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Photographer's Note

The Karen people of Myanmar are ethnologically divided into Red and White Karens. They were animists originally, but the majority today practise the Buddha religion in conjunction with animist beliefs. A sizeable number have converted to Christianity.

The Karen-Padung tribe – whose women are known for wearing brass rings around their necks and limbs aka Long Neck Women – belongs to a subgroup of the Red Karen (Karenni). Padung means someone who wears brass–rings.

The Padungs, who preferred to be known as Kayans, originated from Myanmar’s northern highland state of Ka-Ya. One report says there are some 500 Padung refugees in Thailand. For the time being, they cannot return to their homeland; living in three main villages (refugee camps) in Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, or in specially set up “tourist camps”.

Legend has it that in the days gone by, the neck rings were meant to protect the women from attacks by tigers which grab victims by the neck. But a more realistic rationale is that culturally, the wearing of brass rings symbolizes a form of body adornment. Girls as young as 5 years old will start wearing the rings. New sets are substituted at periodical time. It is said that the last change takes place when a woman is 45 years old.

Contrary to general perception, Padung women do not even have elongated necks. The brass coils – which weigh as much as 8 to 13kg (depending on the number of rings) – which a female fits around her neck, press down on her rib cage and cause the ribs to grow downwards. With the weight of the rings pushing the neck and shoulder muscles into the shoulders exaggerates the illusion of an extended neck. Actually, it is the upper body which is shaped to give the appearance of a longer neck.

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Viewed: 1979
Points: 8
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Additional Photos by Steven Yong (Across_Asia) Silver Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 13 W: 0 N: 75] (344)
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