Inle Lake

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Mirrored temple by the bridge, Naungshwe

Having read in of Pascal Khoo Thwe's idyllic  childhood in his memoir "From The Land of Green Ghosts", I very much wanted to visit a Padaung village

The  Padaung are a sub section of the Karen tribe also known as giraffe necked women because of the many brass rings they wear on their elongated necks.  Traditionally the rings were fitted when a girl was between six and nine years of age.  Only girls born on the Wednesday of a full moon were eligible and the date for the ritual would be set by the village shaman.

The neck was rubbed with ointment said to contain dog fat, coconut milk and royal jelly and massaged for several hours.  A small cushion was fitted under the first ring to prevent soreness and later removed.   Successive rings were added every two years until she married.  The rings can weight up to 20lbs and reach 12 inches in height.  The neck is not really extended, rather the clavicle is pushed down giving the illusion of an extremely long neck.

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It is not sure why this was done originally.  Some suggest it protects the neck from tiger bites, others that it has religious significance or that it makes the women unattractive to other men and difficult for them to run away.  Whatever the origin the practice was disappearing until the advent of the tourist trade and for this reason I now regret our visit.  

I was looking for a chance to see the Padaung in a setting of their choosing as I know many are virtual prisoners in villages along the Thai border.  Having heard of a family who live in Nyanugshwe and welcome visitors I determined to seek them out.   

The reality was far different, the women looked most unhappy, I didn't even want to take photos but felt obliged to as they expected it.  There was no way to communicate with these women.   Of the $3 per head we paid to the men at the entrance to their pretty compound, they only received $1.  All in all we contributed to their exploitation.

 

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