Sgaw women and girls wear multiple strands of small beads which hang anywhere from mid-chest to waist length, favouring red, white, and yellow. Pwo women, on the other hand, wind extremely long strings of beads around the throat and down to mid-chest. These are mostly black. Young Pwo bachelors wear bead chokers, and on special occasions multiple strands of longer beads as well.\
The Karen use an astonishing variety of beads. Many wear small glass seed-beads used as barter by European traders centuries ago. Others are Chinese glass beads, and no doubt some are from India and other Asian and European countries.
Tiny pierced beads are made from coconut shells cut out with metal tools by a technique known by the Karen for hundreds of years. These feather-light beads become very dark and shiny with use.
Karen do not wear the heavy types of silver jewellery used by some other tribal groups. The most common type of silver necklace is made of the old bullet coins which were used by the Thai for hundreds of years. These come in several sizes, the one-baht size being the most numerous. The five-baht size is sometimes used as a pendant in the centre of a string of one-baht coins. Bullet coins are usually strung on braided red thread.
Another style is the rice grain necklace. Delicately-made hollow, elongated silver beads alternated with tiny spherical ones are worn in multi-strands.
Karen neck rings are small in comparison with those of other tribes. Some are thin bands of silver which hook around the neck. Others are flat, round of twisted. Many are etched with plant, animal, or geometric designs.
Pwo women like to cover their arms wit ha variety of bracelets. Some are flat and narrow, while others are round and smooth, twisted or coiled. They may be made of silver, copper, brass or aluminium. Several kinds are often worn together.
In some areas it has become popular among the Pwo to wear bracelets made by stringing ordinary white shirt buttons back to back, with tiny brass bells attached. Others wear bracelets made of plaited rattan or lacquered thread. Sgaw women are much more moderate in their use of jewellery. A few men, both Sgaw and Pwo, wear simple bracelets of silver, brass, or aluminium-one on each wrist.
Both Sgaw and Pwo women wear earrings having a cylindrical part which is thrust through the holes in the ear lobes9bevelled so they will stay in the ear) with a cup-shaped outer part. These vary in size. Often brightly coloured tufts of wool and other decorative objects are attached.
Some Pwo men wear rhinestone earrings with wool tassels. In some areas Pwo men and women used to wear ivory ear plugs with a stick-like portion extending to as much as ten cm. These are now rarely seen.
Peoples of the Golden Triangle
by Paul and Elaine Lewis