How does the traveller see it?
(Fragment of a post from a Facebook page)
With gold rings around her neck
During my travels through Myanmar in 2017, I acquired two pieces of art depicting girls from the Padaung people – one a graphical work and the other a work with beads on linen.
Myanmar is an empire. Its official name is “The Republic of the Union of Myanmar”, but it smells nothing like a republic, nor a union – unless we’re talking the Soviet kind.
There are several peoples in Myanmar. First, there is the Burman ethnic group which forms the military junta that runs the country. Then there are groups who live in more or less tolerable conditions. Finally, there are those like the famous Rohingya Muslims or the Shan Buddhists, who are fighting for their independence. The Karen peoples also fall into that category, and the Padaung people, with their gold-necked women, are a small group within the Karen family. Many of them fled to neighboring Thailand because of repression, and in Thailand they’ve become a tourist attraction.
There are many theories as to why they make their necks appear longer by adding rings as the years go by. Some say it protects against tiger bites, others say it’s a sort of “bank to store gold”. But after visiting many African countries, I think the reason is simple and mundane – the desire to look unique and beautiful. After all, gold (colored) rings on one’s neck are more beautiful than extracted teeth or lip plates, don’t you think?