Photos

Photographer's Note

Most people know of the Karen people from television documentaries, magazines and encyclopedias as the "long-neck" or "giraffe" tribe. But the women who wear these brass rings on their neck belong to a sub-group of the Karen known as the Padaung. There are other sub-groups who do not and never have practiced this custom. A further myth is that these rings act to elongate the wearer's neck. Any chiropractor or orthopaedic surgeon will tell you that this would lead to paralysis or death. In fact the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!
There are many different accounts of why the Padaung practice this bizzare custom. Their own mythology explains that it is done to prevent tigers from biting them! Others have reported that it is done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders. The most common explanation, though, is the opposite of this - that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery, though, is said to be punished by removal of the rings. In this case, since the neck muscles will have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, a woman must spend the rest of her life lying down.
Whatever the origin of the custom, one of the more common reasons it continues today, particularly in Thailand, is tourism. Although the Padaung have migrated to Thailand in only the last ten years (other Karen groups first settled there about a hundred and fifty years ago), they have become the most popular "attraction" for hill-tribe trekking tourists. Some have written of this as exploitation of the Padaung; many Westerners like the experience of visiting one of these villages to visiting a human zoo. Some tour operators in Thailand now refuse to take tourists into such villages, while some tourists boycott those operators that do.

z_nenith, franciru, wishnugaruda, mezz, sheepyak, digi-mom has marked this note useful

Photo Information
Viewed: 4684
Points: 3
Discussions
  • None
Additional Photos by Kris Verhoeven (verswe) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 61 W: 3 N: 1206] (7330)
View More Pictures
explore TREKEARTH