To see or not to see the Long Neck Karen
– that is the tourist’s dilemma.
‘Go and see if you want,’ said our local hosts. ‘We don’t support the Long Neck Village. It is just a tourist venture, which exploits these people.’.
It is a horrible story, about Karen people who are mostly Burmese refugees, and therefore do not have passport or ID, being displayed in a purpose built village, for us tourists to come and gape. And gape we did. But it was a deeply uncomfortable visit. The man in the ticket booth took our money and gestured vaguely down towards the long wooden buildings, and we were then ushered over a bamboo bridge into an open dusty courtyard. All along were small open booths, each housing a woman or girl colourfully dressed, beckoning us to some and look and buy her silks and cottons and statues of Karen women. It felt like a seedy circus, but we were still drawn in.
It is hard not to be fascinated by women wearing heavy metal rings around their necks. The rings elongate the neck, year by year, rendering the women incapable of normal movement. In addition, many of the women wore leg rings, which made them hobble and stagger as they walked.
I cannot understand the reason for this practice, but liken it to the foot-binding of old China. I found the weight of the rings very unpleasant. Even pretty little girls are on display, as young as two years old.
None of the girls go to school, none can read or write. And to add to the exploitation, they receive no pay. Their ‘employer ‘ is reputedly a Thai, who keeps all the profits, but does allow the women to sell their handcrafts. So we wanted to help the women, but we certainly did not want to support the enterprise.
There are moves to help those hill-tribe villagers without ID, but it is a slow process. THis little girl came home from school, while we were leaving. She does not want to be a’ long neck’. Good for her.