To reach the
homes of the Padaungs, who are people of Mongolian
extraction and not Burmese, the traveler must first proceed
to Burma, which is bounded on the West by the Bay of Bengal
and Assam. On the North by Tibet, Northeast by Chinese
province of Yunnan and on the Southeast by Siam. The
extreme south extends as a narrow strip until it meets the
Federated Malay States. The length from North to South
is approximately 1,200 miles, and the greatest width 500
capital of Burma is located on the Irrawaddy River twenty
one miles from the sea. The silting of the fast river
current has always caused shoals and difficulties in in
navigation, acting as a barrier, preventing large steamers
from calling at this interesting port, which therefore does
not have many tourists, although the Strand Hotel in Rangoon
is one of the finest in the Far East, with wonderful food
and excellent service.
A glance at the
globe of the earth, will disclose the fact that it is not
possible for anyone to dwell farther away than do the
Padaung Giraffe-Neck Women; who live exactly half way
around the world from New York. If a traveler did not
proceed as far as Burma, the distance would be nearer to New
York, while if the journey continued on around the world,
the mileage becomes less.
The location of
the native villages of the Padaungs is such that the members
of the tribes who are now in this country, have the
distinction of having traveled a greater distance, that my
other visitors America has ever had in its entire history.
From Rangoon to
the Padaung homes, the first part of the journey is thirty
hours by rail, then by motor cars through dense jungles,
over ancient cock strewn bullock roads, just barely wide
enough for cars to pass through far beyond the Burmese
frontier. The progress is so slow, that it takes five
days to travel three hundred miles from the end of the
railroad, to the foothills of the spurs of the Eastern end
of the Himalaya mountains, where the Padaung villages are
located. The inaccessibility of this territory is
such, that after the motor cars can proceed no farther,
baggage elephants require in parts, twelve hours to cover
A Padaung mother
stretches her child's neck gradually to dangerous length
stretching the vertebrae, like Chinese mothers, who until
recently, tortured their daughters by squeezing their feet.
commence as soon as possible. The application is done in
secret ritual. The neck is continually stretched, with
more coils added each year until the average length of
sixteen inches is reached, although some greatly exceed
that. The solid brass on the necks and legs weighs
between fifty and sixty pounds. The desirability of
the women for marriage is measured by the quantity of metal.
The more brass, the better bride she is supposed to be.
This custom does
not in any way effect their health, not interfere with
domestic duties. The women do most of the work,
cultivate the paddy fields, chop wood and carry water with
these brass collars that can never be removed.
The men of the
tribes wear no brass ornaments of any kind. They do
however have a great deal of tattooing all over their
bodies. This is done with a crude needle and native
vegetable dyes. The ordeal of having complicated
dragons and other animal designs worked upon the arms, chest
and legs is very painful. Many have the setting sun in
colors across the back at the shoulder blades. All
have various combinations of numbers tattooed in native
symbols, in formation like checker boards, which are
supposed to act as charms, ward off evil spirits and bring
superstitious people, they actually read their destinies and
plot their course of living by consulting chicken bones..
The thigh bones of a chicken are stripped of the flesh and
both scraped with a knife until two small holes appear.
A splint of bamboo about six inches in length is inserted in
the holes in each bone. If the angles of the splint,
after being probed into the holes, are alike in both bones
that is a good sign. If not alike a bad omen.
In addition, if
while traveling, should a snake cross their path, all will
turn back, and give up the object the trip was being started
superstition and timidness has always defeated any previous
attempts to bring the Padaung people from their native
hills, so that they have after three expeditions into widely
separated villages had failed, a small group in a fourth
village, Maung suri, Maund Da, Mu Kaun, Mu Proa and Mu Ba,
more courageous than the others, were persuaded to make the
trip to America. Their interest was aroused and
consent gained by many gifts of axes, knives, tins or fish,
bright cloth and Silver Rupees, which are acceptable in
trade and axes, used by the women to make necklaces.
These people will not handle paper currency. Numerous
all-day explanations were made, through interpreters, of the
wonders of the world beyond their own horizon. After
many days of consideration and much talk among themselves,
expressing great doubt as to the truth of the variety of
photographs of the outside world they had seen the journey
The first touch
of civilization was at the end of the railroad, at a lunch
room in the station. The group was served and started
eating, as is their custom, with their fingers. The
author, explained the use of knives, forks and spoons, which
were thrown on the floor in disgust at this first civilized
They were quick
to learn, and now have excellent table manners.
In coming to New
York, the fastest route was necessary, as the long trip is
very tiresome for the most experienced traveler, and
naturally world become tedious for these people who had
never before seen a train or ship.
Rangoon the route was by small steamer to Calcutta, then
across India to Bombay, by rail, using the fastest train in
the East, The Imperial Indian Mail, direst to Ballard Pier
in Bombay, to Venice, Italy in two days faster time than any
other service from India to Europe. From Venice the
route was by rail through Switzerland and France to Paris
and Cherbourg to board the S.S. Bremen for New York.
With these fast steamers and close connections the time to
travel half was around the world from Rangoon to New York,
was three weeks and six days.
arrival in America, the Padaungs evidenced interest in
everything. Fast elevators, motor cars, aeroplanes,
jig-saw puzzles, telephones, moving pictures, bright silk
and candy being among the objects of their special
attention. They are a temperate people whose appetite
for liquor is satisfied with a single drink. Their
native brew is rice wine. They do not like beer.
habits, the Padaungs, both men and women, are zealously
clean. They are modest also and consider the bare
necks of the American women extremely indecent. Due to
the brass coils, they cannot wash their necks, but clean
them with long straws, much as one would clean a pipe or a
lamp chimney, using plain water as a polish, until it shines
like a mirror.
Recently at two
hospitals, the Philadelphia General and the Barnes in St.
Louis, one of the women submitted to the ministrations of
the white man's "witch doctors" and allowed the scientific
eye of the X-ray to explore the Giraffe-neck.
The rays could
not penetrate the solid brass, but certain interesting
conclusions were reached as a result of what was reprocess
of elongating the neck, the woman had added four of her back
vertebrae to the neck, and the whole thorax had been pulled
up, causing the upper part of the lungs to collapse and the
lower part to flair. The doctors stated that she had
good lung power despite this, but that if the rings were
removed she probably would not be able to support her head.
It would wobble about utterly out of control. Each eventful
and interesting day in America does not present the Padaungs
from counting on a native calendar how long it will be
before they start on the journey back to their jungle
village, thus demonstrating that the well known saying is
true the world over, even among these: The Last of The
Unknown People Of The Earth, that be it ever so humble,
"There is no place like home."
Copyrighted 1933 by
Howard Y. Bary