Myanmar: Kayan ( Pa-Daung)

Kayan Beauties directed and produced by Aung Ko Latt won the awards for Best Cinematographer and Best Sound in 56th Myanmar Academy Awards in Yangon in 2013. Besides, it won the Special Jury Award at the inaugural ASEAN International Film Festival held in Malaysia. Kayan Beauties provides a theme of human trafficking based on the cultures, customs and daily life of Kayan people. The screenplay and co-producer, Hector Carosso, Aung Ko Latt and four main female characters who are Kayan women with very limited acting experience finally made Kayan Beauties successful and remarkable in Myanmar. Shooting was started in 2008 January in Kayah State. Director Aung Ko Latt said “I’m very proud of getting awards because this movie reflects the beauty of my country, cultures and traditions. Also through this movie, I want people aware of human trafficking”. Co-director Mr. Hector Carosso explained that they searched facts about Kayan people through internet since 2006 but they did not get as much as they want. Finally in 2007, they journeyed to regions where those people live, met up and interviewed for scripts.

Where Kayan people live

Kayan people are well-known for the distinctive brass rings around their necks, especially of Kayan women because men did not wear them anymore although they used to. Burmese call them Pa-Daung while Shan call them Ya-kaw-Taung which means Kayin who wear brass rings in Shan language. But Kayan people call themselves Kayan. Being a subgroup of Kayah, Kayan people mostly live in Kayah State and partly in southern Shan State of Myanmar. Some of them live in northwestern Thailand.

Many people around the world believe that the Kayan people are originally from Thailand. Actually they are the hill tribes of Myanmar, not Thailand.

What their customs are

They keep themselves separate from other races and united with their same race by forming a village. Being tranquil and peaceful, they choose to live in mountainous regions where enemies or strangers hardly get to. And they never marry other races. These simple, honest and nice Kayan people say two different stories concerning with the custom of wearing brass rings. First, they believe that they derive from dragons and wear rings which are like the curves of dragon. On the other hand, there’s an old story which is still believed and retold until now. Kayan people migrated to Myanmar and settled in Ayeyarwaddy Delta region where they saw a mushroom appeared strangely because it got bigger day by day and finally it turned into a golden pagoda.

They marked the golden pagoda to prove that they were owners by putting leaves around it. When the golden pagoda was discovered by Shan people, they marked it with wooden sticks. Again, Burmese saw it and marked it by building a small stone monument next to it. Well, to cut the story short, these three different races argued about who discovered it first. They went to the golden pagoda to prove what they marked, only stone monument stood there but no leaves or wooden sticks. Shan and Kayan complained that their marks disappeared because of heat and weather. Finally they agreed to vow and asseverate the truth in front of pagoda which would bend down to the true first people who discovered it. It bent down to Kayan people. Then pagoda was destroyed between fights of Burmese and Shan. Kayan peeled of golden sheets from pagoda. Later they left for a new place where they are living now (Kayah State). Kayan men left gold at home with their wives when they went hunting. Women then made gold into big rings to be able to carry easily around their necks and legs when they went to paddy fields. Time passes and gold changes into brass and wearing rings become a custom.

In this modern day, the tradition of wearing brass rings is slowly weak among the young Kayan ladies, although Kayan cultural organization is promoting their culture. I think it’s because people around the world discriminate and address them long-neck or giraffe people. It’s a pity that people are that bad to mock other’s customs.

Since many people around the world regard them as tourist attraction or even as strange people with strange customs (wearing many rings around neck), and believe that they are originally from Thailand, villages are set up in Thailand for tourists to visit and take photos of these people for a fee. Many Kayan people are trafficked in Thai-Burma border these days.

Custom of wearing brass rings

Girls are worn one or two brass rings by their parents starting from the age of seven. When they are twelve, old rings are exchanged with four to five new rings. When they become grownups, they wear another new nine to twenty rings which are worn for the rest of their lives. Cloth is worn around necks and rings are over it. Since rings are hollow, they are not as heavy as we think. A brass ring has a gap to be able to take off easily. But they have to celebrate a festival called “Ta-Gon-Taing” to take them off those rings. Villages nearby are invited to celebrate together and enjoy food and a special drink called “Kaung-Yay”. Villagers dance in groups with traditional music. Plus Kayan people have housewarming festivals. “Hin-Tha-Pwe” is one of the most festivals of Kayan people. Hin-Tha, the name of a bird called Brahminy duck is somehow special to them. In the festival, the statue of duck is placed on a big log and people sing and dance around it. Some Kayan who believe in Christianity annually celebrate Christmas party, but the big special of its party is held every fourth year.

Kayan who are simple and generous are always willing to treat visitors with food. Plus they show a big respect and care to those who love their cultures. Although, they used to keep themselves away from society, it’s a pleasure to see that most of them now study in university and become educated to support the country in some ways.

Article translated by Mingalapar team from Popular Journal