The Kayan
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The Kayan

Farmers and hunters

Farmers and hunters

The Kayan form one of a number of sub-groups of Myanmar’s Red Karen people, a Tibetan-Burmese-speaking minority. The Kayan consists of the following groups: Kayan Lahwi (also called Padaung), Kayan Ka Khaung, Kayan Lahta, Kayan Ka Ngan. Kayan Gebar, Kayan Kakhi and Bwe people (Kayaw). Padaung is a Shan term for the Kayan Lahwi (the group in which women wear the brass neck rings).


  • Region is Southern Asia

  • Climate here is Tropical

  • The challenge here is Medium

  • This trip has been rated 5 by other travelers



The main works to earn their livelihood were cultivation and hunting. Their economy is just self-reliance: there is no surplus for the household. When the time for cultivation and plantation comes, they cooperate. As for breeding, they do not mean to get a commercial profit out of it; they mean to get some meat for offering to the spirits. Similarly, they never use the handicrafts such as weaving baskets and weaving cloths on back-strap looms for any commercial profit.


Almost all traditional Kayan houses are one-storey buildings, and their legs are quite high. They generally use timber for floors and walls whereas they use thatch for roofing. The height of the legs of their houses is generally higher than that of a man. The shape of a house is usually rectangular and there are always a ladder and veranda in front of the house.


Social Structure

Family is the basic social organization. Traditionally, in the Kayan families, the father is the head of the group and the most influential person.


The Kayans' traditional religion is called Kan Khwan. Today the majority of Kayan are Christians.


Women of the Kayan tribes identify themselves by their forms of dress.

Women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe are well known for wearing neck rings, brass coils that are placed around the neck, appearing to lengthen it.

It is preferable for first cousins to get married. Marriage between different generations is taboo, while marriages with in-laws or conflicting clans is forbidden.

Kayan still practice the traditional reading of the chicken bones to predict the year ahead.


They speak Kayah, a Karen dialect continuum spoken by over half a million Kayan people.


For the different kind of festival, they have invented several kinds of dance to suit the mood of each.

Kar-kaung is the most revered song or poem. It incorporates all the traditional poems and proverbs of their ancestors

The traditional musical instruments phar-si, buffalo-hom, flute, pack-bull bell, drum, gong.

Handicrafts: weaving baskets, weaving cloths, creation of brass and coil rings.


Kay Htein Bo: main three day festival that commemorates the birth of the world. The festival is held in late March or early April: a Kay Htoe Boe pole is erected and participants dance around the pole.
Further knowledge

Further knowledge

In 1990, due to a conflict with the Burmese military regime, many tribes fled to Thailand.

Many of the group that has now resettled in northern Thailand are believed to consider the term Padaung pejorative, preferring to call themselves Kayan.

Village in Kalaw, Myanmar

Traditional Kayan woman from Myanmar

Kayan woman engaged in manual work

Traditional Kayan woman from Myanmar

Samkar, Myanmar

Kayan village