Guardian Matriarchs of Loikaw

Guardian Matriarchs of Loikaw

As the modern world encroaches and the younger women adopt global culture and styles, the matriarchs of Myanmar’s tribal regions stand firm to preserve the traditions, dress and customs of their ancestors.

To capture the essence of these remarkable and steadfast women, photographer Noelia Madiedo travels deep into the tribal areas of Myanmar. There, she meets the women of the myriad ethnic groups of the region, including the Pa’O, the Kayah, and the Loikaw.

Her photographs reveal their daily lives, striking dress and body adornments. Madiedo’s timing is perfect as she arrives at a Kayah village during a funeral, a time to send the dead onto the next phase of existence.

There, she photographs the village matriarch in her kitchen preparing for the complex funeral ceremony, which includes singing, dancing, prayers and food. The colorful dress of the women, even in mourning, is a reminder of the pride the villagers take in their appearance and traditions.

The Pa’O, take a different approach. Their dress is more sedate as they save their self expression for their turbans and headdress. In spirit, however, they are just as joyful. Madiedo’s photographs reveal their cheerfulness as they go about the most mundane daily tasks.

But perhaps among the most striking are the women of the Loikaw, with neck rings that seem to go on forever and defy the limits of human anatomy. In many traditional cultures, long, graceful necks are a sign of feminine beauty, and Loikaw women take it to the extreme. Neck training starts in childhood and continues gradually over a lifetime to a maximum of 28 rings.

The women of these tribes are all different and unique, but they share one thing in common—the desire to express themselves through their traditional dress and culture. 



Her dream in high school and later college was to be a clinical psychologist. After graduating from Florida International University in Miami she went on to work with children as a behavioral modifica-tion therapist. It was an emotional roller-coaster ride for Noelia as classroom theory met the reality of working with autistic and disabled children.

Still loving her work helping children, but wanting to balance the hectic pace and years of mentally draining days, she took time out to visit the far East and the places she felt inexplicably drawn to—Nepal, Bhutan, the Himalayas. Once there, Madiedo fell in love with the landscape, the culture and the people living on the roof of the world. It was the spiritual connection she needed, and in her mind, there was no better way than photography to capture the essence of the people and places she grew to love so much. Noelia had found her purpose and her calling.

Having heard the siren call of the East, Madiedo, who was born in the Dominican Republic to a Cuban father and Dominican mother, moved to Singapore in 2010. It was a world away and far different from the Latin culture of her native DR and Miami, but it was the perfect launching pad for her travels to the destinations that are the backdrop for some of her most inspiring images.

Today, her photography attracts the attention of magazines, galleries and book publishers, and while the East still holds a special place in her heart, her photography now explores all continents, from the megafauna of Africa to the verdant landscape of the Cuban countryside and the frayed glory of old Havana. What’s certain, is that Noelia’s gift for spotting and capturing a scene transforms the everyday into the exceptional.