Meet 8 of the world’s most remote tribes

From jungles to tropical islands, here are eight tribes whose traditions will pique your curiosity.
By Will Gray

They're hidden in the deepest, darkest corners of the Earth – or in the vast, remote plains of Africa. Tiny pockets of people whose customs, dress and traditions have remained decidely anachronistic.

While they may only don traditional dress or use ancient hunting methods on special occasions these days, there's no question that the people in these pictures live a lot closer to their old way of life than the average.

Meet eight incredible indigenous tribes – and see what makes them unique.

Huli Wigmen, Papua New Guinea

A group of Huli wigmen in Papa New Guinea
Huli wigmen, Papua New Guinea © Wolfgang Kaehler

Location: Tari Highlands, Papua New Guinea

This tribe’s incredible hats are actually made from their own hair, with men in this isolated 40,000-strong group ‘harvesting’ their mane for their own use or to sell to others. They combine these with yellow face paint, a clawed axe, an apron of leaves and a belt of dangling pigtails to intimidate rival tribes. Traditionally, they perform a classic bird dance, mimicking the birds of paradise found on the island.

Future outlook: Successfully blending modern and traditional life, many now wear Western-style clothing and are embracing tourism as a way to keep their tradition alive.

Dogon, West Africa

Ireli, climbing to collect pigeon guano. Working as a team, three Dogon climbers.
Climbers on Bandiagara Cliffs © Aurora Photos

Location: Mali, West Africa

Using ropes made of baobab bark, men traditionally scale the formidable Bandiagara cliffs to collect pigeon or bat guano, which is sold as fertiliser, and Tellem artefacts, which are sold to Western art collectors. More than 400,000 live in around 700 little villages precariously perched all the way along the 200km cliff escarpment.

Future outlook: The tribe thrived on tourism dollars but recent unrest has reduced visitors and poor crop harvests are making life much harder.

Chimbu Skeleton Dancers, Papa New Guinea

Chimbu Skeleton Dancers posing for a portrait in Papua New Guinea
Chimbu skeleton dancers © Getty Images

Location: Chimbu Province, Papua New Guinea

It may be a look we're familiar with, but this tribe’s skeleton dances originated to intimidate enemy tribes in what is a hotly-contested and highly-territorial country. They are so remote that little is known about their real lives, but it is understood they live in a temperate climate in rugged mountain valleys between 1,600 and 2,400m, traditionally in male-female segregated houses but increasingly sharing as families.

Future outlook: Slowly increasing tourism interaction means dances are starting to be done more as shows by community-integrated people, than by the more remote in a traditional setting.

Nenet, Siberia

Nomadic Nenets reindeer herder riding a sled towed by reindeers.
Nomadic Nenet reindeer herders © Getty Images

Location: Yamal Peninsula, Siberia

This group of around 10,000 nomads are pretty hardy – they move 300,000 reindeer on a 1,100km migration around an area one-and-a-half times the size of France, in temperatures down to minus 50 degrees Celsius. They travel on sledges anointed with freshly-slaughtered reindeer blood, in trains that stretch up to 8km long. Despite discovery of oil and gas reserves in the 1970s, they are adapting well to increasing contact with the outside world.

Future outlook: Bucking the trend of dwindling global nomadic groups, they are adapting to the social, political and natural change around them.

Asaro mud men

A group of Asaro mud men pose in traditional masks
Asaro mud men in Papua New Guinea © Danita Delimont/Getty Images

Location: Goroka, Papua New Guinea

These mud-covered men are not aiming for the perfect complexion, they slap on the brown stuff because they believe it makes them look like spirits and it terrifies the other indigenous groups in the area. One of many groups scattered on the highland plateau for over a millennium, they are isolated by harsh terrain and were only discovered around 75 years ago.

Future outlook: Success as a tourist attraction has enlarged the tribe’s potential as a national symbol.

Himba herders, Namibia

Himba people walking through the desert of the Hartmann Valley
Himba people walking through the desert © Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV,

Location: Namibia, Africa

Semi-nomadic, the Himba live scattered across northwest Namibia and southern Angola. When stationary, they live in tipi-shaped structures built with mud and dung. Curious fact: They keep an ancestral fire burning 24 hours a day in homage to their god Mukuru. Wealth is measured in cattle, but goat is a more regular part of the diet.

Future outlook: There's an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 members of the tribe left, but they're constantly threatened by new development. Nevertheless, many maintain their traditional lifestyle.

Kazakh golden eagle hunters

Eagle hunting is one of the Kazakh's traditions.
Kazakh golden eagle hunters © Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV,

Location: Bayan-Olgii Province, Mongolia

They use eagles to hunt foxes, marmots and wolves and wear furs of the prey they catch, with boys starting at the age of 13, when they can prove they can carry the weight of a golden eagle. Semi-nomadic, they have been moving around the Altai Mountains since the 19th century. They now number around 100,000 people, but there are only around 250 eagle hunters left.

Future outlook: Because young men are being drawn away, females are starting to break into this masculine-dominated activity to keep it alive.

Bayaka, Central African Republic

Bayaka Honey Gatherers looking for bee nests
Bayaka honey gatherers search for bee nests © Getty Images

Location: Southwest Rainforests, Central African Republic (CAR)

Living by the ‘Jengi’, the spirit of the forest, the Aya have rich knowledge of herbal medicine but use their own language and hunting traditions. They are one of a number of tribes in this remote area of Africa making up a population of half a million. However, elders now report they cannot teach the traditional skills because they can no longer go deep into the forest.

Future outlook: Many pygmy communities have lost their traditional livelihoods, having to give up lands to conservation projects and logging.

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