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Published: June 21st 2017
Geo: 19.91, 99.83
The Padaung people are actually from eastern Burma, close to the Thailand border. A few families of Padaung have settled temporarily as refugees in Thailand. They escaped from the Kaya State in Burma to Thailand in the mid 1900's. They belong to the Karenni sub-group of the Karen People, who are still fighting for their independence in Burma.
Many though not all of the Padaung women wear brass rings (actually one long brass coil) around their necks which distort the growth of their collarbones and make them look as if they have long necks - which they don't. The brass coil doesn't actually stretch their necks but in fact squash the vertebrae and collar bones. A woman generally has about 20-25 rings or loops around her neck, they are first put on when the girls are 5 or 6 years old, and each year the coil is replaced and an additional loop is added. It's a culturally based practice, and traditionally men choose women who have the most rings as the most attractive for marriage. The ladies look absolutely stunning, they are so beautiful.
Not as prominent, but just as intriguing are the rings on the arms and the legs.
The rings on the arms are worn on the forearm from the wrist to the elbow and the legs are worn from the ankles to the knees, and cloth coverings are kept over most of these rings, from the shins down to the ankles.
Here's the weird bit. All the Long Neck "villages" in Thailand are established with government help and tourists are definitely kept in mind when planning them out, they aren't managed by the Padaung people themselves. Some of the ladies are illegal immigrants in Thailand (not official refugees) and are vulnerable to exploitation. The "villages" are basically set up as shopping stalls set up with the Long Neck ladies as the stall holders. There entrance fee at the roadside made it feel a little like we were about to enter a human zoo.
They were definitely on display for us, but my guide assured me that because of their refugee status they don't have to pay taxes and they money i spend with them will go directly to their families. And though they do tailor the village to the tourists, it's a safe place to live and they are able to earn a good living from selling
A villager weaving
You can see the fruits of her labor hanging all around her house/shop. Each of these scarves sell for 100Bhat or about 3 dollars and take about 4 days to make. She leans back in a sort of sling hung from the ceiling and it's really awkard getting in and out of it.
their crafts to us. They need all the help they can get.
I stopped at at least a dozen huts in the village and bought a little something at each. The thing that grabbed me, that I hadn't thought of, was the weight and length of the brass on these tiny women. I chose a scarf hanging from one woman's display, and unfortunately didn't have the right change for her. So she had to get up from her seated weaving position, when she bent forward to slide her legs to the ground, it looked like she was going to topple over. The rings are REALLY heavy and make the girls top heavy and unbalanced, very awkward for moving around. Plus, when she was looking in her change purse for me, she had to hold it up to her face because she couldn't bend her neck to look down to her lap. These ladies never take off the rings, even to sleep. Just once a year they remove them to add another coil.
Here is more info on the villages: http://www.chiangdao.com/chiangmai/karenlongneck.htm
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