One of the largest hill tribes living in Thailand
Mostly situated near the Thailand/Myanmar border, the Paduang Karen are one of the largest hill tribes living in Thailand since around the 17th century. They are easily confused with the “Red Karen” (Karenni) coming from the Kayah tribe in Myanmar, the Paduang Karen is a subgroup of the Karenni and are popularly known under the name “Long Neck” for the distinctive coils of rings around the neck, forearms and shins of the women.
It is, however, a myth that Paduang women have longer necks, actually, it’s the brass coils that go lower on the shoulders so it visually appears to look like a longer neck. This tradition began back in the old days for protection against for example tigers, but it is also said that it is a sign of great beauty and wealth and to attract a new husband, adultery, however, is punished by removal of the rings that will in some cases obligate woman to spend the rest of their lives lying down, because the muscles in the neck are weakened over the years and no longer help for support.
A rotation method for farming
Whilst the women are spending their time and skills weaving, (each section has its own style of dress) wood carving or making music, the men of the tribe are likely to spend their time farming on the fields. The Paduang created a rotation method for farming as to not use the same land too much and save cutting down trees, they also are the only group that is planting wet rice on terraces.
A mixture of Buddhism, Christianity and Animism
The houses mostly build on stilts are giving a home to the whole family, children and grandparents alike whilst underneath the house there is room for domestic animals like chickens, pigs and buffaloes.
Being a mixture of Buddhism, Christianity and Animism, (some tribes are more Buddhist or Christian than others) the Paduang as with most indigenous cultures are regarding the balance and harmony between nature and spirits very important and like to live in harmony with “the lord of land and water” and the rocks, trees, water and mountains surrounding them.
Take your time to interact with the people
To avoid not having the feeling of going to a zoo when visiting a Karen Hill tribe, take your time to interact with the people instead of just taking some pictures and buy some souvenirs. You will be surprised to see how friendly and open the Karen become. If you feel the need to give something to the tribe, best buy fruit since it’s more expensive instead of candy and hand it over to the village headman, everything is communal and this way you can avoid complications in between tribe families.