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Field Program Preview: Longneck Women of Loikaw
Semester at Sea partners with various providers to develop Field Programs that provide exceptional experiences for our voyagers to explore off-the-beaten path destinations. One such program, Longneck Women of Loikaw, a three-night program in rural Myanmar led by Dr. Heather Gibson, was recently developed for the Fall 2017 Voyage. Below are the insights of Mariah Klekner, (representative from our partner Khiri Travel), who recently visited Loikaw Village.
We woke up to a beautiful day with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds. As we sat and had our morning cup of tea, we talked excitedly about what the day had in store. Visiting the villages where the Long Neck women live had been a huge point of interest for me, and I was excited that today was the day!
We soon headed out with Mary, our local and knowledgeable guide. The first stop was the bustling morning market in Loikaw. We learned about local honey, smelled beautiful flowers, tasted homemade fried snacks and said hello to a handful of Mary’s friends doing their weekly shopping.
Then, it was back to the car and we were off to Pemsong Village, the start of our trek, on the Trail of the Ancestors. We arrived in Pemsong, where we were greeted by a young local guide. He was all smiles as he led the way through the stunning Kasae Kum Village and countryside.
We quickly arrived at the bottom of a stilted home. We climbed the steps and were greeted by a boy who showed us where to sit. There were tools on the floor as well as a spinning wheel. We watched as an older Long Neck woman showed us how she made jewelry and spun scarves. She smiled warmly at us and encouraged us to try our hand at using the hammer and tools.
Mary took time to explain the history of the Long Neck women. There are only 78 women left that still wear the rings on their necks, knees, and wrists. It’s an intriguing story. When the village was first inhabited, men and women would go out to hunt and plant. The men carried knives and weapons. The women did not. In order to protect themselves from tiger and monkey attacks, the women placed coils of rings on their necks, knees, and wrists. Not many of the younger generation are adopting this practice.
We visited with two more households before continuing on our trek. As we headed into the countryside, Mary was able to point out local plants and how they are used for medicine. The hike turned uphill, where we had spectacular views, stopping often for pictures. We arrived at the top of the hill, where an older but well-maintained pagoda stood.
The weather had turned a little windy as the day went on, so instead of having lunch on top of the hill we descended about ten minutes down, where we ate in our local guide’s house. Lunch was delicious. We dined on curries of chicken, fish, tea salads, and vegetables. Our hosts made us feel comfortable and welcome, and we learned more about the lifestyle and cultures of growing up in the Kayah State.
After saying thank you for a wonderful lunch, we headed next door. Before seeing anyone, we could hear a guitar playing. Once on the porch, we all took a seat and listened to a song sung by a beautiful Long Neck woman. Her husband came out to join her, and he smiled and greeted us all with a handshake. It was a special moment where we saw the pride they both had as they were more than happy to have us visit.
We ended our trip by stopping at the local shop. Here we laughed and giggled as the shop owner dressed us up in traditional clothing and let us try on a coiled necklace. Lots of laughter was had and pictures were taken.
We climbed back into the car and waved goodbye to the people we had just met. It was a wonderful day full of culture, history, beauty, and kindness.