7th century AD. The culture and lifestyle of the people of Ladakh are quite deeply influenced by their Buddhist religion, with ancient Buddhist inscriptions and rock engravings scattered liberally throughout this mountainous region. Many villages are crowned with a gompa or monastery, which may be anything from an imposing complex of temples, prayer halls and monks’ dwellings to a tiny hermitage which houses a single icon and is home to a solitary lama. Lamas are believed to be the messengers between the physical and the spiritual world and often act as astrologers and oracles, predicting the auspicious time to start any major enterprise.
Because of the harsh mountain environment of Ladakh, helpfulness and cooperation are essential for survival. Ladakhi society is structured in phasphuns, a cooperative group of several unrelated families maintaining alliances of friendship, cooperation, and helpfulness. The six to ten families in the phasphun usually live in the same village, participate in group religious ceremonies, and worship a common god. Neighbours help each other, especially during harvest season, when workdays begin at dawn and end at dusk. Even then, the work is done at a relaxed pace, so all ages can join in and help. There is laughter and song, and the distinction between work and play is not rigidly defined. As the Himalayan farming season is short, Ladakhi only work for four months of the year. During the eight winter months, they cook, take care of their livestock and carry water, but work is minimal. Most of the winter is spent at festivals and celebrations. Even during summer, hardly a week passes without a major festival or celebration of one sort or another, while in winter, the celebrations are almost a continuous affair. Weaving is an important part of traditional life in eastern Ladakh. Both women and men weave, although they use different looms. The nomadic tribes of the Changpa rear longhaired goats and sheep, whose under-fleece is used for the famous Kashmiri Pashmina shawls. They are keenly interested in trade. Raw wool is their chief commercial product. The men travel long distances, seeking favourable prices for their wares, which in addition to the precious wool, also include salt, dry fruits, pearls and semi-precious stones. In return, they get tea, tobacco, grain, sugar and other goods.
Many of the local people of Ladakh are farmers, and the produce of their fields are used to make traditional Ladakhi cuisine. Vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, beetroots and beans are cooked in a variety of different ways and accompany meat dishes of mostly mutton and chicken. The staple food includes sku (noodles), thukpa (thick soup with vegetables), pava and khambir (bread made from wheat flour).
â€œThe land is so harsh and the passes so numerous, that only the best of friends or the worst of enemies would visit you.â€?
Vanuatu vanuatu islands
The Ni-Vanuatu are the Melanesian people that make up the population of the Republic of Vanuatu. This chain of 83 islands in the south-west Pacific Ocean, formerly the New Hebrides, gained independence from Britain and France in 1980. Espiritu Santo is the largest island. The capital Port Vila lies on the south-central island of Efate. Archaeological remains found indicate that settlement in Vanuatu dates back to around 500BC. There is a growing evidence that Melanesian navigators from Papua New Guinea were the first to colonise Vanuatu. Over the centuries, other migrations followed. Nowadays, all the inhabited islands have their own languages (over one hundred distinct languages are spoken) and their own customs and traditions. The total population of Vanuatu is approximately 170,000.
Ceremonies typically involve an exchange of food, such as traditional taros and yams, kava, fowl, pigs and chicken, as well as feasts. Dancing is an important part of Ni-Vanuatan culture, and many villages have dancing grounds called nasara. The three-day Toka Festival on the island of Tanna is one of the most significant traditional celebrations of Vanuatu. The event, which used to mark the end of a tribal war, is nowadays a symbol of alliance and friendship between different tribal groups. During this gift-exchanging ceremony, up to 2,000 participants attempt to outdo each other with their lavish gifts, dancing skills and ornate make-up. The island of Ambrym is famous for its magnificent tam-tams sculpted from tree trunks. These slit gongs, which are several metres tall, are used to beat the rhythm for the singing and dancing during ceremonial rituals. The more striking dance is the Rom dance, held every year in Northern Ambrym. It is exclusively a male event and kept very secret. The outfits worn for the dance are destroyed immediately after the event so the spirits won’t haunt the dancers. A nambas is a traditional penis sheath made from bark or the leaf of the pandanus. Two tribes on the island of Malakula, the Big Nambas and the Smol (Small) Nambas are named for the size of their nambas. Nambas are characteristic of central Vanuatu. On the northern islands, long mats wrapped around the waist are worn instead. Women wear grass skirts, using leaves, woven mats or the fibres of the hibiscus. To this basic form of dress, the Ni-Vanuatu add masks, headdresses and various
ornaments for different ceremonies. Kava has a long history in Vanuatu. It is a drink made from the pepper plant that contains a mildly intoxicating drug. A nakamal is an area where the men from a village gather to drink kava after a working day. Held under a large tree or ‘lean to’, the men from the village gather to talk about current issues. Often, the chief will use this time to mediate and/or make judgement on village disputes. This method of mediation and reconciliation if an issue has reached a high level of conflict - has led to Vanuatu being very peaceful, especially compared to its Melanesian neighbours. Some Ni-Vanuatu practice male initiation, which usually involves circumcision. Following the ritual, a young man wears a cover of braided fibres over his genitals. People of the northern islands of Vanuatu pass through a series of status levels during adulthood. A person gains entry to each stage by purchasing the symbols associated with it and by making a large sacrifice of animals, usually pigs. Men mainly pass through the status levels, but women may also participate. The role of women varies among the NiVanuatu. In some areas, men are in charge. In others, especially in parts of the islands of Espiritu Santo and Efate, women have more power. In these societies, descent is traced through the female side of the family. For the rural Ni-Vanuatu, the choice of a marriage partner is determined by family and descent. The marriage itself is usually accompanied by an exchange of gifts, including woven mats and pigs.
Many Ni-Vanuatu still practice traditional native religions. These include cargo cults, which believe that wealth can be obtained through religious ceremonies, the best known of which is the John Frum movement. This group holds on to some traditional practices, including ritual dancing and the drinking of kava.
Ni-Vanuatu combine traditional south Pacific cuisine with introduced elements. Before contact with the West, staple foods included yams, taros, bananas, coconuts, sugar cane, nuts, greens, pigs, fowl and seafood. After contact, other tropical crops (cassavas, plantains, sweet potatoes, papayas, mangoes) and temperate crops (cabbage, beans, corn, pepper, carrots, pumpkins) were added to the diet. The national ceremonial dish is laplap, which is a pudding made of grated root crops or plantains mixed with coconut milk, greens and meats, wrapped in leaves and baked for hours in a traditional earth oven.
Daily life Vanuatu is still a rural country. Most NiVanuatu live on their home islands and are subsistence farmers who do cash cropping on the side. The method of production is ‘slash-and-burn’ horticulture, with farmers clearing and then burning new forest plots each season. Crops are sold at local markets. With a growing tourist industry, there is a small market for traditional handicrafts. Customs are involved in every single major event in daily village life (marriage, death, circumcision, initiation, rites of passage etc.) and they also ensure that law and order is maintained. If disputes arise, they are resolved peacefully by exchanging gifts.
â€œA girl is like a branch of nettle tree - whatever ground you plant it in, it will grow.â€?
Tibet is known as the ‘roof of the world’. Five mountains exceed altitudes of 8,000 metres, including Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak. Lhasa is the political, economic, cultural and religious centre with an abundance of cultural relics. Tibet accommodates 1,700 monasteries, some of which date back to the 8th century. The approximately 5.5 million Tibetans are an ethnic group with bold and uninhibited characteristics. Legend has it that the ancestors of the Tibetan people are a monkey and a female ogre. However, archaeological and geological discoveries indicate that the Tibetans are descendants of aboriginal and nomadic Qiang tribes. The history of Tibet began around 4,000 years ago.
Though not void of practical considerations, most Tibetan traditions, such as the many festivals, are related to Buddhism. It is said that the traditional Tibetan opera (Lhamo) stems from the 14th century, when a lama, Thangthong Gyalpo, staged the first performance with seven beautiful girls to raise funds for iron-chain bridges in order to improve transport of goods and facilitate pilgrimage. Tibetan opera then became popular throughout the region. Performances are held during festivals marking different occasions. Buddhist teachings and Tibetan history are the sources of inspiration for the operas. Different masks reveal the role of the performers, whether they be king, queen, lama or deity. The ceremonial scarf (Hada), is highly regarded. Tibetans usually present Hada as a token of esteem. Tibetan traditional medicine is one of the oldest forms in the world. It uses up to two thousand types of plants, forty animal species and fifty minerals. Sky burial is a funerary practice in Tibet, wherein the deceased is placed on a mountaintop and exposed to the elements (mahabhuta) and wildlife - in particular to predatory birds. In Tibet, the practice is known as jhator meaning ‘giving alms to the birds’. In much of Tibet, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials are often more practical than cremation. Polyandry is practised in parts of Tibet. A typical arrangement involves women marrying one or more brothers of her first husband. This is usually done to avoid division of property and provide financial security. However, monogamy is more common throughout Tibet.
Tibetan Buddhism is the main religion of Tibet. Religion is a daily, if not hourly practice. Tibetans spend much of their time in prayer or spinning prayer wheels, which is believed to be almost as spiritually meritorious an activity as prayer. Like all Buddhists, Tibetans adhere to non-violence, do good deeds, present gifts to monks and aspire to have gentle thoughts. Tibetan Buddhism absorbed elements of Bon when it developed in the 8th century AD. The Bon religion is an ancient shamanist religion with esoteric rituals, exorcisms, talismans, spells, incantations, drumming, sacrifices, a pantheon of gods and evil spirits, and a cult of the dead. It has greatly influenced Tibetan Buddhism. Prayer flags, prayer wheels, sky burials, festival devil dances, spirit traps, rubbing holy stones - all of which are associated with Tibetan beliefs - evolved from the Bon religion.
Animal husbandry is the main occupation of most Tibetans and they continue to lead a semi-nomadic life, living in thick black yakhair tents lined with bags of precious barley and surrounded by their grazing flocks. The ubiquitous yak is the most useful animal, although sheep are also reared for meat and wool, and most families have a number of goats. Tough little mountain ponies are a means of transport and mare’s milk is a treasured delicacy and cure-all. Tea-churning is a daily ritual for Tibetans. Every Tibetan family owns an ingenious wooden ‘blender’ to churn butter, salt and freshly brewed brick tea. Once mixed, the concoction is poured into a kettle so that it can be kept warm over a fire and is ready to be served at any time. Tibetan costume and ornaments communicate not only the habits, but also the history, beliefs, climate and character of the local people, and they have undergone few changes throughout history. The most striking feature of Tibetan costume and ornaments is the large variety, not only in material (including brocade, fur, leather, silk, wool, cotton, and many more) but also - depending on the wearer’s location and occupation - in design. Herdsmen need clothing that they can easily move in. Their robes are loose enough to serve as a quilt at night and allow the free movement of the arms during the day. When sunshine raises the temperature, they can easily free one arm from the sleeve to help adjust body temperature. By and by, wearing a robe with one arm bare has become a symbol of the Tibetans’ uninhibited character. Made of sheepskin, fox skin, or beribboned golden satin, Tibetan caps are of great aesthetic value. Boots are so long that they sometimes reach the upper part of the leg. The insteps are often embroidered. Most Tibetan clothing is made of animal fur, with sheepskin being most common. The traditional woollen fabric is Pulu. Cotton garments are welcome in summer. Tibetan costumes are brilliantly coloured. Women in the pastoral areas are particularly fond of bright colours. Tibetans love ornaments more than any other ethnic group. Ornaments are the symbol of assets and social status. They wear all kinds of jewellery, such as necklaces, hairpins, earrings, and bracelets, made of shells, animal bones, gold, silver, pearls, jade and other precious stones.
The cuisine of Tibet reflects the rich heritage of the country and people’s adaptation to high altitude and religious culinary restrictions. The most important crop is barley. Dough made from barley flour (tsampa), is the staple food of Tibet. Meat dishes are likely to be yak, goat, or mutton, often dried or cooked into a spicy stew with potatoes. Mustard seed is cultivated in Tibet, and therefore features heavily in its cuisine. Yak yoghurt, butter and cheese are frequently eaten, and well-prepared yoghurt is considered something of a prestige item.
â€œBetter to see once than to hear many times.â€?
For at least a thousand years, the Amazonian rainforest of Ecuador, the Oriente, has been home to the Huaorani. They currently number around 2,000 and they are also known as Waorani or Waodani (meaning ‘human beings’ or ‘the people’). The Huaorani consider themselves to be the bravest tribe in the Amazon. They are outstanding hunters and feared warriors who live in a world that is green, wet, and filled with the sounds of the forest. Until 1956, they had never had any contact with the outside world. They have fought hard to protect their land and culture and have shown no mercy to unwelcome intruders. However, life is changing for the Huaorani. Over the last decades, they have - against their will - shifted from a hunter-gatherer society to mostly living in permanent forest settlements. However, in remote villages, hunting is still the way of life and the key to survival. They possess an intimate and profound knowledge of animals, which stems from a total reliance on the natural world. The Huaorani homelands are threatened by oil exploration and illegal logging practices. As of 2012, the Huaorani have approximately 6,800km² of land, about onethird of their original territory.
The Huaorani identify deeply with the jaguar, an important and majestic predator. According to myth, they are the descendants of a mating between a jaguar and an eagle. They will never hunt a jaguar. They will also never kill snakes, as they are considered an evil force and a bad omen, the anaconda in particular. The Huaorani have many traditional hunting and eating taboos. They will not eat deer, as deer eyes look like human eyes. While a joyful activity, hunting has ethical implications. The Huaorani must kill animals to live, but they believe that animal spirits live on and must be placated or else they will take revenge. Therefore, a shaman shows respect during the ritual preparation of the poison (curare) on darts. Hunting with such darts is not seen as killing, but as a kind of harvesting from the trees. Spearing peccaries (wild musk hogs) is considered killing and involves violence and fury. The Huaorani have a vast knowledge of plants and trees, with uses including poisons, medicines, hallucinogens, building materials and many more. The Huaorani groom one another, making the tradition an important social activity. They typically wear their hair long. Face and body painting is done for a vast number of reasons, from religious ceremonies to scaring off evil spirits, or simply for aesthetic purposes. The paints come from trees and plants that grow in the area. Traditional dancing is an important part of life. Children are included in most dances to make sure that the dances are passed on to the next generation. In many situations, these dances involve the entire village. The polygamous Waodani traditionally marry within the tribe, through marriages between cousins.
The animist Huaorani believe the animals of their forest have a spiritual as well as a physical existence. They believe that a person who dies walks a trail to the afterlife, which is guarded by a large anaconda snake. Those among the dead who cannot escape the snake fail to enter the domain of dead spirits and return to Earth as animals, often termites. Spirits are present throughout the entire world, which to the Huaorani, includes only the forest.
One of the most important things to the Huaorani is family life. In the long houses, extended families are very close. Everyone helps out: men, women and children. Usually, the men provide for the family by hunting. Their main hunting weapon is the blowpipe. These are typically 3 to 4 metres long. The men make and fashion all weapons. Huaorani spears are most often made from the wood of the peach-palm tree and have sharpened barbs on both ends. Blow darts are dipped with poison from the curare plant, which paralyses its victims. Blow guns enable tribes to hunt prey such as birds and monkeys from a distance. Their accuracy is deadly. The men fell trees to clear fields for the women to tend. The food that they plant includes bananas, peanuts, sweet potatoes and maniocs. Once they have used the soil to its full potential, they leave the area to find another. They do this to allow the ground to heal. Women take care of the crops, clean the homes, and look after the children. Huaorani like to sing, dance and drink manioc beer. They take great care in planning ceremonies. Many of their ceremonial drinking festivities lead to marriages.
Hunting and fishing supply a large part of the Huaorani diet, as well as being of cultural significance. Traditionally, the creatures hunted were limited to monkeys, birds, and peccaries. Neither land-based predators nor birds of prey are hunted. Bananas, maniocs, peanuts, sweet potatoes, berries and fruits are on the menu. Fermented manioc is the main ingredient for their beer, which flows plentifully during festivities.
â€œAs our ancestors live, so will we live; as our ancestors died, so will we die.â€?
Drokpa india / pakistan
Around 2,500 Drokpas live in three small villages in the Dha-Hanu valley of Ladakh, which is situated in Jammu and Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. The valley lies 163 kilometres south-west of Leh, the capital of the former Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh. Historians have identified the Drokpa people as the only authentic descendants of the Aryans left in India. One theory is that the original Drokpas were a group of soldiers from Alexander’s army who lost their way while returning to Greece after having been defeated by the Indian king Porus in 326 BC, while another - less romantic but probably more accurate - is that the Drokpa descend from the Dards, an Aryan tribe that centuries ago moved into western Ladakh from the Hindukush mountains (in Gilgit Baltistan, now a region of Pakistan). They settled in Dha-Hanu, since it is the only fertile valley in Ladakh. The Drokpas are completely different – physically, culturally, linguistically and socially – from the Tibeto-Burman inhabitants of most of Ladakh. Drokpa men and women are tall and fair, with big, lightly coloured eyes, full lips and distinctive noses and eyebrows. As a result, they consider themselves superior and do not marry into other communities. This insularity is how the tribe preserves its ethnicity.
For centuries, the Drokpas have been indulging in public kissing and wife-swapping without any inhibitions. Groups of women and men from the tribe would queue up in lines and kiss openly and fervently without any consideration for marital relationships. As the practise was deemed uncivilised by the army, the civil administration, and by the ‘urbanites’ of Leh – and therefore banned – the Drokpas now only conduct this passionate display in the absence of outsiders. The Drokpas are fond of music, dancing, jewellery, flowers and barley wine. Their cultural exuberance is reflected in exquisite dresses and ornaments, worn particularly at festivals such as the latesummer Bonano festival, when both men and women dance for three nights in a row. Drokpa males wear a large woollen dress held at the waist over woollen trousers. The women don special woollen dresses and adorn themselves with shells, beads and silver jewellery. Goatskin capes complete the traditional dress. Both men and women wear unusual headdresses decorated with flowers, coins and seashells. Their songs tell the story of their history and their journey to Ladakh.
The Drokpa are nominally Buddhist, although animist and pre-Buddhist Bon rituals still survive. Offerings of sacrificial goats and sheep to appease the gods and demons are commonly practised.
Daily life consists of husbandry and (primarily subsistence) agriculture. The fertility and temperate climate of the valley makes for lush greenery. The Drokpas’ main sources of income are apples, grapes, walnuts, dried apricots, oil from apricot kernels, and other products cultivated in the Drokpa’s welltended vegetable gardens.
The traditional Drokpa diet is based on locally grown produce such as barley and hardy wheat, which are most frequently prepared as tsampa or sattu (roasted flour). Other important foodstuffs include apricots, apples, potatoes, radishes, turnips, and gur-gur cha, a brew of black tea, butter and salt. During festivals and rituals, mutton and goat are on the menu.
“Boast during the day, be humble at night.”
Dassanech, Banna, Karo & Hamar ethiopia Origin
The Omo Valley, situated in Africa’s Great Rift Valley in south-west Ethiopia, is home to an estimated 200,000 tribal people who have lived there for millennia. Amongst them are 1,000 to 3,000 Karo who dwell on the eastern banks of the Omo River and practise flood-retreat cultivation, growing sorghum, maize and beans. The 20,000-strong Dassanech (meaning ‘People of the Delta’) inhabit the southernmost region of the valley, where the Omo River Delta enters Lake Turkana. As for most other tribes of the Omo Valley, cattle are central to the lives of the Dassanech. When they lose their cattle to disease, drought or raid by a neighbouring tribe, they turn to the world’s largest desert lake for sustenance, hunting fish, crocodile and the occasional hippo. The Banna, approximately 45,000 in number, are a mainly agricultural people who inhabit the highlands east of the Omo River. Cattle and goats provide milk and meat, as well as hides for clothing, shelter and sleeping mats. They also display wealth and prestige: without them, a man is considered poor, and in most tribes cannot get married because he has nothing to offer as a bridal gift. 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. There are serious concerns about the impact of a gigantic dam that is currently under construction. It will produce much-needed electricity, but at the same time it will reduce the river’s flow and tame the seasons of flood and retreat, which the tribes living downstream rely on to nourish their crops. The fencing of game parks is another threat, as it could seriously restrict the access of the local tribespeople.
In order for young tribesmen to qualify for marriage, own cattle and have children, they must face up to a unique dare, known as the bull-leaping ceremony. It’s also a rite of passage to mark the boys’ coming of age. Cows are lined up in a row. Each boy, naked, has to make four clean runs over the backs the cows, without falling. Success gains him the right to marry. During this impressive display, the young man is accompanied by women of his tribe. They dance and sing, encouraging him. Polygamy is permitted: a man can have as many wives as he wants, but must be able to afford them. The biggest ceremony in a man’s life is called Dimi. Its purpose is to celebrate and bless his daughter for fertility and future marriage. When he has gone through Dimi, a man becomes an elder. About 10 cattle and 30 smaller animals are slaughtered and other stock is traded for coffee. Men and women dress in animal fur capes to feast and dance, and the leaders of the village bless the girl. Girls are circumcised at around the age of 10 or 12 years. Until then, as a tease, girls are called ‘wild animals’ or ‘boys’, since they cannot act like women (i.e. wear clothes, get married etc.) before they are circumcised. Several girls always undergo the ritual together. When completed, the girls are given sour milk to drink and a necklace by their mothers. Like the Dassanech, the Karo and the Banna practise ritual dancing and singing. To prepare for a ceremony, they paint their bodies and faces with white chalk mixed with yellow rock, red iron ore and charcoal. Men often sport clay hair buns adorned with feathers. The Dassanech tribe is typical in that it is not strictly defined by ethnicity. Anyone – man or woman – will be admitted, as long as they agree to be circumcised. Over the centuries, the tribe has absorbed a wide range of different peoples. Members of the same clan are forbidden from marrying – or indeed dancing with – each other.
Most of the peoples are Muslim by name, although the Banna, Karo and Dassanech have also been influenced by evangelist missionaries. Traditional Animism is also still practised. The tribes now share a mixture of monotheistic and traditional animist beliefs, resulting in what is actually polytheism. In accordance with animist traditions, people believe that all natural objects, such as rocks and trees, have spirits. Muslim legend has also added the jinni, a spirit that can assume human or animal form and influence people by means of supernatural powers. The Dassanech believe that some men have the power over both water and crocodiles and are responsible for dealing with diseases of the glands across the tribe. The Turat clan is responsible for dealing with burns from fire. They have powers to keep away snakes and to cure many diseases, and also have the ability to keep away enemies from their animals.
Life in the Omo Valley has changed very little since the turn of the first millennium. The tribes live a simple life of hunting, gathering, raising cattle and growing sorghum along the banks of the River Omo. Within the village, the women build and take down the huts during migrations. They are semi-circular constructions with no interior divisions, made up of sticks, thatch, river reed and branches called miede. Women claim the right-hand side of the hut (and of the porch outside) as their own. The Karo were known for their magnificent houses (when they were still rich in cattle) but after they lost their wealth, they adopted the much lighter conical huts. Every Karo family owns two houses: the Ono, which is the principal living room of the family, and the flat-roofed Gappa, which is the centre of several household activities.
Meat and milk are staple foods. Some tribes also grow maize, beans and sorghum. If necessary, the Dassanech fish and hunt crocodiles in Lake Turkana.
“A close friend can become a close enemy.”
Dani, yali & Korowai indonesia
In the midst of the Jayawijaya mountain range of Papua in Indonesia, on a plateau situated 1,600 metres above sea level, you can find the Baliem Valley. The surrounding peaks of 2,500 to 3,000 metres provide a steady supply of rain, making the valley a lush and fertile habitat. Archaeological finds prove that the valley - only ‘discovered’ in 1938 - has been farmed for 9,000 years. Two of the tribes inhabiting the Baliem Valley region are the Dani in the actual valley and the Yali (‘Lords of the Earth’) in the virgin forests of the highlands. Though ‘neighbours’, each tribe has a distinct language and culture. Physically, the Yali are remarkably smaller than the Dani. With men standing at just 150cm tall, the Yali are officially recognised as pygmies. South of the central mountain range is a large area of lowland. The area accommodates a myriad of rivers forming swamps, wetlands and mangrove forests. It’s the habitat of the Korowai, a tribe that until the early 1970s, believed that they were the only humans on earth. Approximately 250,000 Dani currently live in the central mountain range. The Yali population is estimated at 30,000, while 3,000 Korowai live in the inaccessible southern lowlands.
The koteka, or penis gourd, is one of many distinguishing features as far as traditional clothing is concerned. The Yali and Dani men tend to the growing of the calabashes with both tribes meticulously cultivating a different style. The koteka of the Dani is much smaller than the long and slender one that the Yali men wear. A gourd is a piece of traditional clothing. Without it, men consider themselves naked. Just as people look to facial and bodily decorations to establish a stranger’s tribal identity, so too do those in the know look to penis gourds. The Korowai are one of the few Papuan tribes that do not wear kotekas. The men of this tribe ‘hide’ their penises in their scrotums, to which a leaf is then tightly tied. The three tribes decorate their bodies to varying degrees. The Dani, using paint, shells, pig tusks and feathers, decorate more than the Yali and Korowai, with the latter not going beyond bones and pig or dog teeth for decorative purposes. Both Yali and Korowai customs include cannibalism. The Dani often had to fight for their territory against different villages or other tribes. That’s why they have been called the most dreaded headhunting tribe of Papua. This is remarkable considering the fact that they did not eat their enemies, like the majority (including the Yali and Korowai) of other Papuan tribes did. For all three tribes, pigs are of the utmost importance. The domestic pig has social value and is only eaten during rituals and feasts on special occasions. All three tribes are polygamist and all conduct festivals for weddings, funerals or other important occasions. All rituals relating to birth, marriage and death are occasions at which reciprocal obligations must be fulfilled. During such events, socially valued items such as pigs, dog teeth and shells are presented to the group organising the ritual. The group receiving the gifts is obligated to reciprocate a similar or even more valuable gift at a later stage. Although the means and the actual event may vary from place to place, the reciprocal exchange of gifts occurs throughout Papua.
The Dani, Yali and Korowai universe is filled with all kinds of spirits, some more personal in character than others. Particular reverence is paid to ancestral spirits. In times of trouble, domesticated pigs are sacrificed to the spirits of the ancestors. The tribes have an extraordinary and rich oral tradition, including myths, folk tales, magical sayings and charms.
Though different in appearance and language, the two tribes of the Jayawijaya mountain range and the Korowai have a similar way of life. Both the Korowai and pygmy Yali are hunter-gatherers, practice less sophisticated cultivation techniques and keep fewer pigs than the farmers of the Dani, who use an efficient irrigation system and enjoy huge harvests of their staple sweet potatoes. The Yali supply the Dani with decorative bird feathers, tree kangaroo and cuscus pelts and fine rare woods that have long since disappeared from the valley. Both Dani and Yali build round or oval huts made out of straw and wood, with thick thatched roofs. Dani and Yali men, women and children sleep separately in different huts (honai). While the Korowai live in tree houses, they also adhere to strict separatism between men and women. The tribes’ tools have not changed in thousands of years: stone axes, net bags hung from the forehead, bows five or six feet long and arrowheads carved specifically for particular purposes, such as to kill large game, birds, or their enemies. Their material culture is limited to the indispensable things of daily life. However, they do cherish the modest luxury of body ornaments.
Sago is the main staple food, supplemented by larvae, wild pigs, snakes, cassowary and other birds. Vegetables include palm leaves, fern and breadfruit.
â€œIf the hand does nothing, the mouth does not chew.â€?
The Nenets people of the Siberian arctic are a nomadic tribe of reindeer herders. Migrating across the Yamal peninsula, where the Ob River and Ural Mountains meet the Arctic coast, the Nenets have thrived for more than a millennium in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with temperatures that dip to minus 50°C in winter and soar to 35°C in summer. On their annual migration of over a thousand kilometres, these people move huge herds of reindeer from summer pastures in the north to winter pastures just south of the Arctic Circle. The migration includes a 48km crossing of the frozen waters of the Ob River. For these journeys, the reindeer are used to pull sledges that carry the people and their camp. The giant single-file reindeer trains can stretch out to 8km in length. No Arctic people that we know of have persisted for so long and so defiantly. Today, more than 10,000 nomads herd 300,000 domestic reindeer on the pastures of the Arctic tundra. After possibly thousands of years of existence, the Nenets now face perhaps their greatest challenge. Since the discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1970s, the Nenets have had increasing contact with the outside world and the infrastructure on the Yamal Peninsula has been rapidly expanding. The tundra is now home to several gas-worker villages, is covered by thousands of exploration drill sites, and is home to a new railway connecting Russia to the West. Building infrastructure on a peninsula of permafrost, bogs and lakes has significant consequences for the Nenets’ indigenous lifestyle, which is intrinsically linked to this environment.
Reindeer play a vital role in the lives and traditions of the Nenets. Aside from their market value, reindeer provide a source of food, shelter, clothing, transport, spiritual fulfilment and means of socialising. A bride price or dowry in the form of reindeer is therefore still common. The reindeer is also revered as a symbol. The Nenets believe that people and deer entered a kind of social contract, where reindeer offered themselves to humans for their subsistence and transport, and humans agreed to accompany them on their seasonal migrations and protect them from predators. The Nenets still rely on traditional clothing sewn by the women. Nenets men wear a Malitsa, which is a coat with hood made of around 4 reindeer skins, fur on the inside and leather on the outside. In extremely cold conditions, men wear yet another layer of reindeer fur, known as a Gus. The women wear a Yagushka which has a double layer of around 8 reindeer skins. Both men and women wear hip-high reindeer skin boots consisting of an inner (tobaki) and outer boot (kisy). The Nenets have a rich tradition of oral literature and songs.
Shamanism is still practised in parts of the tundra. Nenets have an animist belief system centred on local deities. These are represented by wooden idols that they carry on sacred sledges. Figurines representing ancestors also play an important role. Several times a season, the sacred sledge is anointed with freshly slaughtered reindeer blood. When they sacrifice a reindeer, they split the animal in half, starting at the skull. They eat half and leave the rest as an offering to the gods. The Nenet people believe that certain stones with unusual shapes are remnants of the gods who have guarded them for millennia. Sacred sites are scattered throughout the Yamal peninsula.
The Nenets live in one-family chums, made of reindeer skins laid over a skeleton of long wooden poles. During migrations, chums are moved every other day. A carefully chosen chum site should provide pasture and goodquality ground, as well as a nearby source of water from which they can brew their favourite beverage, Sri Lankan black tea. After checking the vegetation at a chum site, the headman plants his reindeer-driving stick (khorei) in the ground in the exact spot where he wants the centre of the chum to be. The men take care of grazing the reindeer, slaughter, choosing pastures etc. The women’s role is primarily to prepare and cook the staples of meat and fish, to repair clothing, to pack and unpack the households during periods of migration and to look after children. Hunting and fishing supplement the Nenets’ way of life. When talking amongst themselves, Nenets speak a Finno-Ugric language. However, every Nenet under 50 speaks fluent Russian, as from the late Stalin period onwards, all children have been enrolled in Soviet boarding schools. At first, families resisted this policy, but today, boarding schools have become part of the typical Nenets life cycle and parents are supportive of the opportunities that this education provides.
Except for their favourite brew, Sri Lankan tea, The Nenet nomads rarely depend upon outside sources for their food, living on reindeer, fish and whatever else they can forage from the forbidding Arctic soil. In summer, when meat can’t be stored, fish becomes the main diet.
“If you don’t drink warm blood and eat fresh meat, you are doomed to die on the tundra.”
The semi-nomadic Maasai people of East Africa live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania along the semi-arid and arid lands of the Great Rift Valley. The Maasai occupy a total land area of 160,000 square kilometres, with a population of approximately half a million people. The Maasai speak Maa, a language which, like them, originates from the Nile region of northern Africa. The Samburu tribe is the closest to the Maasai in both language and cultural authenticity. It is thought that the Maasai’s ancestors originated in northern Africa, before the Maasai migrated south. When the Maasai migrated from the Sudan in the 15th century, they attacked the tribes they met along the way and raided cattle. By the end of their journey, the Maasai had taken over almost all of the land in the Rift Valley as well as the adjacent land from Mount Marsabit to Dodoma, where they settled to graze their cattle. At the turn of the 19th century, tragedy struck the Maasai tribe. Rinderpest and other diseases killed large numbers of their animals, followed by a severe drought that lasted years. Over half of the Maasai and their cattle perished during this period. Soon after, more than two-thirds of the Maasai territory was requisitioned to create both ranches for settlers and Kenya and Tanzania’s wildlife reserves and national parks.
To be a Maasai is to be born into one of the world’s 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, including circumcision, Maasai boys are guided and mentored by their fathers and other elders on how to become a warrior. Even when small, Maasai youngsters must learn all of the cultural practices, customary laws and responsibilities he’ll require when he is an elder. An elaborate ceremony (Eunoto) is usually performed to mark the graduation from boy to warrior. Becoming a warrior means a young man can settle down and start a family, acquire cattle and later become a responsible elder. At the age of 14, girls are initiated into adulthood via an official circumcision ceremony known as Emorata. Presently, the female circumcision ritual is outlawed and its use is diminishing within the Maasai’s culture. When girls come of age, their parents ‘book’ a warrior from a respectable clan as an appropriate husband for their daughter. The Maasai are famous for their jumping dance (Adumu), performed by the men of the village, who leap into the air to show their strength and stamina as tribal warriors. Each young man will jump as high as he can while the others stand in a circle and sing.
The Maasai are monotheistic. Their god, Ngai, is the creator of everything. In the beginning, Ngai was one with the sky and the earth, and owned all the cattle that lived on it. However, one day the earth and sky separated, and Ngai was no longer earthbound. To prevent his cattle from dying, he sent the herds to the Maasai, who he instructed to look after his cattle. There are two main manifestations of Ngai: the good and benevolent black spirit and the vengeful red spirit.
The Maasai’s nomadic way of life follows patterns of rainfall over vast land in search of food and water for their large herds of cattle. The Maasai tribe measures wealth by the number of cattle and children a person has. Men can have as many wives as they can afford and support. Each wife is responsible for building her own home for herself and her children. A hierarchy exists among the wives, with the first wife holding the most value and power. The Maasai live in kraals (boma). Their huts are loosely constructed and semipermanent. They are made of mud, sticks, grass and cow dung. Skins and hides are used as bedding. The fence around the kraal is made of acacia thorns, which prevent lions from attacking the cattle. Men are responsible for fencing off the boma, while women construct the huts, supply water, collect firewood, milk cattle and cook. Traditionally, kraals are shared by extended families, although kraals limited to just the nuclear family have become customary. Both warriors and boys herd the livestock. Elders direct and advise on day-to-day activities. Every morning before the cattle leave to graze, the elder who is the head of the boma announces the schedule that everyone must follow. Though they traditionally dressed in animal skins, typical Maasai dress in the modern era is a red length of cloth (shukka) wrapped around the body, as well as a great deal of beaded jewellery worn on the neck and arms. These are worn by both men and women and may vary in colour depending on the occasion. Ear piercing and the stretching of earlobes are also part of Maasai beauty, and both men and women wear metal hoops on their stretched earlobes. Women shave their heads and remove two middle teeth on the lower jaw (for oral delivery of traditional medicine). The Maasai economy is increasingly dependent on the market economy. Livestock products are sold in order to purchase beads, clothing and grains, or to pay for the children’s school fees. Nowadays, it is common to see young Maasai men and women in major towns and cities selling not just goats and cows, but also beads, mobile phones, charcoal and grain, among other items.
All of the Maasai’s needs for food are met by their cattle. They eat the meat, drink the milk and on occasion, drink the blood. Bulls, oxen and lambs are slaughtered for meat on special occasions and for ceremonies. The Maasai’s entire way of life has historically depended on their cattle, although more recently, with their cattle dwindling, the Maasai have grown dependent on food such as sorghum, rice, potatoes and cabbage (known to the Maasai as goat leaves).
â€œLions can run faster than us, but we can run farther.â€?
I am a photographer, not a writer. My notes
and beautiful countries. Ashkaine, for all her
Mark Blaisse, for all his writing and wisdom,
are in my head, forever inspiring my work.
encouragement and keeping whatâ€™s most
will have my eternal friendship.
My memories are more often than not of a
valuable secure in my long absences: our
spiritual kind, not apt for description. In
children Ardash, Naroush and Alaya.
many ways I am a loner, although people
The project images received loving care from Magic Group, Souverein and
are my passion. Sometimes I wondered
To have a friend like Narda van â€˜t Veer, who
whether observing the tribes pictured in
saw the potential of my plan long before
this book, as I did, with my camera, was fair
others became believers and who introduced
I wish to thank all my friends and supporters
and transparent enough. But then I knew
me to Marcel, is a blessing. Narda has
who have invested in me morally and
that they were observing me as much as I
virtually been by my side during the whole,
financially: without them I would not have
was picturing them. I must have seemed an
complicated project, coaching and fighting on
been able to grow as a photographer
oddity, a stranger from another world. How
a daily basis for the good cause.
and a person.
This project could never have taken place
Without Frans van Hapert, very little would have
Above all, I am grateful for the open
without others, and I realize how grateful I am.
been possible in the aftermath of our travels.
minds, trust and friendship we
right they are.
encountered wherever we went. I wish I am forever indebted to Marcel Boekhoorn,
I cannot start counting the many
to thank all the generous families who
who wanted to share my dream and whose
adventures, stories, failures, desperations
invited Hannelore, Bram and me into their
financial backing was invaluable.
and celebrations I shared with my travel
lives and homes. Their warm hospitality
companions, assistant photographer
and patience kept us all inspired and safe
I owe so much to my parents, mothers in
Hannelore Vandebussche and the exceptional
and changed us forever.
law and my wife Ashkaine. My parents for
cameraman Bram Vis, who both followed me
introducing me and my sister Lucy to remote
tirelessly and supported unquestionably.
I am eternally grateful. Thank you.