Loikaw – The Land of Tribes

Loikaw is one of the least visited places in Myanmar; is the capital of the Kayah state in Myanmar. It is the area where you can find tribal people living in the remote hills and forests. The common tribes which can be found in Kayah state are the Kayaw, the Kayan, the Kayar, the Pa-o and the Lisu tribes. Many of them have spent most of their lives isolated from foreign visitors. In order for one to travel to these remote places, approvals from the government as well as from the local army must be granted. Without these permits, visitors are not allowed to go beyond the “foreign independent tourist” zone, risking their lives due to the current internal politics situation.

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Kayan elder woman – 80 years old

In Panpet village (a 2 hours drive from the downtown), it lives the most popular tribe – the Kayan tribe. The Kayan tribe is also commonly known as the long neck tribe. As many people have seen them in Chiang Mai, the Kayan people living in Chiang Mai are the refugees fled from the Kayah state. The Kayah state is where the real Kayan originates. In this village, you can find many of them still dressed up in their traditional costumes with bronze bangles hugged around their necks as well as their knees. Kids as young as 4 years start to wear these bangles till their deaths, representing beauty in their belief. According to my guide who is also a Kayan, the Kayan women never take their bangles off unless for polishing purpose. Many Kayan woman pass down these bangles to their next of kins after they die and some bring it with them to their graves. My curiosity has nevertheless sparked my self-approval to give my neck such a weight. Wearing 10 rings on my neck seems easy for the first few minutes. However, the heavy bangles prevented me to turn my head as fast as I want to. Photo taking seems impossible with my neck casted. These bangles had somehow tripled my neck’s weight, causing light bruises on my collarbone for just wearing them for 15 minutes. This was indeed a torture. Definitely, my first and my last time wearing them. On the other hand, I do admire them that they still uphold their traditional belief so willingly.

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Kayan woman’s kitchen

Little known to foreigner is the Kayaw tribe. This tribe stays in a far end and remote part of the Kayah state. The Kayaw people has a totally different costume than the Kayan. They are usually dressed in colourful tops with golden bronze bangles around their knees. In addition, they also have disfigured ears loops with long red earrings hanging down from their ears. However, from my own opinion, I feel that the Kayaw tribe is one of the poorest tribes among the tribes that I have visited. They relies heavily on their own crops such as corn, rice and pigs for survival. What they sow is what they eat. Almost all houses which I have visited in this village have nothing: no chair or bed; only a cooking area where they make their daily meal cooked using firewood. I heard many of them only eat once a day. During this trip, I have had met up with a young Kayaw kid who has been a child model for Kayah’s state local calendar. Below is her picture with her grandma (Unfortunately, I forgot to ask for her name).

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Kayaw model with her grandmother

All I know about the next tribe – Kayar tribe – is how friendly and lively they have been. They enjoy dancing, singing and drinking their traditional local brew wine. As unimaginable as it can be, they love me taking their photographs. Many of them even posed in different weird ways, allowing me to take multiple pictures of them. They did not even reject or have complained that I have taken too many pictures of them. They seems to be very happy and contended with what they have despite the fact they have also do not have much. The Kayar tribe’s costume does not have thick bronze rings like the Kayaw or the Kayah. They wear black strings made from tree branches or ropes dyed in black resins. They also wear cone-shaped headwears, usually in red, with green scarfs across their chest and shoulder as tops.

Along the way to Nyaung-Shwe, I came across a Pa O tribal market. Many of the stall owners were Pa O. You can easily find their local traditional costumes and locally weaved Pa O bags on sale amongst the stalls.  The Pa O tribe is one of the easiest tribes to be recognised. Their significant turban headwear in bright colour as well as their dark navy blue jacket distinguish them easily from others. The history of Pa O costume was set by then King Anawartha who had defeated their Mon king, Makuta of Thaton, forcing them to wear these dull coloured clothes to signify their status. This had since shaped their traditional costume. They are now second largest tribe in the Shan state.

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Pa O ladies at market

The Burmese Lisu tribe village located near to Nyaung-Shwe was one of my last stops. Their main agriculture is rice planting. Being a hardworking tribe, almost everyone is working. Each home I visit was empty. No one at home. Only those who were sick or old were at home. However, my time was much limited and I had to rush back to Nyaung Shwe before the sunset.

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Lisu woman with her young child

Time seemed to have passed faster than it should be. I truely wish I could stay longer to explore this tribal world. At least, this trip has ascertained my further plan to return to this wonderful tribal land.

Below are some of my work for this trip:

All Photographs on this Blog, Copyright © 2015 Kimy Chang, All rights reserved

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