Life with the world's most isolated tribe

Life with the world’s most isolated tribe: Beautiful pictures show the Marquesans – who live on South Pacific islands over 800 miles from the nearest civilisation

  • The isolated Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific are over 800 miles from the tourist destination of Tahiti
  • World-famous photographer Jimmy Nelson has visited the islands twice, snapping beautiful images there
  • He explained: ‘It is a beautiful part of the world and is still relatively untouched by the developed world’  

Life on one of the world’s most remote sets of islands, which are still only inhabited by its original tribal settlers, has been captured in a series of stunning photographs.

The ‘extremely isolated’ Marquesas Islands are one of the world’s most untouched civilisations, with its inhabitants blissfully still relatively unaffected by the developed world.

The islands are dotted in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 1,400km (880 miles) from the nearest popular tourist destination of Tahiti, in French Polynesia. 

World-famous photographer Jimmy Nelson has snapped a series of photos showing what life is like for the Marquesans tribe, pictured, which lives on the Marquesas Islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

The Marquesas Islands are described as ‘extremely isolated’, with Jimmy explaining that the people there are ‘still relatively untouched by the developed world’


Two tribe members wear full traditional dress, which is usually worn on special occasions such as weddings. Photographer Jimmy, 53, is best known for his portraits of tribal and indigenous peoples

The islanders have retained a rich sense of heritage, says Jimmy, and get around their islands predominantly on horseback

The Marquesas Islands are made up of 12 islands – of which only six are inhabited. Their green, mountainous landscapes inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous adventure novel, Treasure Island

Many of the tribe members are covered in tribal tattoos – with modern-day tattoos, as we know them, having originated from these isolated islands, says Jimmy 

And these stunning photos, captured by world-famous photographer Jimmy Nelson, show what life is like on the islands, which have become one of the world’s best-kept secrets.

Jimmy, 53, is known for his portraits of tribal and indigenous peoples – and has now visited the Marquesas Islands twice.

His amazing photos show off the panoramic vistas of the 12 islands – of which only six are inhabited – with their green, mountainous landscapes that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous adventure novel, Treasure Island.

The islanders, known as Marquesans, have retained a rich sense of heritage, getting around their islands predominantly on horseback.

And they are covered in significant, tribal tattoos – with modern-day tattoos, as we know them, having originated from these isolated islands, Jimmy says.

The British photographer, who currently lives in Amsterdam, described the experience of visiting the Marquesas Islands as ‘the biggest richness you can ever imagine’.

Jimmy, who is British but who currently lives in Amsterdam, described the experience of visiting the Marquesas Islands as ‘the biggest richness you can ever imagine’ 

Jimmy said: ‘Very few people have actually spent time there – but that just means that those who do make the effort to go, will go with love and compassion and curiosity to really find out about the islands’ 

The Marquesas Islands are over 800 miles from the nearest popular tourist destination of French Polynesia 

Photographer Jimmy spent six weeks on the remote islands on each of his two visits there

Jimmy explained that it takes ‘real effort’ to get to the Marquesas Islands, which lie four hours by plane from Tahiti

He said: ‘It is a beautiful part of the world, and is still relatively untouched by the developed world.

‘You have to make a real effort to get there, as it is about four hours by plane from Tahiti, so it is not the most popular destination.

‘Very few people have actually spent time there – but that just means that those who do make the effort to go, will go with love and compassion and curiosity to really find out about the islands.

‘Once you are there, it takes a long time to really connect with the islands and with their culture.

‘The Marquesans don’t speak any English, so you have to find other ways to communicate with them.

Jimmy said he needed to form a connection with the tribe first before taking any portraits 

Jimmy said his pictures are about ‘sharing the beauty and compassion of these human beings, allowing me into their rich heritage and culture’


Jimmy explained: ‘The Marquesans don’t speak any English, so you have to find other ways to communicate with them. You have to show them that you are patient and that you are curious to learn about their culture’

The photographer said that it is his ‘life mission to share images like this with the world’


Jimmy showcases his stunning Marquesas photographs in his new book, The Last Sentinels, and hopes to educate readers about the history of this hidden culture 

Jimmy said: ‘I may not have a lot of money, but as a human being I am one of the richest people you could ever speak to, because of the experiences I have been allowed on these islands’

‘You have to show them that you are patient and that you are curious to learn about their culture.

‘But from that, you do become very emotional and genuinely very passionate as you start to form a connection with them.

‘Then, and only then, can you gradually and delicately begin to take people’s portraits, and capture life as it really is there.’

Jimmy, who has spent about six weeks on the islands on each of his two visits, added: ‘It is my life mission to share images like this with the world.

‘It is about sharing the beauty and compassion of these human beings, allowing me into their rich heritage and culture. They are so connected to their source.

Jimmy hopes he can return to the Marquesas Islands, pictured, as many times as he can


Jimmy’s book is a digital tome that’s interactive and comes paired with an app. Speaking about the book, he said: ‘It is not about trying to protect them and shield them away from the rest of the world. That is arrogant’ 

The Marquesas Islands have become one of the world’s best-kept secrets


Speaking about the tribe, Jimmy said: ‘They should be given the choice to be brought more into the developed world – while also being made aware of our flaws.’ Pictured are two tribe members posing in traditional dress 

‘It is a very healing process – it is about connecting with the deepest and most vulnerable parts of the soul, and re-addressing the balance within yourself.

‘I may not have a lot of money, but as a human being I am one of the richest people you could ever speak to, because of the experiences I have been allowed on these islands.’

And Jimmy hopes to return to the Marquesas Islands as many times as he can.

He showcases his stunning Marquesas photographs in his new book, The Last Sentinels, and hopes to educate readers about the history of this hidden culture.

He said: ‘It is not about trying to protect them and shield them away from the rest of the world. That is arrogant.

‘They should be given the choice to be brought more into the developed world – while also being made aware of our flaws.’

  • The Last Sentinels – a digitally interactive book that comes paired with a unique app – is available to buy now at www.jimmynelson.com/tls.

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