The border mountains between Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand. Exotic women with modest smiles, their heads floating on layers upon layers of brass rings, necks stretched out to impossible lengths. Meet the Kayan-Padaung women.
The Kayan people like beautifying their women in special ways. Apart from the brass neck rings, the Padaung also wear rings on the arms (wrist to elbow) and the legs (ankles to knees), but these are not quite as prominent.
Other Kayan tribes display their beauty by wearing carved elephant tusk in their ears. When a woman is married, her ears are pierced and an elephant tusk of one to four centimetres in length is inserted. The weight of the tusks gradually weighs down on the ear lobe and the ear gets larger and larger, and longer and longer. Each time larger tusks are inserted and the process repeats itself until the woman’s ears become extremely elongated and floppy.
Like already mentioned, the women of the Kayan Padaung villages wear multiple brass rings around the neck, the arms and the legs. Why do they submit to these practices?
The rings, or more exactly one coil of many turns weighs up to fifteen pounds in total. At the age of two to five the Padaung adorn their daughters’ necks with the first rings. Each passing year additional rings are added. Around the age of twenty, up to twenty three rings are nestled around their necks. A Padaung woman is known to wear thirty seven brass rings around her neck! Most women prefer to wear the rings constantly because the skin underneath is often bruised and discolored. And many, after ten years or more of continuous wear, feel the collar like part of their body.
Where does this custom come from? Might this legend be true?
Long, long ago, the headman of the tribe had a dream in which he was told that a tiger was going to kill one of the much-loved children in the village – a child that had been born on a Wednesday. As his own child had been born on a Wednesday and as tigers kill their victims by first breaking their necks, he there and then decreed that all children born on a Wednesday should wear heavy brass rings round their necks. As the tiger didn’t kill a child, it was presumed that the wearing of the brass rings worked, and over the years this custom became popular until it is now institutionalised as part of tribal life. Not only that, it is considered lucky. In fact, so much is this the case, that women try to arrange a mid-week birth so that if the baby is a girl, she will be a fortunate ‘Wednesday’s child.’
Source: East Asia Travel
Perhaps the goal was to make the girls unattractive to slave trade? Or is the origin founded in the belief that an elongated neck is an ideal of beauty and status?
What the rings do, is NOT elongate the neck, but they do push down the collarbone and ribs, creating the illusion of a long neck. The weight of the rings twists the collar bone and eventually the upper ribs at an angle 45 degrees lower than what is natural. Not what I would call comfortable. Removing the coils will not result in the death of the woman – that is a misconception – though their neck muscles will of course be atrophied.
Twenty years ago about five hundred Padaung fled Burma (Myanmar) as refugees. They now live in three villages in Thailand and earn their livelihood as a tourist attraction, selling their handicrafts. The alternative would be a life of slavery, or worse, under Burmese government forces and drug barons who are fighting over their land.
Village women who revolt against this way of life say that they are punished for doing anything modern, like using cell phones or computers. These actions ‘ruin the traditional image’ and tourists won’t pay. Nonetheless some young women are removing their coils in their fight for the right to lead a modern life. The Kayan refugees have been offered resettlement in New Zealand and Finland, but the Thai government won’t give them the exit permits.
Beauty or prison? It is up to these women to alter their appearance this way. But it should be the choice of an adult, not of or for a child. Every culture has its own way and I respect that. But choosing voluntary deformity in the name of beauty? NO!