Karen Hill Tribe
The largest ethnic group of Hill Tribe people
of its kind in Northern Thailand
Karen Hill Tribe are the largest of all the minority groups in
Thailand comprising in total of around 300 thousand. They are divided
into three main assemblages. The Red Karen or Kayah is one such group.
Another group is the Black Karen or Pgo and the third hill tribe is the White Karen or Sgaw. While some tribes continue to practice animistic and Buddhist teachings, many have converted to Christianity.
The Karen tribe can easily be recognized by their woven v-neck tunics and turbans
of diverse natural colours. Women who are not married will wear
distinctive long white v-neck tunics. You will find the Karen engaging
in agriculture such as tea and rice cultivation in the lowland areas.
This tribe is environmentally conscious and will often be seen
practicing crop rotation to help preserve the forests. The ones staying
at home attending the children are experts in the art of weaving.
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Young Karen Hill Tribe Girl
Karen Hill Tribe
Young Karen Girls
From a very tender age, young Karen girls start to wear brass rings
around their necks, arms and legs. Once they reach adulthood, the rings
around their necks can easily add up to some 26 loops all in all while
weighing over two kilograms. That's a heck of a lot of heavy metal to carry around for the rest of their lives.
we are only talking about the metal on their necks! Now what about all
the hardware on their arms and legs. These girls would certainly have a
difficult time trying to go through customs at any airport. Removing the
rings could seriously delay flights so be prepared for a long haul
should one of these girls want to board your flight.
Okay! I know that I am
just fooling around here but it makes you think that some of us are
lucky enough to be able to travel worldwide with modern transport and
not have to trek around on foot most of the time. Can you imagine having
to live in a remote village or worse still, a refugee camp. I think not.
Remote Hill Tribe Refugee Village
Karen Hill Tribe
The big question often asked is whether the rings can ever be
removed without severe neck injuries or will the necks of these ladies
simply snap. I should imagine this would depend entirely on individual
circumstances. One would have to consider how long the rings have been
on. Another would be, how long the neck has grown or perhaps how
sturdy the neck is once the rings are removed.
Some say that the
rings cannot be removed as the ladies would no longer be able to hold
their heads high. Well some young girls seen in the villages have had
their hardware removed and you can clearly see their elongated necks yet somehow they seem to be perfectly happy at play. Their are many disputes regarding this type of practice but you have to understand it is their custom.
to a Ripley's believe-it-or-not documentary film, one Karen women had
her rings removed only to complain of intense pain and immediately asked
to have her rings re-attached. It is said that the wearing of brass
rings helps to project their tribal identity. Long Neck Women or Giraffe Women are just some of the names often used to describe these elongated necks of the Karen Hill Tribe.
Long Neck Karen Hill Tribe Woman
Karen Hill Tribe
Long Necked Karen of Baan Nai Soi
Travel 25 kilometres (15 miles) from
Mae Hong Son towards the Burmese border in northern Thailand and you will reach the village of Ban Nai Soi. At some point along the way you will pass a Thai check point
but please don't be alarmed as the army are only on the lookout for
drug smugglers and the occasional Burmese military. I sure hope that you
are neither. Anyway Thai's are very well known for their hospitality
and this army will give you a smile as they wave you on.
well travelled road is fairly reasonably for most of the way. A little
further up from the village you will come across the Paduang Karen Tribe refugee camp.
Many tourists arrive here to get a glimpse into the lives of these
fascinating long neck dwellers. Taking photographs will probably be the
order of the day here.
The area around the refugee village is a
hive of activity with farmers tending to their fields, women in the
village helping men construct new roofs for their huts, adolescents
studying under their homes and little old ladies carrying their daily
pickings in wicker baskets on their heads along a stretch of dirt and
Karen Girls at Play
Return from Karen Hill Tribe to the Hill Tribe Page
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