"The Women Ostrich" of the Kayan tribe: How far can a human neck stretch?


Try not to be scared, you are in for a shock.

Padaung (Yan Pa Doung) is a Shan term for the Kayan Lahwi (the group in which women wear the brass neck coils). The Kayan residents in Mae Hong Son Province in Northern Thailand refer to themselves as Kayan and object to being called Padaung.


According to Kayan tradition the Kayan settled in the Demawso area of Karenni State (Kayah State) in 739 AD.  Today, they reside in Karenni (Kayah) State around Demawso and Loikow, in the southern region of Shan State and in Mandalay’s Pyinmana and Karen’s Than Daung township.


Women of the Kayan tribes identify themselves by their forms of dress. Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe are well known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing to lengthen it.
Girls first start to wear rings when they are around 5 years old. Over the years, the coil is replaced by a longer one and more turns are added. The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage . The neck itself is not lengthened; the appearance of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle . Many ideas regarding why the coils are worn have been suggested.
Mum dressing up her daughter:once worn the rings are seldom removed unless it to be replaced with a longer one
At age 5 a girl is eligible to wear the coils


Why the coils?
Speculation by anthropologists, who have hypothesized, that the rings protected women from becoming slaves; making them less attractive to other tribes. It has also been theorised that the coils originate from the desire to look more attractive by exaggerating sexual dimorphism , as women have more slender necks than men. It has also been suggested that the coils give the women resemblance to a dragon , an important figure in Kayan folklore. [9] The coils might be meant to protect from tiger bites, perhaps literally, but probably symbolically.

Wearing the neck coils is just as time consuming and painful as removing it.

Kayan women, when asked, acknowledge these ideas, and often say that their purpose for wearing the rings is cultural identity (one associated with beauty).
The coil, once on, is seldom removed, as the coiling and uncoiling is a lengthy procedure. It is usually only removed to be replaced by a new or longer coil. The muscles covered by the coil become weakened. Many women have removed the rings for medical examinations. 
The coils around the neck they claim protects the women from being enslaved by other tribes by making them appear less attractive 

Most women prefer to wear the rings once their clavicle has been lowered, as the area of the neck and collarbone often becomes bruised and discolored. Additionally, the collar feels like an integral part of the body after ten or more years of continuous wear.

Marriage rite 
In the past the choice of marriage partners was usually the responsibility of the parents; but today young people often select their own partner. The rule of marriage is only those genetically related are allowed to marry. It is preferable for first cousins to get married. However, marriage between different generations is taboo. Marriages with in-laws or conflicting clans who have sworn not to marry for several generations is forbidden. It is believed that if these rules are violated the misfortune falls upon all their relatives.
Some women however believes they look even more beautiful  with the coils and hence wears them to attract male suitors 


When a young man has decided upon a girl, his parents will approach her parents with a gift. If the girl accepts then the couple are now engaged. The young man’s family have to provide a dowry to seal the contract. Usually the daughter-in-law will move in with her husband on marriage and in this case the price is higher than if the man moves in with his wife. The contract ceremony may be ended by the families eating a chicken provided by the groom’s family together. In this way the couple will love each other forever. The bride price consists of several parts:


Religion
The Kayans' traditional religion is called Kan Khwan, and has been practiced since the people migrated from Mongolia during the Bronze Age. It includes the belief that the Kayan people are the result of a union between a female dragon and a male human/angel hybrid .

The major religious festival is the three-day Kay Htein Bo festival, which commemorates the belief that the creator god gave form to the world by planting a small post in the ground. During this festival, held in late March or early April, a Kay Htoe Boe pole is erected and participants dance around the pole. This festival is held to venerate the eternal god and creator messengers, to give thanks for blessings during the year, to appeal for forgiveness, and pray for rain. It is also an opportunity for Kayan from different villages to come together to maintain the solidarity of the tribe.

The Kayan have a strong belief in augury and nothing is done without reference to some form of divination, including breaking thatch grass, but most importantly consulting the chicken bones.
In present times, the annual Kay Htein Bo festival is always accompanied by a reading of the chicken bones to predict the year ahead. Fowl bone prognostication can be witnessed in the Kayan villages in Thailand's Mae Hong Son province during the annual festival, and during "cleansing ceremonies" that a family holds when it has encountered ill fortune. They also use dreams to make predictions.


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