Giraffe Women as known in the 19th- century has become one of the most fascinated tourist attractions in Thailand, for their long neck which not only represents history but is a source of livelihood for the Kayan People. The fascination of tourists to see the long necks of these women is more deeply rooted in the question, is it scientifically possible to have such long necks or is it just an illusion?
To dwell on this topic any further, the history of the Kayan People and their origin becomes more relevant to understand their distinctive custom of wearing brass coils around their necks.
Kayan is a subgroup of Karenni people, which are indigenous to formerly known as Burma, (Myanmar) are known as Padaung in Myanmar but those living in Thailand object to being called Padaung and thus are known as Kayan. In the seventies, many Kayan tribes fled to the borders of Thailand facing persecution from the army as they were expelled from the country in order to create a more western image and the armed conflict.
Finding refugees in the Thailand borders and refugee camps, the women with brass coils had a dedicated long neck section in the refugee camps, which later became a tourist site making these refugees self-sufficient from the tourist earnings. Today, there are 3 Kayan villages in the Mae Hong Son province of Thailand and one of them is a commercial village yet some of the people still live in the refugee camps.
What makes these women apart from other tribes is the way the brass coils are wrapped around their necks stacked on one another to give an illusion of having necks as long as a giraffe. The custom beings at the age of 5, but all the spirals are not put together at once the first spiral put on a girl at the age of five is 4inches high and in approximately two years another coil is added, and so on until there are about 20-21 coils giving an illusion of long neck.
The new generations have no clear idea of the origin of the rings, but mostly wear them because their mothers and grandmothers did before them. Yet, many myths and stories have traveled among tourists about the origin of these coils which seem to be unheard by the Kayan women themselves which reasons that it is a way to make the women less attractive to slave traders or to protect the throat from tigers.
The X-rays have shown that such rings worn by these women do not elongate their necks but the weight of the rings pushed down on the rib cage causing the shoulders to drop dramatically and displaces the collarbone.
Many women have chosen not to continue with the tradition of wearing rings, rejecting it as cumbersome and an obstacle to the integration with modern Thai society rather than medical or health reasons. Still, the neck custom is encouraged despite it being called out by many organizations as a showcase of a human zoo and even asks for a boycott of the visits, but with political refugee status, the majority of refugees earn their income through tourist attractions who come to visit the ladies with giraffe neck.
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