The Women with the Long Necks


It took 5 days, but finally I ventured out of the hotel. It took approximately 10 minutes, and a guy shouted „oi, miss, please stop, I want to talk to you“.
Since Gambia, I’ve become very defensive (then, I was „gently“ forced from the fisher market into the local village where a group of „orphans“ was used to extract my money – ok, I do understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, and I am happy to help, but I do object to the concept of being a „money on legs“ tourist).
Be that as it may, I did stop, and had one of those moments: There was this young man, who spoke adoringly about Rosamunde Pilcher, who was his godess; who wrote emails to her; who prayed for her life (she was born in 1924); and who’s dream in life it is to own all of her books, in all published languages, and watch all of her televised movies! How bizarre can it get: We were standing on a dusty road basically in the middle of nowhere; left of us, novices were begging for money; to the right, dogs were fighting over something I didn’t want to look at too closely; around us, a poor fishing village, and in front of me, a young man whose dream in life is Rosamunde Pilcher – wow!


In the evening, my first sunset (I shouldn’t admit to it, but I’d missed all the other ones due to some light snoozing on my balcony). The sunset wasn’t all that spectacular, but then a garland of light appeared on the horizon – the fishermen who spend all night out on the sea and bring their catch home at dawn. Until then, I’d imagined a cold dark lonely frightening night out on the sea – the fishermen, the sea and the fish – but one more illusion gone – the sea was lit up like a Christmas tree. It looked very nice though.


The Women with the Long Neck are quite a famous phenomenon – they wear a multitude of metal rings around their neck, which will, over time, press down the collar bone and shoulders, making the neck appear very long. This custom is known in some parts of Africa, and also used by the Padaung tribe in Kayah State, Myanmar. It is said that the deformation shall prevent other tribes from stealing the women. Not every woman of the tribe needs to wear the rings, it is – so it is said – done voluntarily. When our tour guide visited the tribe 3 years ago, there were over 80 women wearing the rings; the last time, he only counted ca. 30.


Which is – I think – not a bad development. I had a moral issue with taking the women’s pictures, and I have not solved the issue for me yet. On the one hand, it is considered to be a great honour to wear those rings, with which they are also buried. And the women we met indeed looked happy and proud. There is an argument to say: As long as it’s done voluntarily, what’s the problem? The problem starts when the women are forced to wear the rings to make the tourists happy. The fact that ever fewer women are willing to wear the rings may be an indication that – at least so far – it all is done voluntary – long may it stay that way.

As I was there and have taken pictures, I am showing them, but I still don’t know if that is a good thing.

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