Friday, June 29, 2012

Karen Padaung Long Neck Tribe

"Emotions tie the mother to the child and traditions tie her identity to that of the tribe. And the rings around her neck - the signatures of the tribe tie the present to a rich past." 
~ National Geographic

Karen Padaung, better known as “The Long Neck Tribe”, lives along the border of Thailand and Myanmar.

Still living in small bamboo huts on stilts, this ancient way has handed down throughout the ages.

Our tour guide, Kevin, started explaining on their appearance:
Rings on the neck, are prominent.
Rings on the arms, are worn on the forearm from wrist to elbow;
Rings on the legs, worn from ankles to knees. Cloth coverings are kept over most of these rings, from the shins down to the ankles.

This particular coil has recorded weight of 12 kgs.

How is it possible to lengthen the neck? In fact, our cervical vertebrae are born to be the same.  Just as everyone thought that the neck rings elongated their neck, it was actually just a visual illusion. The weight of the rings squash down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to an angle of 45 degree lower, that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck, creating an impression of longer neck.

Origin of the Custom
If you were ever wondering where this custom came from, there was no definite answer.
Some said to avoid being bitten by tigers, while others said it is a sign of great beauty and wealth, which will attract a better husband.Whatever the origin might be, the common reason of why this custom still continues, particularly in Thailand, is due to tourism. 

That’s me and another girl from Karen Padaung

Each new day, they are greeted by both foreign and domestic tourists.
Every year, tourists pay an entrance fees to see the Padaung women.
In return, the tourists are allowed to mingle and photograph with them.

With this, they were used to strike poses in front of numerous cameras.

The Karen tribe led a simple life by growing crops, weaving and selling their handcrafts to the tourists
Finger Ring made of brass, 50 Baht

The entrance fees, photographs, souvenir shopping may had added in some carnival air, made it seem to be some cruel human zoo. Questions arose on whether this ethnic tradition that has been existed for centuries has violated the humanity rights? Whether this is an exploitation of the indigenous? But on the other side, the money that they have bought in has been used to build school, medical clinic and other facilities, giving them better lives. 
This is an endless debate.

Removal of the ring
The rings are usually only removed to be replaced by a new or longer set of coils. Every 3 years, another 3 rings are added until the woman become 25 years of age or get married. After a year or so where the rings are being put on, there is no turning back. As the neck muscles have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, it could not support the weight of the head anymore. She must spend the rest of her life lying down or support the head with her hands whole day long.  Hence, the permanent removal of the rings is said to be punishment of adultery.

What if one day, they had enough and decided to leave the Padaung identity behind?
If you are interested in this topic, please proceed to Marie Claire News+Features section, a true story of young Padaung women, Zember

“People see us as aliens from another planet. They’re shocked to realize we’re normal human beings” 
~ Zember, young Padaung woman

My Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai Travelogue:


Aggie said...

I've seen a documentary about the rings pushing their collarbones and shoulders down, but I've had no idea about their exploitation by the Thai government! A very good post!

I don't support zoos of any kind and the tribe is no exception.

Cheryl Chan said...

Me too. I was unaware of such exploitation that Thai government won't set them free even if they have the chance to live abroad, as offered by other countries. 

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