‘With knowledge you buy yourself freedom’

The women of the Karen tribe are also known as the “long-neck” or “giraffe” tribe. Because of the rings the women are wearing around their neck. The appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collarbone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collarbone appears to be a part of the neck. The Karen’s mythology explains that the rings prevent tigers from biting the women. But the most common explanation is that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth. One of the reasons that the tradition still continues today -in Thailand- is tourism. Although the Karen’s have migrated to Thailand in only the last twenty years, they have become one of the most popular “attraction” for hill-tribe trekking tourists.

Muku (25) turned five when she chose herself to wear the neck coils. At the age of six she moved alone to Thailand to live in one of the Karen villages near Chiang Mai. Her parents still live together with her 8 younger brothers and sisters In Myanmar. Every month Muku earns 5000 Baht to send to her family.

What does happiness mean to you?
Happiness to me would be to have the freedom and knowledge to do what you want.

What is your background?
I am born in a small rural village in Myanmar. My family is a traditional Karen family and at the age of 5 I got the choice to start wearing my brass rings. I choose to do so. When I turned six my parents send me to Thailand, to go live in a Karen Village and work in tourism to help make money for our family. For 17 years I lived and worked almost every day in the village, only one time I went back to see my family. I met my husband in Thailand, but he is also from Myanmar. Two years ago we moved together to the Karen village near Pai where we still live.

Where do you stand in life?
I am happy I can send my parents the biggest part of the 5000 Baht (€125,-) I am making here. I am learning a bit of English from the tourists and while I am learning I am eager for more. I would love to be able to communicate better with all the people who visit our village.

Are you familiar with the 30 years dilemma?
No, I have never heard of it. I try to take my life as it is day by day. I don’t have the luxury to worry about choices. They have been made for me a long time ago and I have to live up to them to support my family.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Do you have a dream?
My dream is to have children in the near future and to be able to send them to school so they can build a better future for themselves. If anything were possible I would love to travel, see foreign countries and get to know different cultures.

What wise lesson did your parents teach you?
Their wise lesson is to take always good care of myself.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
To try to figure out a way to go to school when I was younger. I believe that with knowledge you buy yourself freedom.

When was your last moment of happiness?
When I spoke to my family in Myanmar on the phone and they told me how important my roll and my support to our family is and that they are really happy with me.



Under the same sun is an ongoing travel log which you can follow on our travel and lifestyle blog Meet You at the Bridge. The reports show the similarities and differences on what it means to be happy for women between the ages of 25 and 35 who hail from different cultures.

Click below for all interviews.