Necklaces From Around The World: The Kayan Lahwi Tribe

Necklaces From Around The World: The Kayan Lahwi Tribe

Necklaces are a universal form of adornment for women and they are continually being redefined by designers who are pushing boundaries with radical ideas and new technology. Whilst the evolution of the Necklace is region-dependent, the symbolism often remains the same. We are going to explore the purpose and symbology behind the Necklace for different tribes and communities from around the world, and we hope that you will join us on our journey.

The Kayan Lahwi tribe originate from Myanmar, where they settled in the hills along the border across from Northern Thailand. This tribe are a sub-group of the Karenni people, which are a Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority group of Myanmar. During the late 1980s, many Kayan people took refuge in Northern Thailand as they escaped conflict between the Myanmar army and rebel forces. The Kayan tribe can now be found in both Myanmar and Thailand, and the women are most recognisable for their adornments around their necks.

The women of the Kayan tribe wear brass coils around their necks called Dzilla, which are said to weigh up to a total of 20kg. They begin wearing these coils from the age of five or six and continue to add to their collection as they progress into adulthood, however this can vary depending on a family's wealth.

The symbolism and purpose behind Dzilla are not fully known, however there are many theories within the Kayan tribe which we are going to explore today.

The coils give an appearance of a lengthened neck by deforming the clavicle bones, which Kayan people say is a sign of beauty and divine grace. The traditional religion followed by the Kayan people is called Kan Khwan and they hold the belief that humans are a result of the union between a female dragon and a half-human half-angel deity. Some have said that the desire for a lengthened neck could relate to the long neck of the female dragon that has been depicted in the Kan Khwan religion and Burmese folklore.

Alternative theories surrounding the Dzilla include the need for protection from tiger attacks, a deterrent for rival tribes and as a symbol of wealth.

The use of neck coils by the Kayan women in Thailand has become an ethical dilemma due to Thai government using the tribe as a tourist attraction, with some women feeling forced to continue wearing them, and others believing that it is part of their culture and a source of income. 

We hope that you have enjoyed exploring the meaning of the Kayan tribe's Dzilla with us. Whilst the modern-day world may sometimes feel small, it is still made up of huge numbers of indigenous tribes who enrich our lives with their cultures and inspire the world of jewellery.