The Padaung Custom

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Topics: Burma, Karen people
The Padaung Custom

In the wild mountainous regions of Burma (known as Myanmar there), there lives a Padaung tribe, where the Padaung women are known by wearing brass rings around their necks for life. The name “Padaung” is derived from the Karen words pa, meaning to have round, and daung, meaning brass. The rings are added on every two to three years starting from a very young age until a certain age of twenty and above. The rings holds the neck stiffly that it restrict any movements of the neck. If the rings are removed, it will kill the women almost instantly. There are various origins explaining why these people submit to this custom.

The first theory went back to the time of the feudal rulers where the Shan Princes have the habit of abducting young girls. To prevent abduction from any would-be abductors, especially the Shan Princes, the girls wore the rings to make themselves as ugly as possible, claimed Linda Grant (1989). According to Stephen Mansfield (2002), the rings were worn with the same reason to make women undesirable to slave traders. However, there is a contradictory theory stating that the rings are the most important sign of female beauty (Bhadungzong, G. (2008)) and some people, mostly men, found them extremely gorgeous (Grant, L. (1989)).

A more common theory is that the rings are worn as protection against tiger bites (Graceffo, A. (2008), Grant, L. (1989) & Mansfield, S. (2002)). However it is also believed that it is a practice used by men to prevent women from running away (Grant, L. (1989)). If a man wanted a divorce, he had the right to take the rings off his wife (Graceffo, A. (2008)). Cruel as it seems, the rings also serve as a tool of punishment for adultery (Grant, L. (1989) & Mansfield, S. (2002)). Adultery among Padaung women are punished by removal of the rings, which is worse than death. After long years of wearing the rings, the muscles of the neck become weak and cannot support the weight of the head. When the rings



References: 1. Bhadungzong, G. (2008) Symbols of Karen Beauty. http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/longneck_karen.html 2. Graceffo, A. (2008) Burma’s Other Karen Tribe. http://www.worldisround.com/articles 3. Grant, L. (1989) The Giraffe-Necked Woman of Burma. Marie Claire, Great Britain. 4. Gray, D.D. (1998) Padaung “Giraffe-Women”. The Associated Press. http://seattlepi.nwsource.com 5. Mansfield, S. (2002) The Padaung. http://mission.itu.ch/MISSIONS/Myanmar/tourism

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