There are hundreds of distinct tribes in the world but there is nothing more distinct than that of the Karen Hill Tribe. The name Karen Hill Tribe, however, is an umbrella term that refers to a number of individual groups of Sino-Tibetan speaking ethnic groups. These groups of tribes and people may not share common culture or language, but they primarily reside in the Karen State of southeastern and southern Myanmar. Among these tribes is a tribe that is sometimes generally called Karen tribe, but is actually a tribe that belongs to the Kayan tribe of Myanmar. This tribe is estimated to be around 50,000 people. Although they are associated with the Karen groups of tribes, they are highly distinct because some of their female members or women are adorned with coiled metals around their necks. Hence, these Karen tribe is also called “Padaung” which means “long necks.”

The necks of the Kayan girls were not stretched as some other people would usually misconstrue, but rather their collarbones were pushed down due to the continuous wearing of neck rings. The rings around their necks are usually made of alloys of silver, gold, and brass.

Why Do the Padaung Tribal Women Wear Neck Rings?

There are many reasons put forward as to why the women of Kayan Tribe wear rings, and one reason is that these rings were worn by their women to make them highly distinctive. Another given reason—which is somewhat plausible—is that these rings were meant to protect their women from tiger bites, knowing that there are many Burmese tigers prowling along the Karen state. Another succinct reason says that the Kayans believe themselves to be descended from the female dragon which interbred with the male human. Hence, to connect themselves to the memory of the Dragon Mother, the Kayan women wore these neck-rings. The Kayans likewise believe that the rings have healing power, and every time a Kayan child is sick, the mother simply has to let the child touch her neck-rings to effect healing. Kayan mothers also let someone touch their neck-rings as good luck act for a long journey. Not all Kayan girls, however, wear those neck-rings and only those who were born on significant days—especially on the days when the moon is waxing—are given the chance to wear those neck-rings.

What is the Belief of Karen Tribes on Silver?

Silver is a highly valued metal among the Karen people, specifically those of the Kayan Tribe. They believe that silver can help them connect to the Dragon Mother from whom they were descended. Silver neck-rings, therefore, evolved as a sacred metal among the Kayans, and they believe that touching the silver neck-rings of their women can bring positive results such as healing and peaceful and accident-free journey. They also believe that silver can help them connect to the Dragon Mother from whom they are descended. This seeming connection between the silver neck-rings and their rootedness to the Mother Dragon has engendered various beliefs on the sacredness of the silver neck-rings. Silver rings, likewise, for the Kayan women are symbolic of their women’s defiant power, witchery, and autonomy. Lastly, these silver neck-rings are expressive of Kayan women’s unique and exquisite beauty.