In my book, men in skirts reveal a certain machismo. I’ve seen them in Bhutan and now in Myanmar. The longyis worn in Myanmar are longer, yet the Bhutanese gho seems more formal. Just the same, the culture of skirted men is a curiosity. More unsettling for the tourists or visitors than the locals wearing them in comfort. When asked what these men wear underneath, our guide disclosed that it’s a question every tourist invariably asks. We’re such a curious lot, aren’t we?
We found some of them working in really physically-demanding jobs. It’s a miracle those skirts don’t drop as these men load bags and heavy sacks on their backs, or when they leg-paddle their boats in Lake Inle. As for their women, they do have lovely longyis in vibrant colors but fashion sense seems centered on their head gear or on their neck and leg adornments.
I love the ladies’ headgears. Those worn by the women from the Indein village were particularly beautiful and elaborate. There’s something regal about their headdress and how comfortably they wear them. Then there’s the ladies famous for their neck rings. They’re from the Padaung tribe in the Shan region which includes the area covered by Inle Lake. Women here wear brass coils around their necks as early as age 5, making them look like their necks have been “stretched”. In reality, the neck coils push down the collar bone. There is an equivalent group of tribe women in some parts of Thailand near the Burmese border who refer to themselves as from the Kayan tribe and object to being called Padaung. It is believed they’re the same Kayans or Padaungs who fled to the Thai border in the late 80’s and early 90’s during the country’s military regime. Interestingly, these long-necked women originally hailed from Mongolia who were assimilated into the local upland tribes.
There were also leg bracelets on these women. As for the neck coils, we wonder how long this tradition would last as younger, less traditional if not a tad modern, Padaungs refuse to fit brass rings around the necks of their children. Will this tradition grow extinct, only to be replaced by enterprising women interested in tourist dollars? Quite frankly, I’m not sure what to wish for. I do find it disconcerting to find women — and children — using these rings to push down their collar bones. It just isn’t right, no matter their reasons.