Friday, 3 September 2010
The Kayan are a subgroup of the Red Karen (Karenni) people, a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority of Burma (Myanmar). The Kayan consists of the following groups: Kayan Lahwi (also called Padaung), Kayan Ka Khaung (Gekho), Kayan Lahta, Kayan Ka Ngan. Kayan Gebar, Kayan Kakhi and, sometimes, Kayaw. Padaung (Yan Pa Doung) is a Shan term for the Kayan Lahwi (the group whose women wear the brass neck coils). The Kayan resident in Mae Hong Son Province in Northern Thailand refer to themselves as Kayan and object to being called Padaung. In The Hardy Padaungs (1967) Khin Maung Nyunt, one of the first authors to use the term "Kayan", says that the Padaung prefer to be called Kayan. On the other hand, Pascal Khoo Thwe calls his people Padaung in his 2002 memoir, From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s due to conflict with the military regime in Burma, many Kayan tribes fled to the Thai border area, where they live with an uncertain legal status, and villages displaying Padaung women with brass neck coils for tourist dollars appeared.
According to Kayan tradition the Kayan settled in the Demawso area of Karenni State (Kayah State) in 739 BC. Today they are to be found in Karenni (Kayah) State around Demawso and Loikow, in the southern region of Shan State and in Mandalay’s Pyinmana and Karen’s Than Daung township.
There are three Kayan villages in Mae Hong Son province in Thailand. The largest is Huay P Keng, on the Pai river, close to the Thai Burma border. Huai Seau Tao is a commercial village opened in 1995. Many of the residents of Nai Soi Kayan Tayar moved into the Karenni refugee camp in September 2008, but a few families remain there.
Most of the Kayan people in Mae Hong Son are formerly from nine villages in Karenni State. The majority are from Rwan Khu and Daw Kee village. The people of Huay Pu Keng are mainly from Lay Mile village.
Women of the various Kayan tribes identify themselves by their different form of dress. The Kayan Lahwi tribe are the most renowned as they wear ornaments known as neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck. These coils are first applied to young girls when they are around six years old
Each coil is replaced with longer coil, as the weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage. Contrary to popular belief, the neck is not actually lengthened; the illusion of a stretched neck is created by the deformation of the clavicle. Many ideas regarding why the coils are worn have been suggested, often formed by visiting anthropologists, who have hypothesized that the rings protected women from becoming slaves by making them less attractive to other tribes
The Kayans’ traditional religion is called Kan Khwan, and has been practiced since the people migrated from Mongolia during the Bronze Age