Padaung Women are Discarding their Neck Rings
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Padaung Women are Discarding their Neck Rings

By LAWI WENG Thursday, October 2, 2008


Increasing numbers of Padaung “longneck” women are removing the neck rings that make them a tourist draw in northern Thailand, hoping they’ll improve their chances of being resettled abroad.

Mu Hwit, a 21-year-old Padaung woman living in a Karenni refugee camp in Mae Hong Son province, near northern Thailand’s border with Burma, said she and six friends had removed their neck rings. She knew of several other women who had also discarded them.

A group of “longneck” women pose for the camera after a graduation ceremony in a Karenni refugee camp school in northern Thailand. The young woman graduate on the right has removed her neck rings. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Mu Hwit said she had discarded her neck rings not only because they would hinder her chances of studying abroad but also because she was “unhappy” at being a low-paid tourist attraction.

Northern Thailand has three Padaung villages where women wearing neck rings are paid 1,500 baht (US $38) a month by a Thai community, the “Union of Hill Tribe Villages,” to act as a tourist attraction, selling handicrafts and souvenirs to visitors. Their men folk have difficulty in finding employment, however.

The Thai authorities keep a close watch on the movements of the 500 inhabitants of the three villages. Last year, the authorities denied a group of Padaung people who had already been accepted for resettlement by Canada, New Zealand and Finland permission to leave Thailand.

“The Thai authorities just want us to stay and preserve our culture as a tourism attraction; they don’t want us to leave and study abroad,” said Mu Hwit. “But our culture brings us no benefits, only others. I feel unhappy about it—this is why I took off my neck rings.”

Mu Hwit completed high school at the Karenni refugee camp, but was then prevented by the authorities from leaving her village.

The Kayan Culture Administration Committee, based in Mae Hong Song, said Padaung women were discarding their neck rings because they felt themselves under observation by Thai authorities.

A member of the committee, Dhaw Reh, said that instead of being paid a suitable wage for their contribution to Thailand’s tourist industry, Padaung women were being condemned to poverty in the villages. Many saw resettlement as their only hope.

Padaung ‘long-neck’ girls traditionally begin to wear neck rings from the age of six, and by the time they reach adulthood the number of rings can be as many as 26.

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