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.