Women in this tribe stretch their necks with brass rings so they resemble mythological dragons – but they are only allowed to marry their relatives.
The Karen Long Neck women fled Burma during war and political unrest before settling in the hills of Chiang Mai province, northern Thailand, in the mid 20th century.
While the men folk work the land, the females have continued their centuries old tradition of adding a brass ring to their necks each year until they are 25.
They only remove the rings for a few hours once a year for a new coil to be added during a women-only ceremony.
The weight of the brass pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage helping to make their necks longer – which they believe adds to their feminine beauty and helps them to resemble a beautiful dragon.
The tribes, also called Padaung people are only allowed to marry blood relatives and their preference is for their first cousins, according to a study by Dr. Lwin Lwin Mon from the Department of Anthropology at Yadanabon University in Burma.
Dr Lwin wrote: ”A go-between performs the betrothal and wedding ceremony. They marry within consanguineal relatives. The groom pays some silver coins as a bride-price and all the wedding expenses. The Padaung people practise monogamy and their divorce rate is only about 10 per cent.”
Tour guide Khun Anan said that younger generations are following the tradition, which some believe began partly as a way to protect the people against animal attacks and evil spirits.
He said: ”The Karen traditions are hundreds of years old. The neck rings gave them a unique identity which separated them from other tribes. They continue doing this to preserve their culture.”
The Karen people, or Kayan people, also believe that the neck rings give the women an appearance similar to a dragon, a revered creature in their folklore dating back to the Bronze age.
They believe that their tribe is the result of a union between a stunning female dragon and a male human.
The women now earn a living by weaving and selling their handcrafted products to tourists, with some critics describing their villages as a ”human zoo”.