CPRI 03: Commoditization of Culture in an Ethnic Community

The ‘Long-Necked’ Kayan (Padaung) in Mae Hong Son, Thailand

Originally from Burma/Myanmar near the country’s southeastern border with Thailand, the Kayan (Padaung) people have found themselves encumbered not only by ethnic and political strife in their homeland, but also by their own unique tradition of permanently adorning their daughters with brass rings to elongate their necks. This has made the Kayan a major tourist attraction, as well as a target for exploitation on both sides of the border.

Phone Myint Oo’s landmark study reveals rapidly evolving cultural values among the Kayan, with views about whether or not to continue wearing the rings varying between older and younger generations. While many elders have resigned themselves and consider it relatively acceptable to exist as objects of tourism in what have been described by the UN as ‘human zoos’ in Thailand, the majority of younger Kayan now perceive their traditional neck-rings as tools of control and oppression.

Publication date: February 2018

Available through Chiang Mai University Press