The Last of the Padaung Long-necks

For generations Burma

INDONESIA

Selasa, 20 Agus 2013 14:11 WIB

Author

Khonbo Thar DVB

The Last of the Padaung Long-necks

Burma, Myanmar, Padaung, long neck women, giraffe women

For generations Burma’s Padaung women and girls have adorned their necks, arms and legs with long brass coils.

These hill tribe women of eastern Myanmar are often called “Giraffe Women”.

For centuries people have asked why the Padaung women wear brass coils around their necks.

Some believe the old folk tales that said they are descendants from dragons - and the coils make the women look like these mythical beasts. Others say it is so rival tribes wouldn’t take their women.

In DorKlow-Htoo village the women see the rings as a sign of beauty and part of their cultural identity.

“My mother said I should wear brass coils or I would not be beautiful at the dance with the others,” says Muu Day. “Everyone was wearing them at that time and I did the same as the others did. And I felt happy.”

Most Padaung girls start wearing three or four coils when they are five or six.

Muu Sa says, when they reach 18, they can have up to 15 coils.

“I started to wear the coils when I was seven - on my neck, legs, and hands. And the last pair of coils I wore when I was sixteen.”

The coils give the illusion that the neck is stretched to abnormal lengths but in reality the brass pushes down on the shoulders and collar-bone.

They weigh around 3 kilos and can cause bruising - and some develop shoulder and back difficulties because of the added pressure on the spine.

The Padaung women put pieces of cloth under the coils to stop them rubbing against their skin.

Until a few decades ago, Padaung women were proud of wearing the brass rings... and polishing them all the time.

But new generations have started to abandon the tradition, says Muu Day.

“The youths of this age look so relaxed. They look free at school or at work. I admire their freedom. I wish I could be free from these coils after this life. The youths of this age are so lucky.”

Contrary to popular belief, the women can remove the rings without their necks snapping.

Muu Yi used to wear the rings but is glad she has now removed them.

“I used to wear four coils before. But I felt pain around my neck and took them off two or three months later. I am lucky that I didn’t have to try them again after that. Otherwise it would be terrible to carry those heavy coils.”

In Dor Klow-Htoo village about twenty years ago thirty women wore the brass rings, now there are only four. This generations-old tradition could soon die out.

However on the other side of the border in Thailand, tourists are flocking to the villages to see these long neck or giraffe women.

Tourists pay to get an authentic experience of tribe life. But these women are trapped there earning meagre amounts selling souvenirs.

Back on the Myanmar side of the boarder life in the DorKlow-Htoo village carries on as normal.

The villagers farm and weave as they always have... but the sight of women with long-necks is a thing of the past, says Muu Sa.

“Now only a few of us are left. We feel isolated and ugly as a mare in a herd of cows. We are now different from all the others.”

The Kayan community is experiencing the loss of part of their cultural identity.

But it is because the women are finding that education and freedom are more important than old traditions.


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