The Gurkhas or Gorkhas are originally from Himalayan Nepal. The Name Gurkha stemmed from the name of their city, Gorakhpur, where they lived initially.
They are better known as “Go-ra-khar” in Myanmar. Due to their expertise in war, the British recruited and formed Gurkha battalions and brought them here (Myanmar) during their colonial rule.
There are about 500 thousand Gurkhas in Myanmar now. They are descendants of Gurkha soldiers and have been living here for centuries. They live in Myitkyina, Mogok, Kyaukme, Kutkai, Taunggyi, Kalay and other towns throughout the country. Most believe in Hinduism and Buddhism.
Although most of the Gurkhas came to Myanmar as soldiers, a few of them came here as miners and managerial staffs after 1886. And they decided to settle here after the independence of Myanmar.
In 1944-45, the allied forces advanced from Imphal (Capital city of Manipur, India) to Mandalay, then to Yangon with a mission to reoccupy Myanmar from the Japanese. The Gurkhas battalion played a critical role in the victory over them.
They fought not only with the Japanese and local terrorists but also with Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces to defend the country.
During recent years, community based tourism created hiking tours in Taunggyi-Inle-Kalaw trip that explore the rural hillside villages among the route to provide the locals with extra income. You could learn about the interesting tradition of Gurkhas during the trip or if you’re a foodie you could try their traditional food at a Nepali restaurant near you.
Thank you to the generous owners and original posters for facts and photos.
The Kayan tribe
The Kayan people, better known as ‘ Padaund ’, who wore brass rings on their necks, did not like being called ‘Padaund’. The name ‘Kayan’ came from ‘Kanyan’ meaning who lived permanently in a particular area. ‘Padaund’ is the name given by Shan that came from ‘PatTaung’ meaning ‘brass wearer’ in Shan language and later become ‘ Padaund ’.
Legend has it that a zawgyi (an alchemist) and a female dragon fell in love and laid three eggs: Pa’O, Karen, and Padaund. They lengthened their necks by wearing brass rings around necks as decorations to look more like their mother dragon, and it became a tradition. Some said it was to differentiate themselves from Pa’O and Karen.
A long neck is the key beauty factor for the Kayan women.
A long neck is the key beauty factor for the Kayan women. The longer the neck, the prettier the woman is for them. A sharp silver hairpin is used to complete the hair bun at the top of their head, imitating the comb of a dragon.
No one knew the exact reason for wearing brass rings and only had speculations. For example, to prevent tiger’s attack (which usually targets the neck), or marking Kayan women with those rings to prevent them from marrying other tribe men, or just because a girl was born on full moon day so she must wear the rings, etc. All of those are guesses because even the Kayan women couldn’t provide a definitive answer. Some wore it because their grandmother and mother wore the rings and looked beautiful, so they followed their lead.
The Kayan believed brass ring lengthened their necks. In reality, those rings weighed up to 5 viss (18 pounds) and the weight pressed shoulder muscles and collar bone down and thus making the neck look longer.
Kayan women wore brass rings on their necks and calfs starting at age 5. They changed them to bigger and more rings at age 9 and 14, and they completed the rings at 15 to 19.
They spiralled brass coils ranging from 16 to 25 around the neck and 5 coiled brass ring is worn at the base of the neck. A small brass ring (2.5 inches in diameter) holds those rings at the base to make it look like a dragon’s neck.
They wore them lovingly till death. It is said that they buried the rings together with the woman in the past.
There are fewer and fewer women wearing them nowadays. Some had to remove them for medical reasons when they got older. Some women donated their rings, after removal, to make small Buddha statues.
It was not men, but the skilled women set up the rings. Men heated the brass stick and would mould it to the desired size through an iron plate with different-sized holes wrapped around the wood log.
Christian missionary priests came to the Kayan region, during the British colonial rule 120 years ago, and started preaching. Those priests later learnt the language and created the Kayan literature. Kayan believed in Christianity, Buddhism and traditional belief in spirits.
Kayan lived in Loikaw and Demoso of Kayah State, Thantaung of Karen State, Pinlaung and Pekon of Shan State, and eastern hillsides of Lewe and Pyinmana of Mandalay Division.
Economic struggles in the country would force the relocation of the Kayan people into nearby Thailand. Thai authorities made tourist attraction sites by displaying them in guarded villages in Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. Thus, some tourists mistakenly thought the Kayan were Thai ethnics. They could be found at some souvenir stores in Inle in the past, but during recent years, tourists could travel to Panpak, Ruimku, and Dortkee Kayan villages in Demoso Township. But modern youths refused to wear the rings so there’s only a handful of neck ring wearing women remained.
There is a brass neck ring wearing tribe also in South Africa. They used the rings to show the financial status of the family, and only married women could wear them. So a wealthy wife wore more rings than a poor one. And they remove the rings only after the husband’s death to show loyalty. The lighter plastic rings replaced heavier brass rings after the 1980s.
P.S; Kayan drinks Khaungyay (traditional liquor) like water. I would later write about the delicious Khaungyay drank through a bamboo straw while visiting there.
Reference: History of Kayah ethnics by U P Maung Soe (Loikaw), facts from various online sources and my experience from my Kayan trip.
Written by Yangon Rangoon
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Translator => Win Thyke