Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Long Neck People!

The Padaung, or the Long Necks, are a minority group within the Karen tribe-one of the largest hill tribe groups in Southeast Asian. The Padaung themselves are mainly located within the Kayah state of Myanmar and Northern Thailand.

There are only around 7000 Padaung, but these Mongolian descendents, have achieved a lot of attention, due to their custom of lengthening the neck, using continuous brass coils; although they appear to be individual rings. Some coils have been recorded to weigh 22kg. The coils can lengthen the appearance of the neck by as much as 30 cm.

There are many misconceptions about this practice. The coils do not stretch the neck and deform it, as popular belief has promoted. Rather, it is an illusion created by the compression of the collarbone and ribs. In fact, the neck is not altered at all, presenting no danger to the wearer if the coil is removed; which occasionally it is.

There are many different accounts of why the Padaung practice this bizzare custom. According to Padaung legend, the tradition began as a tribute to the mythological progenitor of the tribe, who is believed to have been a beautiful female dragon. Other theories, suggest that it is done to prevent tigers from biting them! Others have reported that it is done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders. The most common explanation, though, is the opposite of this - that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery, though, is said to be punished by removal of the rings. In this case, since the neck muscles will have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, a woman must spend the rest of her life lying down.

Whatever the origin of the custom, there is no doubt that the Padaung retain a certain unique beauty in their body distortion. However, as the Padaung are forced to have contact with the modern world, this ancient tradition is slowly dying out. The more common reasons it continues today, particularly in Thailand, is tourism. Although the Padaung have migrated to Thailand in only the last ten years (other Karen groups first settled there about a hundred and fifty years ago), they have become the most popular "attraction" for hill-tribe trekking tourists.

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