Black Teeth and Long Neck Women

Trip Start Jun 12, 2009
Trip End Jul 15, 2009

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Where I stayed
Montri Hotel, Chiang Mai

Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Rai,
Friday, June 26, 2009

26 June 2009

Took a guided tour to the villages of Tha Ton and Fang, along the Thai / Burma border in Northwestern Thailand.  In Fang we visited the largest cave in Thailand.  Folk lore has it that Buddha spent the night in the cave many centuries ago, therefore, the cave was made into a temple. 

We then traveled to the village of Tha Ton where we saw people of the Akha and Karen tribes.  Both tribes were refugees from Burma, who left their home country in 1984 when the Burmese Army penetrated the ethnic Karen State and established bases along the Burma / Thailand border.  Today, refugees continue to cross the border to escape from ongoing fighting and persecution in East Burma.  There are an estimated 151,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand where the Thai Government allows International Organizations to provide humanitarian assistance, including health care and schooling.

In the Akha Tribe, we saw "Black Teeth" women who chew beetle nut mixed with other herbal plants to blacken their teeth to make them more attractive and appealing to tribe's men.  At first glance, I thought they were toothless.  A closer look revealed their teeth were jet black.

The women of the Karen Tribe wear the traditional brass continuous coiled rings around their neck and calf to stretch their neck and calf.  The women are called "Long Necks"  Girls begin wearing the coils at age 5 until they reach age 11, at which time they must decide whether to keep the coil or remove it.  If the opt to remove the coil they are then banned from their home village and must go live with another tribe.  If the choose to keep the coil, it is for life.  There are very few occasions for removing the coil, ie, during hospital stays while giving child birth, etc.

The coils (rings) are made of 1/4 inch brass rods, which are heated while being shaped around the woman's neck, (causing burning of the flesh) as well.  The average weight of the ring is 11 pounds and as much as 40 pounds.  The lore that the woman's neck will collapse and suffocate her if the rings are remove is untrue.  They can hold their heads up, for about 30 minutes then they tire and have to lay down.  However, it is extremely rare that the rings are removed.

Lore has it that the women wear the rings to prevent the tigers from dragging them away, by the throat, while they are out in the jungle looking for food.  Men do not wear the rings because they are armed when they go hunting.

Another lore has it that the women want to make themselves ugly to keep men from other tribes from kidnapping them to be their wives.
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