The Kayan Lahwi also called the “Long Necked Hilltribe” are a subgroup of the Karen, a heterogeneous closely related tribes originally from Eastern Burma.
The Kayans are famous for the brass rings giving the illusion of stretched necks. In reality, the rings, which are actually brass coils wrapped around the neck, distort the growth of the collarbones by pressing down on the rib cage. I lifted some of the rings and these things are very heavy!
A woman usually wears about 20 or more rings around their necks. They are applied to willing young girls at the age of 5 and are usually not removed, except to replace them by a new set of longer rings.
The choice of wearing or removing the rings depends entirely on the girls and is not imposed. It is a popular myth that the woman would die if the rings are removed as the neck would just snap. This is not true, even though the muscles are weakened.
There are many theories on why the Kayan wear those rings:
- Cultural identity.
- It makes them more beautiful to the eyes of men as women have longer and slender necks.
- It makes them look uglier for other tribes thus preventing them from being kidnapped and becoming slaves.
- It protects them symbolically from tiger bites.
- It gives them the resemblance of a dragon, which is an important figure in Kayan folklore.
Unfortunately, nowadays many of the Kayan tribes are exploited for tourism and most villages are overrun by missionaries. Many of them are losing their culture and traditions. This sweet girl was speaking a very fluent English and she claimed she was a christian. Kinda sad if I may say..