On my wrist lies a delicate silver bracelet with a dainty heart clasp the size of a breadcrumb. It’s been six years since I left Thailand and, at only 300 baht, or roughly nine American dollars, the glimmer still catches the light in all the right places and people still compliment the bright sheen of the lucky charm against my sallow skin. And, I have the Hill tribe women to thank for this special trinket, a distant memory embedded in the depths of my heart.
Some North American women wince at the sight of the brass coils caging the necks of the pint-sized Kayan or Karen women of eastern Burmese descent, sometimes weighing as much as 22 pounds, roughly the size of a passenger tire.
The foreigner’s flinch by the sight of the spiraled brass neck cuff is all too familiar and simply does not faze the tribal woman. Their coils are considered exquisite aesthetics and are deeply rooted in tradition. They stand for independence and safeguard against attackers. In the early days, women wore them as camouflage to protect against Tiger bites or to blend in with the legendary dragons of ancient times. Others believe they wore them to appear less attractive to rival tribes, lest being taken captive or sold into slavery.
Their beautiful ornaments attract thousands of tourists to their silver jewelry and woven fabrics and tapestry shops nestled in the hills of northern Thailand. The selling of authentic, handmade accessories and decorations by the local artisans brings vital revenue to the communities of women and children. Millions around the world can access their online silver jewelry stores, woven rugs, tapestries, and fabrics without requiring long travels to the far east Land of Smiles Wonderland.
The Hill tribe women have no plans of removing their neck adornment either, unless they are replacing the coils with a more glamorous extension – an integral part of their outfits, even considered an extension of their limbs.
While we continue tattooing, piercing, liposuctioning, breast augmenting, and rhinoplasty, the giraffe women will continue elongating their graceful necks, while profiting in the jewelry and woven accessories sector. And, no, brass coils are not for sale or in their future business plan unless the Western world market demands them in yet another absurd beauty trend. Stranger things have happened.