February 02, 2005

The Long Neck Padaung Tribe

A Beautiful Padaung LadyPhotography By El-Branden Brazil

The Padaung, or the Long Necks, are a minority group within the Karen tribe - one of the largest hill tribe groups in Southeast Asia. However, the Padaung themselves are mainly located within the Kayah State of Myanmar.

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.

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 was developed to repel the attentions of non-Padaung men towards the women.

Whatever the origin, 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.

Padaung Ladies Making Textiles
Photography By El-Branden Brazil

Many Padaung women have become refugees in Thailand, fleeing from the hidden war in Myanmar. Karen rebels have been fighting against the Burmese government, in a long struggle for an independent state. This violent conflict has led to the death of many soldiers on both sides.

In the refugee camps on the Myanmar border in North Thailand, Padaung women make textiles and crafts to sell to passing travellers, who are drawn by their mystique.

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