Future Projects

Every year, The Vanishing Cultures Project works with a different cultural group. The cultures we work with exhibit the following criteria: imminent and rapid change, tangible benefit from documentation and research, and prioritization of cultural preservation during a transformative time. The following is a list of projects that are under consideration.


Aboriginal Peoples of Australia

About: The indigenous peoples of Australia came to inhabit the continent “Down Under” roughly 45,000 years ago by migrating south from India. There are about 500 different aboriginal peoples living in Australia varying in culture, language, traditions, and customs. About 300 estimated aboriginal languages and even more dialects were spoken at the time that European colonists arrived in Australia, but today only 200 are spoken, and the vast majority of them are considered endangered. Aboriginal peoples believe that humans are an inextricable part of nature, and they hold nature and the land in reverence.

Threats: The European settlement of Australia has done much to damage the health and vitality of Aboriginal peoples’ communities and cultures. Australia was considered “empty” land to settlers, leading to the displacement of indigenous groups. Disease and government-sponsored assimilation programs have also broken up many Aboriginal peoples’ families and customs. Today, such programs are banned, but Aboriginal peoples still struggle to reclaim rights to their ancestral lands.

CREDIT:F. A. Brockhaus



About: Known for their small stature, the Bambuti are pygmy hunter-gatherers that live in the tropical rain forests of the Congo region of Africa. They are one of the oldest indigenous peoples in the region and comprise several distinct cultures. The Bambuti, also called the Mbuti, move their temporary villages depending on the season.

Threats: The Democratic Republic of the Congo doesn’t offer legal protection for Bambuti territory, and recent deforestation, gold mining, and modernization is making the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of the Bambuti more difficult. The Bambuti are banned from hunting large animals, and their food supply is becoming more limited.

CREDIT: Martin Johnson/The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum



About: The Bubi people, who are known by many other tribal names, are the African inhabitants of Bioko Island, just west of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Although they are part of the Bantu tribe that inhabit much of central and southern Africa, the Bubi developed their own society, language, and customs. The Bubi grow most of their food — mostly yams, bananas, cassava root, and rice – and supplement their diet by hunting and fishing.

Threats: Colonization by the Portuguese in the late 1400s and other interference by European powers interested in the slave trade greatly changed the Bubis’ way of life. Today, although Equatorial Guinea is autonomous, the Bubi people have little political and economic control over their own homeland.

CREDIT:  Sir Harry Hamilton Johnston



About: The Bushmen are the indigenous peoples who live in southern Africa. Countries with significant populations are Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Angola. Historically, the Bushmen were hunter-gatherers who would travel long distances on foot to secure food. But due to modernization programs mandated by governments and relocation programs, many Bushmen are now farmers.

Threats: While the discovery of diamond reserves on the Bushmen’s ancestral lands have lead to forced displacement and relocation of many tribes, government-mandated modernization have also put legal restrictions on living traditional lifestyles as hunter-gatherers.


Indigenous Siberians

About: Indigenous Siberians make up a diverse population of cultural groups who speak many different languages. However, after the Russian assimilation of Siberia, less than 10% of the population of Siberia are now indigenous peoples. The majority of indigenous communities have undergone assimilation with Russian culture, and today, most inhabitants of Siberia speak Russian. Living in the tundra and in coniferous forests, some Indigenous Siberians subsist through reindeer herding, while others hunt and gather.

Threats: Over centuries, Siberia has been settled and repopulated by Russia, which led to the displacement of Indigenous Siberian groups and erosion of their cultures. The loss of rights to their land and the influx of industries such as oil drilling have broken up Indigenous Siberian peoples’ traditional way of life and in some cases is degrading the environment.

CREDIT: Turuchansker Polarexpedition 1927


Kalash People

About: The Kalash, or Kalasha, people live in the Chitral district of Pakistan and are considered distinctly unique from other Pakistani ethnic and cultural groups. While many neighboring communities in Pakistan were converted to Islam, the Kalash people have held onto their polytheistic religious beliefs. The fertile land of the valleys inhabited by the Kalash ensure rich agriculture, and nature plays a very important role in Kalash spiritualism.

Threats: In years past, religious persecution severely cut back the Kalash people’s expression of culture. Although forced conversion is no longer a problem, the recent conflict among the Pakistani army, international forces, and the Taliban have spread to the Kalash people’s lands. Now, the Kalash are finding their lands militarized by the Pakistani army and under threat of Taliban attack.


Marsh Arabs (Ma’dan)

About: Experts estimate that the Marsh Arabs, or Ma’dan, have lived in the Tigris-Euphrates marshland in the southeastern portion of Iraq for 5,000 years. A confederation of tribes, the Ma’dan developed a unique culture centered around the marshes’ natural resources. With a social structure built on a deep reliance on the family, and a deep, harmonious relationship with the marshlands, the tribes were completely self-sufficient. Traditionally, Ma’dan would work in agriculture or in raising buffalo, but more recently, reed mat weaving has entered the economy on a commercial scale. Prejudice against this group is common because they are considered to be of a mixed Persian ancestry and because of their practice of temporary marriage.

Threats: During and after the 1991 uprisings in Iraq, the marshes were drained, displacing a massive number of the Ma’dan people. In 2003, as Saddam Hussein was ousted, the dykes were burst and the marshland has begun recovering. The process is slow, however, and only a few thousand of the estimated half million Ma’dan have moved back to their traditional homelands. Additionally, due to increased usage of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, it is unclear if the marshland will ever fully recover.

CREDIT: Hassan Janali, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


Moken (Sea Gypsies)

Moken 300x225 Future ProjectsAbout: The Moken, often called “sea gypsies,” are a fascinating and unique culture scattered throughout the Mergui Archipelago, located south of Thailand and Myanmar. Their livelihood is based on fishing and roaming seasonally across the Andaman Sea. The Moken live simply, using basic tools to hunt in the water and forage for food. Due to the amount of time spent underwater searching for food, Moken children are able to see better while diving.

Threats: Most Moken have given up their seafaring way of life due to newly closed borders, government pressure, and a lack of land ownership. The traditional lifestyle still continues in Mergui, but on a diminished scale as outside pressures continue to build on this small community.



About: The Naga people are a group of tribes who are indigenous to northeast India and northwest Burma. They have a strong warrior tradition and are known for practicing head hunting before the 19th century. The Naga have a rich repertoire of arts, crafts, and architecture. While the men erect elaborately carved and decorated wooden houses, the women are masters of textile production.

Threats: Since the time of British annexation in the 1800s, the Naga people have faced great change to their culture. Conversion to Christianity and government-mandated modernization programs have rapidly changed traditional ways of life, and the Naga continue to struggle to hold onto their cultural identity.

Credit: Архив Фетисова.Н


Papuan Tribes

About: The term “Papuan” refers to the many different indigenous groups that inhabit the Papua province in the western half of New Guinea and its surrounding islands in Indonesia. The Papuan people inhabit a range of environments, from the high lands of New Guinea’s central mountain to the low lands of the coast. Each tribe has adapted to the demands of their land, and some have remained uncontacted, even today. Some tribes live as farmers, and others are hunter-gatherers, depending on the topography and natural resources available to them.

Threats: Tension between the Papuan peoples and the Indonesian government oftentimes leads to human rights abuses at the hands of the Indonesian army. Development and extraction of the islands’ natural resources are also endangering the Papuan peoples’ lands and traditional way of life.



About: The Penan are a nomadic aboriginal community living in Sarawak and Brunei.  Traditionally nomadic, the government and Christian missionaries have run consistent programs to settle Penan into villages since the 1950s.  Many have now taken up farming. The culture is unique in that it practices “molong,” which means never taking more than is necessary.

Threats: A lack of land rights is one of the main problems facing the Penan. Logging is a major industry and the government has a strong economic interest to allow the timber industry into traditional Penan lands, developing the region and changing the landscape of the region. The situation has become very political with rival parties and international non-profits clashing over indigenous rights.


Wanniyala Aetto (Vedda)

About: This indigenous group has been living in the tropical forest of eastern Sri Lanka for millenia and traces its lineage back to times predating the Tamils. Traditionally, this was a forest-based hunter-gatherer community. Basic agriculture was also used sparingly in a shifting, slash-and-burn system. Today, most Vedda have left the forest due to the threat of arrest and violence and live in small agricultural communities.

Threats: Development, government forest restrictions, and the civil war have adversely affected the Wanniyala Aetto’s traditional way of life. Now, Vedda aren’t allowed into their traditional forest land without permits. Thousands of acres have been bulldozed for Sinhalese settlers. Other areas have been converted into national parkland and the Vedda are threatened with arrest if they enter. Recently, there were a series of shootings and three Vedda, all with permits, were killed by park guards for legally practicing their hunting and gathering lifestyle.