On Island of the Colorblind, Paradise has a Different Hue

On Island of the Colorblind, Paradise has a Different Hue

An island in the Pacific has a unique genetic history that affects how its people understand color.


4 - 12


Biology, Genetics, Social Studies


Pingelap Island

This airstrip on Pingelap Atoll is one of the few ways to travel to this remote island in the Federated States of Micronesia.

Photograph by PJF Military Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
This airstrip on Pingelap Atoll is one of the few ways to travel to this remote island in the Federated States of Micronesia.
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Pingelap Atoll is an island in the South Pacific. It is part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Pingelap also has another name: the Island of the Colorblind. That's what scientist Oliver Sacks called the island in a book he wrote in 1996 about the human brain.

Pingelap earned the interest of Sacks and many other scientists. According to legend, a devastating typhoon in 1775 killed almost all of the people on the island. One of the survivors was the ruler. He had a rare gene for an extreme type of color blindness. Eventually, he passed the gene to the island's later generations.

Today, only about 250 people live on the island. About one in 10 people on the island might have this color blindness. It is also known as complete achromatopsia. Elsewhere in the world, only one in 30,000 people have it.

Island Inspires Art Show

Sanne De Wilde is a Belgian photographer. She has used the island and the idea of color blindness to make an art show. De Wilde visited Pingelap in 2015. She created photos showing the world as a color-blind person might see it. Some are complete black-and-white images. But several color-blind people on the island claimed they could see slight differences in some colors, like red or blue. So she changed photo settings and lenses on her camera to change certain colors. She made them less bright, and more dull.

De Wilde invited some of the color-blind islanders to paint over some of the images with watercolors. She wanted the images to reflect how they saw the world.

It's hard to understand something the eye has never seen. What is orange to a person who only knows black and white? "Color is just a word to those who cannot see it," De Wilde said. When she went back to Belgium, she created an art show in her studio to make people see what it's like being color-blind. Visitors were invited to paint using colors that never seem to appear. Then later, to their surprise, they were shown their blindly colorful artwork. De Wilde said she's trying "to invite people to a new way of seeing and interacting with the world."

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
Daniel Stone
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
André Gabrielli, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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