When I visited Myanmar for the first time the diverse culture really left an impression on me. My mom and I were enamored by the spectrum of ethnic groups comprising Myanmar’s indigenous population. There is such a variety of people living closely together, converging different customs and traditions. A delightful encounter. When visiting Inle Lake we encountered the women of Padaung, a traditionally authentic community that offered a very unique perspective of one of the world’s most intriguing cultures, the Long Neck Women. The Padaung of Kayan State are a closely related group of the fiercely independent Kayin, who constitute about 7 percent of the population. The Padaung are also known as the “Long-Neck” tribe with “Giraffe”women, which already gives you a hint on what the women might look like. They carry a set of brass coils, giving them the long neck and the name that way. Their unique tradition is estimated to have dated back to the 11th century, making this particular form of body modification a tradition for over 1000 years.As the girls grow into adulthood, rings are added to achieve the stretched-neck look of her elders. To gradually add length to the neck, coils are added every few years. A full set of neck rings consists of up to 25 coils and can weight up to 22 pounds. The look, however, is an optical illusion. Instead of stretching the neck, the collarbones are being pushed down from the weight. The women also wear more brass loops around their legs which add up to 30 pounds. These loops force the women to waddle when they walk and sit straight legged.
Witnessing a tradition with roots as deep as these is a privilege, and its important to respect the various ways people live their lives. While on one hand this tribe is currently made a bit of a spectacle, the silver lining is that the community can constructively showcase their ways to the world and create an economy at the same time. The women are happy to have their photos taken and pleasantly engaged. Their elegance and beauty left a strong impression on both my mom and me as we neared the end of our fabulous journey through Myanmar.