Young Women in Myanmar Turn Away from Traditional Neck Rings

19 August, 2018

For hundreds of years, women in Myanmar's Kayah area have worn bronze rings around their necks.

The rings are a traditional symbol of beauty. They also extend the necks of the women, making them very long.

But now, younger Kayan women are turning away from the tradition of their ancestors.

Mu Tu is one of the few women who knows how to make the traditional rings and put them on. She is 48 years old.

She says, "The shorter sets are easier to make. Everyone has their own preference. So if someone doesn't like what you've put on, you have to take it off and start over."

Maria Khaing has been wearing rings on her neck, wrists and knees since she was eight-years-old. She is now 83. She said, "My dad told me I looked like a boy. He said, 'so I will buy you a gun to hunt as a man'. But I said, 'every girl is wearing the rings, so I want to wear the rings too'."

Maria never removes the rings, even when cooking, eating or working.

"It is comfortable. At first it was hard but now it's fine. I eat and food goes [down]," she said.

Wearing neck rings was once expected of all Kayan women. But more and more have stopped wearing them.

Maria's granddaughter, 20-year-old Za Oo, is among those who have not kept with the tradition.

"They're heavy and uncomfortable. Also I don't know much about them, that's why I don't wear them," she said.

The rings make the women's necks very long. But they also press down on the bones around the shoulders. Wearing the rings can also cause discomfort when swallowing.

Even Mu Tu admits that safety is a concern.

"If you don't make the rings correctly, someone can choke," she said.

Experts say there are now fewer than 100 long-neck women in Myanmar. That is down from about 300 to 400 in the 1990s.

Some people wonder, however, if tourists will still come to buy goods in Kayah when the long-necked women are gone.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Julie Taboh reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.


Words in this Story

preference – n. a feeling of liking or wanting one person or thing more than another person or thing

tourist – n. a person who travels to a place for pleasure