Saturday, September 8, 2007

Beauty or Persecution?

Some say it is inhuman to treat women like this while others say these women and girls should be freed from wearing coils on the neck. I simply do not judge. There is nothing wrong in letting people do whatever they want to preserve their own cultures. Most of the long neck tribe live in the mountains of Mae Hong Son where they are widely spread out. This village we visited was only a "show case" where souvenir selling was a major activity.

Perhaps they took turns to man the exhibition booths. Perhaps they lived in the tents for a few days before other tribal women came in to take over the duties. I saw women caring for little ones, girls putting special make-ups on to attract visitors and mostly people persuading us to shop.

One of the visitors, a nurse, reached out to touch a little girl's neck, saying that she had suffered from an allergy to brass. I tried to stop her from doing that. It was an act of disrespect to me and I did not like that. This lady expressed her sympathy and swore that something needed to be done to "rescue" these women and girls from wearing the brass coils.

What right do we outsiders have to judge what is good for people from a different culture? Can we be forcing our values on them without understanding the history of their perceptions of beauty? On my return flight to Bangkok, I read that the Long Neck tribe actually welcomed the help from the government to draw their community together. The government's plan was to help with the housing and life subsidy by opening their community to visitors without charging a fee to enter. Of course it can be seen as a scheme to spruce up tourism. At the same time, it helps the villagers earn extra incomes to improve their lives in the mountain. It can be interpreted as enabling the sharing of the tribal cultures too. As long as a permission has been obtained from the tribe, or most of the people from the tribe, they can decide their own future.

But when I heard one of these women talking with a coarse voice and the little girl breathing hard as I sat beside her, I couldn't help wondering if that might have been the result from wearing this heavy metal..Would I change my position to become one of these "rescuer wanna be"s if more adverse facts were presented to me? I do not know what to think anymore.


  1. Good post, and you raise an important question.
    I'm not totally sure of my stand on this issue either. Off the top of my head, I think these kinds of traditions are great and we should strive to preserve cultural diversity around the world. There is way too much 'Westernisation' occuring in developing countries. It's important and helpful for these countries to modernise, but they should retain their own cultureal identity, before it is lost.
    On the other hand, cultural traditions like this can be harmful, too. Women often suffer any ill effects of these traditions, and with the rise of gender equality throughout the world, it's important to re scrutinise certain traditions and practices, and if necessary abandon them (the practice of female circumcision in West African Countries springs to mind).
    Depending on the severity of the condition, I might class forcing a child with an allergy to brass to wear large brass rings as abuse.

  2. Apologies for the spelling and grammar mistakes there!

  3. There is a new TV series here being shown on the National Geographic channel called Taboo that each week will talk about cultures like these who have very different cultural norms. I'm interested to see if they will cover this tribe.

  4. Roger, thank you for sharing your thoughts and don't worry about the mis-spelling . I do that all the time. The only comment I have for issues like this is the right for young children. I believe they should be presented with options in life. But are young children capable in choosing thier own fate?

    Hi, Jeff, I hope they show this too. Have you seen the Mo-Sou in China? In their maternal society, women are allowed for multiple spouses? Very interesting.

  5. excellent post. great pictures.

  6. Thanks, Steve. And thanks for the chatbox messages.

  7. The post takes an interesting, but a tricky side on the is it right or wrong by the name of culture and tradition ........... TRADITION is a very subjective term and mostly misused in various ways ....... even the modern traditions have a lot of introspection possibilities .....

    BTW, how do they get the ring on their necks fitted? curiosity

  8. Hi, Ram, you said it well about traditions and cultures. Well, apparently they bend the metal to shape a ring to fit the neck. They make sure that the rings are polished with lemon water everyday. I saw a display of the brass and I had to use both hands to lift one up. It was just heavy. Don't know how they can stand wearing that. I would show an unpolished piece of brass here but I do not know how to insert a photo into this message. Perhaps I'll do it over vox.

  9. Interesting post. I think that it is up to each society to decide which traditions to keep and which to change. We may not understand or approve but who are we to judge?