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Padaung Women (Referred to as "Giraffe Women" Visit London In 1935

At a time when circuses and exhibitions reigned supreme, offering people a glimpse into the exotic and the unknown, London was visited by a small group of Padaung women from the remote regions of Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand.

Dubbed the "Giraffe Women", as is there custom beginning at about five years of age, many Padaung girls have their necks wound with spirals of brass. (In earlier days, copper and gold were used as well.) A bedinsayah (spirit doctor) puts the coils into place on a day determined by divination to be auspicious.

The first spiral, put on a girl at the age of five or so, is usually about four inches high (10 cm); in approximately two years, another coil is added. Coils are then added sporadically until a limit of 21-25 is reached, at the age of marriage.

The brass spiral, reaching up to a foot in height (30 cm) and weighing approximately 20 pounds (9 kg), creates the illusion of an elongated neck. However, its actual effect is the compression of the collarbones and rib cage, distorting the chest and causing the shoulders to slope. The weight of the brass exerts pressure on the collarbone, pushing it downward and compressing the rib cage.

Contrary to appearance, the neck itself does not undergo lengthening; rather, the perceived elongation is a result of the deformation of the clavicle (chest) and the sloping of the shoulders.

Once the coil is in place, it is rarely removed due to the lengthy process involved in coiling and uncoiling. Removal typically only occurs when replacing it with a new or longer coil. Continuous wear of the coil can lead to weakening of the muscles underneath.

While the origin of the coils is still uncertain, it's been hypothesised that the coils may have originated as a means to safeguard against tiger bites, whether symbolically or literally.

Other visiting anthropologists have suggested that the rings served as a form of protection, deterring women from becoming slaves by diminishing their appeal to other tribes.

Another theory speculates that the coils stem from a desire to enhance attractiveness by accentuating sexual dimorphism, as women typically have more slender necks than men. Additionally, some believe that the coils impart a resemblance to dragons, a significant figure in Kayan folklore.

Kayan women often cite cultural identity as their primary reason for wearing them, associating the rings with beauty.

In modern times, the tradition has seen a decline, with many Padaung women opting to break away from it. However, a handful of older women and some young girls in remote villages still adhere to the practice.

After a decline in the use of coils, in Thailand the custom has more recently experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years. This resurgence is largely attributed to the influx of tourists drawn to the tribes, providing both revenue for the tribe and local businesses that operate within the villages.



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