Why the Kayan Women are no Long Neck Women

DSC_0995 The Kayan Women are a tribe living in the south east of Myanmar.  Starting at the age of five, the girls get a special neck ring, a piece of brass, which is coiled around their neck by ladies from the village. They also get bracelets and brass coils below their knees.

It seems as if it were several rings, decorating the neck, yet, it is one massive brass piece of 10 to 40 cm which is coiled around the neck or knees. At the age of around 16 the women get an extra coil of about 6 turns at the bottom of the neck. This part is not connected and can be loosened at night. In the daytime it covers the shoulder part a bit, as you can see on the picture.

Every 3 to 5 years the coil is taken off to replace it by a longer coil, which shows more rings. The procedure takes hours as it is hard to put the brass around the neck in a beautiful manner.

The neckless’ weight can get up to 10 kilos and up to 15 kilos for the arms an legs. As the women are working in the terrace fields, they have to walk with this heavy load day in and day out. The weight pushes the collarbone down and compresses the rib cage. This deformation makes the neck look lengthened, but it isn’t. For the appearance of the long neck, the women are also called Long Neck Women or Giraffe Women, terms, which the women feel offended by.

When the coil has to be removed for medical examinations, women prefer to put it back on afterwards, as the skin is usually discolored and the neck muscles are too weak to stabilize the head easily.

Unfortunately this rare custom has been discovered as a bargain for tourists in Thailand. Many women who fled to Thailand during the continuous turmoils in Myanmar, ended up in the Mae Hong Son camp, where they sit around to get money out of the tourists wallets. Neither do they get much revenue out of this, nor are they allowed to leave the villages.

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