Long-neck women in Thailand

By alex Uncategorized

Long-neck woman posing by her souvenir shop.

One of the main reasons to drive up to North Thailand (watch the whole round trip description in here) was to be able to see the long-neck women. I hadn’t seen much more than a few images and, though I felt lazy to investigate further, there was some sort of fascination about it. Why would these women self mutilate in such a way? Was it purely aesthetics? Was it some sort of captivity? I heard that after many years wearing brass rings, the neck muscles couldn’t hold the head anymore (not true, at least, in the majority of cases). Was it some sort of male dominance over women?

The same lady, posing among a group of tourists.

I wondered (and still do) what would be for these women to do sex?! Anyway, there was cooler to visit the people than to read on them over the internet, so off I went.

From Mae Hong Son to Ban Nai Soi, there wasn’t much more than half an hour; from the village to the Kayan camp, maybe another half, as the road wasn’t in the best condition.

I remember seeing a barbwire fenced gate of a refugee camp that wasn’t accessible to tourists – spooky! What wound be going on, inside? Guerrilla movie scenes and torture camps in tropical jungles, crossed my mind. Previously, on the road from Pai to Ban Nai Soi, there were quite a few huts along the roads, with guards controlling them. They were always friendly, never asked for any documentation or searched the motorbike and I never managed to know what were they controlling…

Advert, with a short explanation, at the entrance of the village.

What is this concept of “refugee” imposed by Thai government? On a stop for lunch on a small restaurant by the road, there was a group of Karen music players. (Karen is the whole ethnical group where the Kayan belong). They were polite and introduced themselves. At first I thought they’d be asking for money, but I was totally wrong. All they wanted was someone to talk to, in English – and their level was probably better than mine.

Ban Nai Soi Kayan village, entrance view.

From what I understood (and confirmed later) the Karen fled to Thailand to save their lives from the ethnical cleansing attempts from the Burmanese majority in Myanmar, happening in various waves, since the country’s independence. Thai government allows them to stay in certain areas, but they cannot leave them (that’s why all the road guards), or work, meaning: if they want to sustain themselves or their families, either they live on tourism, or they work illegally, for a fraction of what a Thai citizen would earn.

The long-necks, being displayed on zoo-like villages (some charging an entry fee), live on showing themselves to tourists and souvenirs selling. That’s why some young women choose to wear the rings, as it’s a way to a guaranteed sustenance.

As for the remaining Karen, they dream with independence or immigration, and there are communities being settled in the US and Canada, from the early 2000’s. That’s why they prize so much education and English proficiency.

I said goodby to the group of artists and proceeded to the long-neck village. It was nearly empty. At the entrance, there were two souvenir shops, and one long-neck woman. Soon, a second one joined, as more tourists were coming. I followed the main path, found a few kind youngsters waving from their motorbikes, and a simple village, made on wood and dry leaves.

The only sound of human activity came from the school, so I sneaked-in. Classes went on an orderly manner, kids were attentive and, though it seemed poor, for European standards, it also seem way more productive.

Coming back at the entrance, a group of tourists was chatting to one of the long-neck women and finding out roughly the same as described above. Again, the lady spoke really good English, and also played the guitar.

She had some sort of conformed, passive temperament, and didn’t seem, at all, revolted or unhappy with her faith. That caused a deep impression on me. I couldn’t possibly accepted being displayed as a tourist object for life!

Visiting this lost tribe among the jungle ended up being a strong lesson on temperament diversity.

 

A Funeral in Sumba (Indonesia)

By alex Uncategorized

Warning: graphic images, below!

Preparing the area, meaning, the village square for the ceremony. Notice the children on top of a tomb.

During my stay in Nihiwatu, as dive instructor and photographer, I was invited, by one of our boathouse staff members (Martinus) to his father funeral. He hardly spoke any English, I can’t speak more than maybe a hundred words of Bahasa Indonesia, and far less of any Sumbanese dialect.

Despite our verbal communication being scarce, he seemed an honest, thought, straight-forward, man – someone we could trust – which is important when we are daily playing with our lives on the wavy and treacherous waters of the Sumbanese sea.

At the time, there was no-one to ask the meaning or the whole content of such a ceremony. I was just told what to do, when invited and stuck to that.

Mother and child, attending the funeral. There is absolutely no feeling that blood shedding and death is improper to children. All seem to coexist with life and death.

On the first day, me and another staff members were invited to his home, near Pantai Rua where we stayed, accompanying the living and the dead. Sitting at a traditional house’s porch, we drank either coffee or tea, smoked, chewed betel nut, and watched our colleagues play card domino. It was funny, as the loser must hang a pig jaw in his ear, as a punishment for his loss.

Martinus and his brother (the only family members I knew) were visibly shaken, but for most of the crowd, and there was maybe a hundred of them, it was just something normal.

We went back to the resort, and I’m not aware of what happened during that night. On the following afternoon we returned for the buffalo slaughtering ceremony. I believe it is part of the Marapu religion, but there was no priest to be seen (or, at least, I couldn’t tell them, among the crowd).

Villager, traditionally dressed, waiting for the ceremony.

One by one, buffalos were brought to the centre of the village, where the ancestors tombs stayed, tied with long ropes, pulled by around ten men. Then, someone would take the parang (small sword) and cut their throat, leaving them bleeding to death.

As the last one was slaughtered, they soon proceeded to dismember them, and cut in small pieces. As far as I understood, some would be boiled, some would be smoked, and some would be taken to the attendant’s home. People, however, didn’t seem too interested on the meat, on a gastronomic perspective. I remember seeing the elaborate sculptures made from pork meat and fat, at the temples and ceremonies in Bali. There, it was all about processing it fast. Unfortunately we weren’t able to stay and attend to what I believed to be a following meal… There was, however, a caged pig on site so, most probably, the ceremony would last for some days, with a few common meals.

Caged pig, waiting to be slaughter of one of the following meals.

The pig’s jaws and buffaloes heads, are kept at the traditional house, as a memory of the event. That memory is crucial, as all the animals offered are expected to be retributed when the offerer need to have his own ceremony. This chain of offers and debts can grow to astronomical values (I heard one Buffalo with specially big horns was valued in 10.000 USD, but I couldn’t confirm it).

People will get in great debt, sometimes even bankruptcy, just to sustain this tradition, while living miserable lives in between.

Get the overall feeling and energy of the ceremony in the images from the following gallery:

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