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During my trip in Thailand with group of my friends we visited Long Neck Women village. This is one of the sub-group of Kayan people called Padaung from Shan language. I will call them in brief: Kayan. In the late 80’s an intensifying civil war between Karenni separatists and the Burmese army caused Kayan residents to flee Myanmar. Most of them fled to Thailand.

Kayan People Village

Thailand granted the Kayan temporary stay under “conflict refugee” status. They now live in guarded villages moustly on the northern part of the country. The tribe has a custom where some women wearing rings to create the appearance of a long neck. This exotic tradition inspired the creation of tourism villages in 1985. Some Padaung moved to these artificial hill tribe residencies with work permits to make a living on tourism. Thus, as refugees earn not only themselves, but also the Thai government derives benefits from it…
Kayans have limited access to utilities such as electricity, roads, health care and schools for education. Furthermore, Thai authorities refuse to allow Kayans to resettle outside tourist villages, claiming they are economic migrants and not real refugees.

The older the woman, the more the rings on the neck. They can weigh up to 10kg.

Women of this people wear characteristic brass rings, wrapped around the neck. Kayan long neck women wear the rings from childhood, starting with four or five, and adding more annually as they acclimate to the increased weight. About every two years they add more…
The weight of the rings makes the brass pushes the collarbones down and squeezes a bit of the chest, the neck itself is not elongated but is caused by clavicle deformities. This is a reason for the effect of the so-called long neck. Contrary to popular opinion remove rings don’t cause break a neck but woman feels big discomfort.

The girls are starting to wear rings from the age of 5.

There are many suggestions and ideas about why rings are worn. They come mainly from anthropologists visiting these peoples:
– they protect women from being slaves, making them less attractive to other tribes,
– wishing to look more attractive by exaggerating the gender differences because women have more slender necks than men,
– rings give a similarity to a dragon, which is an important figure in the folklore of the people.

Kayan people – woman with long neck.

Today’s purpose of wearing rings is mainly to identify with their cultural identity, and it is also related to their beauty, because such a woman feels more attractive. According to information from various sources, some women enjoy upholding this tradition but others feel pressured to endure the painful custom to make a living in this way. Human rights groups claim the refugee status exploits women who can’t find other work.

Kayan people – woman with long neck.

We met Marsun (i don’t know spelling) and her family: husband and son. They are living in one of the tourism villages. We asked her how they life looks like here and is she happy – she answered: yes i am happy here. In Burma were persecuted and had hard life. Here they have house builded by government, electricity, they can live in peace…They life from what they sold to tourists and the village provides them with little support…Marsun several times a month can leave his village and then go to town ….They are not completely cut off from the media: she had its own phone, and even facebook that caused we laugh all:) Marsun is the only one who well spoken English in village. We spent good time …

To me personally it is sad that people with such a rich culture do not have their place … They had to run away from the military regime because they were persecuted in their hometowns. They are trying to adapt to new living conditions and places. Try to live with a smile and joy despite the fact that there is a memory of home in the hearts …
The conditions in which they live are different and opinions are also divided. While some say the villages give Kayans a paid opportunity to retain their culture, others condemn this arrangement for exploiting stateless women and children in exchange for tourist dollars. I assume the truth lies on both sides: there are places and villages that probably care about their “residents”, and the residents are satisfied (example Marsun), but there are also places where people are very used …
I believe that Marsun’s attitude is because of her optimism. The peace she doesn’t have in Myanmar, found here in village. She enjoys what she has…The question is whether in this situation we can talk about real freedom?

Kayan people – women with long necks.

The purpose of our trips should not be taking a picture of an exotic things, people and returning home with them. Travels should involve building relationships and bonding with people from different cultures. Find a common plane with the people we meet instead of treating them as exploration objects. Let’s remember to listen to people, get to know their stories …

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