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The Long-Necked Women of the Kayan Hilltribe

Listed under Traditional Cultures in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

Photo of The Long-Necked Women of the Kayan Hilltribe
Photo by flickr user babasteve
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Not to be confused with the Kayan of Borneo, the Kayan, or Padaung, are another South East Asian Hill tribe with a rich tradition of fabric weaving. Descended from the same Tibetan ancestors as the Karen, Kayans settled in Burma, but military conflict forced them to flee to neighboring Thailand. Kayans make and wear similar fabrics to the Karen, but have a distinct and defining feature which has lead to the nickname of 'long-neck'.

This name stems from the distinctive neck coils worn by Kayan females. Although no one is sure exactly why the neckrings are worn, the long necks are nonetheless appreciated by the Kayan as a symbol of beauty. Kayan females have seen the tradition of neck coils fade and grow; they are recently becoming fashionable again as tourists flock to observe them. The brass rings, which are worn from the age of five are also often found just below a Kayan woman's knees.

Today, the coils that set these women apart from other Hill tribe women provoke mixed feelings. Kayan people have spoken out against the Thai entrepreneurs who are capitalising on this Kayan cultural practice. The Kayan refuges in Thailand may feel forced to continue practices which draw tourists instead of developing naturally in their new environment. Once a farming people, Kayan men are now idle while the women pose for tourists, and the end result is a 'Human Zoo'- many treks will take tourists to 'artificial' Kayan villages for observation.

However, many Kayans also acknowledge that they are in a better position than other refugees within Thailand. The draw for tourists does provide a consistent if meager revenue. Try to visit an authentic settlement and directly support the Kayan people.


Written by  Amber Due.

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

actually, fyi the coils around their necks do not stretch the neck at all, which shows your little 'professionalism'. it is just an illusion.

from kya and brogan

1 Reply

Pretty sure we covered that already - that the collar bones are gradually deformed rather than the neck lengthened, but thanks.

What do they eat as part of their culture?

Hi I'm wirting an essay and ws wondering what the Kayan People eat... like traditional meals?

How do they get the rings around their neck in the first place?

How do they kayan people get the rings around their neck in the first place?

1 Reply

They just put them on one at a time...

the rings dont make the neck longer...they push the shoulders downwards.

Wouldnt you die from having too many rings put on?

Stretching your neck like that anyway is a bit extreme for my liking, but wouldnt having too many rings around your neck do some damage to the jugula or cut your circulation or something?! I was in my year 9 geography lesson and was wowwed by the pictures, yet curious and a tad worried for them as well lol

yours sincerly

Autumn Young, England

2 Replies

I saw a fascinating National Geographic programme about it – I always thought the rings were slowly added over time and gradually stretched the space between the vertebrae and kinda held the head up themselves… But they don’t – they actually weigh the collar bone down onto the ribs and twist those longer bones – grizzly. I also thought it was supposed to be dangerous to take the coils away but it’s not – the neck muscles may have become weaker but there’s no real reason why they can’t be taken away.

National Geographic implied that the practice has remained popular because the rest of the world is fascinated by it and people are interested in visiting the Kayan or Karen tribal areas to see the women. Apparently 37 is the largest number of coils a woman has. In some places they have brass rings on their arms and legs as well.

Having been to the Longneck tribal villages in N. Thailand, I can say with veracity that the ladies can put on and take off the rings at will.

It's a cultural thing -- nothing to fret about. :-)

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