Today the news is filled with stories of Syrian refugees, and their treatment in various countries. I am not going to talk about that today, but I am going to talk about the Kayan Lahwi refugees in Thailand. The Kayan people are sometimes called the “long neck tribe” or more crudely their women are sometimes called the “Giraffe Women”.
Many women in this tribe wear brass coils around their neck. The coils are first put on at the age of 5, as the women grow they add more coils to their neck. This produces the effect of a skinny and prolonged neck.(*moment of science* Their necks are not actually any longer, the coils are heavy and the depress the collar bone and compress the ribs. This creates the visual effect of a longer neck without actually creating one.) This practice has some minor health effects, though not as many as you would think.
Nate and I debated for a long time if we should go to this refugee camp. The Thai government allows the camp but does not allow the Kayan to build any permanent structures are have any agriculture. The only means of income they have is tourism, there is a hefty entrance fee for foreigners to enter the camp. In fact the Thai government has moved a few camps so they have more convenient tourist access. It felt somewhat like going to a zoo or circus. We were hesitant to go somewhere that was so clearly exploiting women and an indigenous culture. Our capitalistic natures won out as we decided that we should go because this was the only source of income that the tribe had. If the tourist trade dried up, we shuddered to think of the Thai government’s response.
Being in the camp was interesting, many of the women were weaving on handlooms. We talked to some of the women and purchased cloth. Many women in the tribe had chosen to remove their coils. It was great to see them standing up for their rights. In addition to the neck coils they wore many bangles of brass and silver. I purchased a bracelet from and old one with an incredibly long neck. My bangle is “100% 22 carat silver” purchased for a little under 8 dollars 😉 .
I hope that someday these people able to safely to return to their homeland (Burma/Myanmar) or that the Thai government will adopt more humane practices. Until then many of the refuges have been choose to take off their coils and some have accepted offers by to resettle in Finland and New Zealand, something the Thai government originally moved to prevent.