The Women of Kayan
In the Far East, in northern Thailand there are native women in tribes that carry on a thousand year long tradition, these are the Kayan women. Originally, the Kayan came from Myanmar, but now are located in northern Thailand in multiple villages. There is only a small portion of Kayan women and girls who carry on the unique tradition of wearing brass neck-rings. Since this tradition began, the other natives have called the brass-neck tribe ‘Yan Pa Doung’ which means ‘Kayan brass wound people’.
The brass rings are actually one long spiral which puts pressure on the shoulders that causes the neck to look longer. The spiral is wound around the neck manually by the women of the tribe. Brass is a tough metal which results in the process taking several hours depending on the length of the metal. The full set of neck rings is made from three separate coils and weighs about 22 pounds. The main neck coil and a wider coil reside near the shoulders and then with a small coil wrapped around it at 90 degrees. Now a day’s few women wear the full set.
There are many stories and myths told about the Kayan women’s’ tradition. A popular one amongst the guides to the village is that the rings are worn to protect against tiger bites, but most people claim that this theory is false. It has also been proven that the rings have nothing to do with the day the woman was born.
Among the farfetched stories there are other credible ones. One theory states that the women wear the large rings as a method of stopping valuables from being stolen. They do this by melting down their jewelry into the rings and then wear them. People have also said that the rings identified the women so they would not be taken by other tribes. Another interesting theory is that the rings are a status symbol for women as they are the descendant of the Mother Dragon. Yet, there is a more popularly known theory for this tradition which is that they are worn for beauty, as the various tribes competed for attention in a kind of beauty contest.
In Thailand, the Kayan tribes became somewhat of a tourist attraction, as there are many myths and half-truths surrounded around their traditions. To reach the Kayan in their villages is fairly easily and they are open to tourists and even charge an entry fee. Usually, a visit to one of the villages is only possible on an organized tour. Comparing my beauty regiments to one of the Kayan women does not even compare when you see the great lengths they go to wear these neck rings, it is truly amazing.
Submitted by Kate Schmitt