The Karen – Masters of Optical Illusion
Camera info: Canon Rebel 350D • lens EF 70-200mm f/2.8L
ISO 400 • f 2.8 • 1/200 sec
The first thing I noticed about the neck rings were how heavy they were! Depending on the girl’s age, she could carry around a brass ring that weighed more than ten pounds. I don’t know about you, but I think weightlifting with my hands and feet is hard enough! 😯 Cultural tradition says the rings are a symbol of beauty, and were to protect from tigers. I talked with one of the ladies, and she said her ancestors had learned from the swans. In the beginning, members of the Karen Padaung tribe only gave rings to girls born on a Wednesday under a full moon, but today any girl can wear them – or choose not to. Most girls start around five years old.
Contrary to popular belief, the rings do not actually lengthen the women’s necks, and they will not be paralyzed by removing them. It is just an optical illusion: the weight of the rings compress the collar bone & upper ribs until they appear to be part of the neck. As the girls get older, they add longer rings. It is a very long and involved process to remove or replace rings, so many women choose to wear them 24/7. Those that choose to remove them are sore for a few days, but then recover.
There is currently a political battle going on over this tribe, who have come to Thailand as refugees. Some say the tourism reduces them to a “human zoo”, while others are thankful for the income and place to live. This blogger offers some pros and cons while another one tells the story of a girl who chose to remove her rings (for more general info on the tribe see Wikipedia and the Peoples of the World Foundation).
What would you do if you were part of this tribe? Would you hold on to your culture or would you try to fit in to the society at large?