What I love the most about the world we live in is the impressive cultural diversity. You can’t find 2 countries or regions to share the same customs, nor traditions. Therefore, you will find even today tribes who willingly keep their heritage alive. Let’s take for example the Padaung tribe.
What is so special about it?
Stretched necks and shackled limbs define the tribe’s women as Padaung. They have worn these coils for centuries, becoming their tribe’s symbol. The collar is known as “Wang” and the process starts at an early age when the bones are still flexible. In order to achieve the stretched look, the young girls will return every few years to have more coils added.
Padaung is a Shan term for the “Kayan Lahwi”, a group of women who wear neck coils, mainly located in certain areas in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and even the USA. The tribe gets its name from the Padaung area, where most of them live. Often persecuted for their unusual appearance, there were many times when they had to leave their houses and find new ones in refugee camps.
The Padaung people’s attire usually consists of colourful clothes and the emblematic coils from around their necks. Sometimes, they tie coils around their legs too. According to the Guinness Book of Records, “the coils can stretch their necks over a foot and weigh over 20 pounds”, and it’s no wonder the record for the world’s longest neck belongs to a Padaung woman.
One Padaung woman relates that it isn’t the neck that gets longer, but their shoulders which are pushed down and lowered. As the coils grow, their pressure pushes down, making the ribcage squash and creating the illusion of an elongated neck.
Has this tradition become a business?
Although the visitors of these areas find the tradition of wearing them close to torture, the women have chosen for themselves to do so. Mothers make their daughters wear them as early as the age of five, in rare cases even two. As the tribe has no written language, it has been difficult to establish the true origin of wearing the coils.
However, nowadays, the long-neck women state that they wear them to keep their culture alive, despite the backlash they receive from foreigners who often describe the places as “human zoos”.