Padaung: a hill tribe in the Golden triangle


Although they are a small minority hill tribe in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, no description of Thai hill tribes would be complete without mentioning the Padaung, better known to the world as the tribe of the long neck women. Most people have heard of the Padaung hill tribe as the giraffe women. The Padaung hill tribe, where the women wear huge brass rings around the neck are not a individual tribe but a sub-group of the Karen hill tribes. The famous giraffe women are located in the Mae Hong Son province of Northern Thailand, just at the border of Myanmar (Burma), in a small secluded valley right outside the provincial City “Mae Hong Son”. Of the 7000 members of the Padaung hill tribe in Burma, about 300 fled to Thailand, to escape the Burmese repression. With the help of the Thai government, they set up a refugee-village in a small valley of Mae Hong Son province.

Nowadays, the small refugee village of the long necked Padaung, is completely geared towards visitors and tourists and is seemingly on every tour agency’s day-trip list. The women of the Padaung hill tribe wear heavy brass ornaments around their neck and limbs. These ornaments look like separate rings but are really a continuous coil of brass that can weigh anywhere from five to twenty-two kilograms and measure up to 30 meter in length. The quantity of visual rings (in reality, the length of the brass coil) is increased every year, according to the age of the woman. Young Padaung girls start wearing rings from the age of six, adding one or two more coil-turns yearly, until the age of about 16. Once fastened, the rings are for life, to remove the full coil of brass would cause the collapse or even fracture of the woman’s neck.

It is a myth, that the brass rings have elongate the neck of the wearer. Any orthopedic surgeon will tell you that: lengthening the neck would lead to paralysis or even death. The reality is, that the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the brass rings has over the years pushed down and deformed the collar bone plus the upper ribs, to such an effect that the collar bone appears to be part of the neck. Despite the obvious discomfort and the daily task of cleaning the brass ring coil, plus other handicaps, like having to use a straw to drink, the Padaung women say that they are used to their custom and are happy in continuing the tribe’s tradition. The women are able to carry out a somewhat ordinary life: they can marry and have children, and they are able to weave, sew and do light work.

The origin of the ring-wearing ritual in the Padaung hill tribes remain unclear. Padaung legends say that it is done to prevent tigers from biting their neck when roving in the jungle. It is also claimed that it was used to make the women look unattractive so that other tribes would not capture them and sell as slaves. The most common and also most acceptable explanation, is just the opposite: An extra long neck for a woman was considered a sign of great beauty and the brass a sign of good wealth, this in turn would attract more men, so to have a bigger choice to select a husband. Their houses stand in small, neat squares made of woven and split bamboo with palm leaf roofs. Each home has a spacious, open terrace where the Padaung sit in the shade in front of their looms, spinning and weaving cotton textiles, blankets and tunics.


3 Responses to “Padaung: a hill tribe in the Golden triangle”

  1. February 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    From 5 to 22 kg!! And they are unable to remove it?!
    I have never seen something like this…very interesting post, thank you!
    And I still can’t believe that a women can do everyday work with 20 kg on her neck!

  2. December 10, 2011 at 2:44 am

    First photo is from Mae Hong Son province. It is Mu Parn on right, she is School Teacher.
    Third and fourth image is from Lake Inle.

    They wear big jewelry because they are very vain. They feel more vain than other women because they live in close contact with their emotions. Emotions are spirits or spirits contact with people.

  3. July 3, 2014 at 3:12 pm

    Superb post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject?
    I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further.

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