CraSh Williams' Blog

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People Zoo

Posted by Cool Your Jets IV on July 12, 2011

Having failed in our quest to see any Long Neck Karens during our recent road trip, we took the opportunity to visit Baan Tong Luang an Eco-Agricultural Hill Tribes Village about 25km outside of Chiang Rai. Several people had advised against going, liking the whole experience to visiting the zoo to gawp at the animals only in this case gawping at human beings in some kind of weird freak show…

The ‘village’ is made up of several different Hill Tribes though everyone makes a beeline straight to the Long Necks – us included. Mostly it was young girls and some women more our own age, there were very few men around – we saw maybe two guys during our time in the ‘village.’

The name Karen is a catch-all name for the tribe – there’s numerous sub-groups and those that practise the ‘neck stretching’ are known as Padaung, all of the Karens originated from Burma and crossed into Thailand due to persecution. The actual neck-stretching is more an illusion – theres no way a neck can be stretched to that extent without paralysing the person. The rings, which are incredibly heavy actually push down the collar-bone and upper ribs which must be painful for the woman.Once worn for several years, the rings cannot be removed as the neck muscles become wasted and unable to support the head – apparently, if the women comits adultery the rings are removed as punishment and the women spends the rest of her life laying down, unable to stand up.

The saddest thing for me was seeing these very beautiful young girls, no more than teenagers, already wearing several rings and being stuck in this ‘village’ no doubt for the rest of their lives, unable to leave or have any choice in their lives – certainly seeing very few men there and plenty of tourists (like me taking photos) – really brought home how much of a People Zoo this place is, it was really unsettling and whilst pleased we’d been, we were very relieved when we left.

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3 Responses to “People Zoo”

  1. Shelley said

    Very sad how these women aren’t ever seen anywhere out as though they are caged like animals in a circus to be seen by ticket holders only!

  2. toogreytogrind said

    I know you guys are respectful when taking photos, so there must have been mucho cringe for your taking those photos. I do remember taking street photos with you shooting from the hip.

    Does amaze me though how so many people think they have the god given rite or right to stick a FO SLR in someone’s face just for a photo. I would love to do a photo project of sticking my camera in the face and taking pictures of people like this.

    Yours shooting from the hip.

    • You’re quite right – there were one or two with big fo SLRs and even bigger lenses just blatting off lots of phots, not even bothering to speak with or acknowledge the people they were shooting. It only takes two seconds to ask…

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