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.