‘Giraffe’ Women of Padaung tribe in Burma

 

Every culture has its one uniqueness which the people that uphold it are known for. There are cultures that seem very exciting not because we want to practice them but just that they are too strange to make sense. One of such cultures is found among the Padaung tribe, a subgroup of the Karenni, Burma (Myanmar) where the beauty of a woman lies in the length of her neck. There you find several women moving like Ostrich or Giraffes, giving the tribes women a nick name – the Giraffe women. This is an interesting piece. Find out why the Padaung women choose to look like Ostrich to prove their beauty. An interesting piece by Rai17 posted on Justkeeprunning social media platform provides a quick insight to the world of the ‘Giraffe’ women. Watch the short video at the end of the article for more on this exciting practice.

The Beauty of the ‘Giraffe’ Women

You might be wondering how having long neck makes anyone look beautiful. Well, some people see women with long neck to be physically attractive. Such long-necked women are called ‘leher jinjang’ in Malays and this means “protruding neck”. Malays are an Austronesian ethnic group native to the Eastern Sumatra of Indonesia, coastal Borneo, Peninsular Malaysia and Southern Thailand, as well as the smaller islands which lie between these locations. These areas are collectively known as the Malay world. Women with long neck are seen among a tribe in the Malay world – “giraffe” tribe in eastern Burma or Myanmar.

The long neck might look beautiful to “giraffe” tribe in eastern Burma or Myanmar but this may not fit the image of being beautiful in the mind of many other people around the world. These women with long necks are from Padaung tribe, a subgroup of the Karenni which in turn is a subgroup of the Karen. “Padaung”, in the Shan anguage means “long neck”. The coils around their necks are actually made from brass and gold alloy. These women start wearing the coils as early as 5 years old, and as they get older, they add up more coils to their necks. It’s like spending long years of your life having something around your neck. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone could be that patient just to ‘look beautiful’.

The Padaung people believe that having long neck is the symbol of wealth, position and beauty. Apart from being a beauty tradition, it is also said that many myths or histories lie behind the long-neck custom. Some said that wearing brass coils around necks in the past functioned to protect Padaung women from tigers, as they bite people’s necks. Others claim that it made them resemble the myth dragon, but it is also claimed that long necks were intended to make them look less attractive, hence they are likely to be taken as slaves in the past. Ironically, today’s Padaung women who still practise the coils wearing tradition tend to have long necks to preserve the tradition, and to look more beautiful!

 

However, one thing you need to know is, having long necks for this tribe is only an optical illusion. As the coils are added, they actually push the women’s collar bones and ribs down. It looks like they’re having long necks, but actually they only painfully compress their shoulders and collarbones, rather than stretching their necks. They go through the pain to achieve the standard of beauty in their tribe. These women with long necks can’t lean their heads back, so they drink from straws. A British journalist who interviewed the ‘giraffe’ women, said that their voices sound as if they were speaking from the bottom of a well.

This might look like a strange culture to many people across the world but to the ‘giraffe’ women, it’s a precious aspect of their culture. Whether that perception still holds for many women from that community in the modern world might be arguable. Cultures change with time and the strangest parts of culture are among the first to be swept away. But the Padaung women are not ready to totally let the ‘long necked’ aspect of their culture completely disappear are some women among them still practise the coils wearing tradition today to preserve the tradition, and to look ‘more beautiful’.

 

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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