The long-neck women of the Karen Hilltop Tribe!

Trip Start Feb 07, 2014
Trip End Mar 21, 2014

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Where I stayed
Mandala House Chiang Mai
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Thailand  , Chiang Mai,
Sunday, February 16, 2014

Day 10 - late morning

Day 4 of Indochina Encompassed Tour

Upon entering the open gate where the Karen Tribe lived and where the women are well known for wearing the brass coils placed around their necks giving them the name of "long-necked women", I was immediately met by a young girl of about ten years of age.

        She had several of these gold colored rings placed around her neck and was more than happy to have her picture taken with me.   Her contagious smile and piercing brown eyes made me realize that these young girls were very beautiful in every sense of the word.   

Being used to having tourists visiting their tribe, it was obvious that she gained from it by learning a few English words.    I asked her a few questions which she was more than willing to give me answers.    Interestingly, I learned that this tribe's most distinctive custom begins at a very young age of about four to five years of age.

Girls have these spirals of brass placed around their necks by a “spirit doctor” on a day determined by clairvoyancy.     Once on, these coils are seldom removed and over the years, they are replaced by longer ones in which more turns are added sporadically until a limit of 21-25 is reached, usually at the age of marriage.   

The spiral may reach up to a foot in height and weigh 20 pounds at the end.    The traditional purpose of the rings is to achieve the ideal beauty, an elongated neck!

And now, the moment of truth!    Contrary to many beliefs, the neck itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle because you see, the weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage.  So voilą!    Now you know.   Interesting enough!  

Moving along, I continued to walk down the uneven path in which small bamboo huts on stilts were on each side of it.  Young girls of various ages and older women sat on porches next to their handcrafts while others, engaged in their daily activities such as weaving.      They all wore colorful outfits with headdresses giving them the distinctive tribe appearance.

Same as with the previous young girl I met when entering the tribe, these young girls could speak a few words in English whereas the older women, they had no knowledge at all.   But that wasn’t’ a problem because the famous “international hand gesture” language was used!     

        I sat next to them and with their permission, had my picture taken on numerous times.   With a good sense of humor, they even had a half-moon coil necklace for me to wear around my neck for these photo opportunities!

Without being pushy, they showed me their handmade crafts such as silk scarves weaved from old fashioned instruments in which they operated with ease.    A pink and white colored scarf was bought on the spot making them happy.  

Continuing on, two cute little girls who must have been at least five to six years of age played and laughed together along the path!    They wore the brass coil rings around their tiny necks which had nine loops in total after counting them.    Sporting big smiles, they appeared at ease wearing them and happy to have their pictures taken while doing the “peace sign” with their fingers.  

        In other places, young girls were putting on some make-up.   They were acting like any other teenagers would and being fashionable.   Still, I learned that today, at this day and age, some of these younger women are starting to remove their rings, either to give them the opportunity to continue their education or in protest against the exploitation of their culture and the restrictions that comes with it.   Interesting fact!  

Once again, the moment of truth!    Being curious, I asked most of these women the same question, and in return, received the same response.   None of them have any problems sleeping with their heavy brass coils placed around their necks!    They sleep on one side!    Was my question dumb or what?   :-)  

The end of the straight rugged path led to a slight elevated hill where a small church was built on top of it.     These people were Catholics …..who would have guessed!    Well since I’ve now reached the end of the trail, I turned around and proceeded to walk back the same way greeting once more, everyone previously encountered.

        By this time, other tourists had arrived and were making their rounds.    I was glad for arriving earlier which allowed me time to interact with these people on a more personal manner and to experience how they lived.  

        If you’re interested in learning a little bit more on the history on this tribe, this is what I found out.    According to records at the “Museum of Karen History and Culture”, the Karen tribe migrated to South East Asia around 112 BC.   

Later in the 17th century, they travelled to northern Thailand from Myanmar (Burma) after being mistreated by the Burmese people.    The Karen Tribe settled in the North of Chiang Mai and around the Golden Triangle living there ever since in their traditional-style huts.......and this is where, four centuries later, I had the opportunity to meet them right here on this day!
Monique   :-)  

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Sabrina on

Very interesting facts on the necklaces and their history! Your pictures are so colorful, I love them!

mlucas on

Love the pictures! very interesting.

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