Neck Rings

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A neck ring is a band of metal worn as an ornament around the neck of an individual, usually a woman.  In a few African
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and Asian cultures multiple neck rings are worn usually to stretch the neck. Neck rings are a sign of social status, age, and marital status. 

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Beauty Ideal

Long Necks are considered to be an ideal of beauty in certain societies. The neckrings elongate the neck by pushing the collarbone and ribs down. The weight of the rings twists the collarbone and eventually the upper ribs to create the illusion of an elongated neck - the vertebrae itself does not elongate. When the coils are removed, there is no risk of death. However, since the neck muscles are much weaker, this may pose a risk and require greater attention. 

Padaung Tribe

In northern Thailand, in the border region with Myanmar, the Padaung tribe begin to wear neck rings when they are children. A woman generally has about twenty or more rings around her neck. This neck ring adornment is started when the girls are 5 or 6 years old.

The rings on the arms and the legs are not quite as prominent as those on the neck simply because the neck rings are so pronounced. The rings on the arms are worn on the forearm from the wrist to the elbow. Those on the legs are worn from the ankles to the knees, and cloth coverings are kept over most of these rings, from the shins down to the ankles.

Long Ears

Other Karen-Padung tribes reside in Phrae Province, and Baan Tha Ton in far north Chiang Mai province. The women of these Karen tribes display their beauty, and their status as married women, by wearing carved elephant tusk in their ears. When a woman is married, her ears are pierced and an elephant tusk of one to four centimeters in length is inserted.During the early stages the ear pieces are quite small, especially for younger women. The weight of the tusks gradually weighs down on the ear lobe and the ear gets larger and larger, and longer and longer. Then larger tusks are inserted and the process repeats itself until the woman's ears become extremely elongated and floppy. The married woman wears these ear pieces for life.

The tradition of these Karen - Padung who are sometimes referred to as the "Long-Ears" is one of the oldest of peoples in this part of the world. Long before any of the present day territories were formed by boundaries into nations or countries, the peoples of Southeast Asia, particularly mountain dwellers, practiced a custom known as "Loaded Ears". According to this custom, the ears, being one of the most sacred parts of the body, were an important object of adornment. For beauty in the women and for strength in the men, the ears of both sexes were loaded. Today, among the Karen-Padaung of Phrae and of Burma, this tradition is continued for the female gender only, once married.

Unmarried girls in these tribes do not wear the ear pieces, but they do wear white dresses, in contrast to the red and black dresses worn by the married women, and on the backs of their hands a few magical words are written in spiritual languages. These words carry meaning to bless these girls to have a happy life.

Changing trends: neck rings chaining women to poverty

Increasing numbers of Padaung “longneck” women are removing the neck rings that make them a tourist draw, hoping they’ll improve their chances of being resettled abroad. Some women have expressed fatigue and annoyance at being a tourist attraction and have removed the neckrings. According to the regional newspaper, Irrawady, Thai authorities denied a group of Padaung people who had already been accepted for resettlement by Canada, New Zealand and Finland permission to leave Thailand. One Padaung woman who had removed her neck rings complained: “The Thai authorities just want us to stay and preserve our culture as a tourism attraction; they don’t want us to leave and study abroad,” said Mu Hwit. The Kayan Culture Administration Committee, campaigning against the touristic exploitation of these women have argued that instead of being paid a suitable wage for their contribution to Thailand’s tourist industry, Padaung women were being condemned to poverty in the villages.

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