Kayan tribe women
After the turmoils in Burma, at the end of the 80th, many Karen crossed the border and found shelter in camps in Thailand. Among them were members of the Kayan ethnicity, whose women have the custom to wear a heavy brass coil necklace. As this peculiarity is an attraction for tourists, special dwellings were set up, allowing (paying) visitors to go in. Money from entrance fees and from selling handicrafts and souvenirs makes the camps viable and provides a small revenue to refugees, otherwise not allowed to work.
Wearing the rings is a fading custom, in Burma as well as in the refugee population. A number of women have even taken this decoration away, to be able to study or emigrate to other countries. After a short acclimatization period, the coil’s removal is harmless, apart from a skin discoloration.
Nowadays, keeping up the tradition, even by some young girls, is certainly less a cultural strain than a mean to make a living; a choice that they can not be blamed for.
There are many legends about the brass coil wearing tradition; the most likely explanation is that, overtime, it became a pleasant ornament for them, a way of differentiation.
As fort the neck elongation, the cervical vertebrae cannot be extended, and the phenomenon is actually an optical illusion. Over the time, the heavy rings’ permanent weight, presses down the collarbones and the ribcage, leaving an elongated space for the adornment.
The necklace is a heavy brass coil of three spirals, two horizontal pieces and a small vertical one; Its weight can reach ten kilograms. One 5 mm copper wire length is skillfully bent around the neck. The process begins at an early age, with a another circle added from time to time. About once a year, the coil is totally removed and replaced by a longer one. The Kayan can live without it; their muscles still support their head and women who abandoned the rings quickly adapted to a “lighter” life.
These are two links to my published stories:
Meeting the Kayan again: returning to a "Long Neck" refugee village (Nai Soi), twenty years later (GT-Rider trip report)
Three Kayan settlements: a visit to several Kayan tribes settlements in Mae Hong Son (GT-Rider trip report)