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Portraits of Tribal Cultures in Myanmar

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The diverse culture of Myanmar is part of the country’s unique identity. I was honored to visit different tribes that amazed me by the variety of their traditions, beliefs, and practices. What I witnessed in Myanmar exceeded my expectations even though I had done my research before I traveled.

In the central region, I visited the Kayan tribe, whose women wear heavy ring coiled necklaces around their necks. According to their belief, these rings make them more beautiful. However, there are many stories told about the origin of how people started wearing these rings. It is believed that it started as being a protective shield from tigers who would attack their prey by biting their neck. With time, this shield transformed into a sign of beauty and fashion.

The rings can weigh around 10 kilograms (~22 pounds). The ladies informed me that this process is done through three phases in life, during their childhood and teenage years specifically. The extra weight of the rings is not painful on the neck but rather on the knees. Unfortunately, with time these rings deform the shoulders, and the neck muscles become too weak to support the head.

In the eastern region, I met various Hill tribes including the Enn tribe, whose members are known for their black teeth. They believe that it makes them more beautiful.

The Akha tribe’s women are proud of wearing the silver head cap since it reflects wealth and beauty.

Last but not least, the Akhu tribe’s women wear black and they are masters of smoking the pipe.

In the western region, I was able to meet various tribes who are known from having a facial tattoo as a sign of beauty as well. The Oppru tribe women get a full face one.

The Mon tribe has a rounded pattern one. The Dai and Ta Yindhu tribes have the dots one but in different sizes.

Besides having tattoos, the Magan are also known for the big earrings that are a unique fashion decoration.

Visiting these tribes was an unforgettable experience that I added to my growing list of my acquaintances with tribes from different areas around the world. Witnessing the last people who practice these unusual traditions in our modernizing world has blown my mind in a way that exceeds all the world’s wonders.


About the author: Omar Reda is a travel photographer based in Saudi Arabia. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Reda’s work has been featured in publications including National Geographic, CNN, Daily Mail, The Sun, and more. You can find more of Reda’s work on his website and Instagram.

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