The sensing body: Giraffe Neck Women

By Jessica Costa

In Tuesday’s class we have talked about the sensing body, and how bodies can be a medium, how they can communicate.  According to the communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, media are the extensions of the human body.  The body itself is not a medium, but instruments, such as radio and camera, yes.   But this theory is challenged by some practices, which show that human body can be a medium without extension.  Some examples of these are traditional rituals, contemporary dances, Giraffe Neck Women, etc.  I would like to talk about the latter.

Giraffe Neck Women are widely known for wearing metal rings around the neck, which change its length.  These women belong to the Burmese tribe of Padaung.  But because of the civil war in Burma, the tribe had to flee and settled in Thailand.  Little girls start wearing this ornament at the age of 5, after a ceremony performed by a shaman during the full moon.  As the girls grow up other rings are added, until they reach the chin.  Women can carry 28 rings to the maximum, which correspond to fifteen kilos, and the ornament can be thirty centimeters high.  Contrary to what one might think, the rings do not lengthen the neck, but they pull shoulders down.  According to a legend, woman of this tribe were attacked during the past by tigers which flew at their throat.  In order to protect them, men designed golden rings to put around women’s neck, and that became a tradition, linked at the present time with beauty.  But nowadays Giraffe Neck Women have become tourist attraction.  Indeed, some of them have been gathered in small villages in Thailand, where they can be photographed by tourists in return for money.  The matter of the human dignity is put to a severe test.

In conclusion Giraffe Neck Women just perpetuate their tradition and try to preserve their customs, without being influenced by the West. So this ritual, associated with beauty, is a way to communicate through the body and represent their strong cultural identity.

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