Introduction / History
The various Palaung groups of Myanmar live in Shan State. Some are located in the northwestern corner around Tawngpeng, while others live as far south as Kengteng. It is thought that the Palaung immigrated to Myanmar before the Shan who came from China during the twelfth century. The Palaung cluster consists of several smaller groups including the Rumai Palaung, the Riang-Lang, the Golden Palaung (or Shwe), and the Silver Palaung, each of which speaks its own language. Some groups are bilingual, speaking their native dialects at home, and either Burmese or Shan while in official, literary, or religious circles.
Myanmar, or Burma, has a long history of coups, wars, and rebellions. Ethnic divisions and political unrest have been common since the first Burman kingdom in the eleventh century. Today, the Burmese military maintains forcible control over the ethnic groups, such as the Palaung, who want equal importance in the government and in commerce. In May of 1994, over 17 battles occurred in Shan State. The Palaung often find themselves innocently, but forcibly, involved in much of the conflict.
What are their lives like?
Shan State consists of mountain ridges separated by narrow valleys. There is some open grassland, but most of the area is uncultivated forest land.
The Palaung are traditionally farmers. They raise rice, grains, and vegetables by using the "slash and burn" method. Tea is also grown as a commercial crop. Those living in the hills, such as the Rumai, cultivate little besides tea and are not able to grow enough rice for themselves. In former times, they used pack animals to transport the tea to other regions for trade. Today, they have a monopoly on "pickled tea," which they trade for items such as rice, salt, and dried fish.
Groups living at lower elevations, such as the Silver Palaung, grow more rice than tea. There are some terraced, irrigated rice fields in this area; however, most of the farmers still use the rotation method of cultivation.
The Palaung live in villages together with other ethnic tribes, such as the Shan or the Burmese. Over the years, the Palaung have steadily assimilated through intermarriage. Since there are no Palaung traditions forbidding inter-tribal marriages, Palaung-Shan marriages are particularly common. This explains why the Shan have had the greatest amount of cultural influence over them.
Among the Palaung, extended families live together in oval-shaped, bamboo houses that are raised on posts about six feet above the ground. Some are up to 100 feet in length and contain numerous families. Their diet is predominantly vegetarian.
Palaung social culture is a hierarchy based on age, gender, and wealth. The Myanmar constitution dictates the political organization which is an unbroken line of administrative authority from the Prime Minister down to the village headman. The community, which elects a single headman, is accounted for in the national census as a territorial unit and accessed taxes. For the common Palaung citizen, the government is one of five traditional enemies along with fire, famine, flood, and plague.
What are their beliefs?
Buddhism was introduced into Myanmar in the fifth century and today, most of the Palaung are Buddhists. However, they have also maintained their ethnic animist religion which is a system of beliefs based on evil spirits called nats. The Palaung believe that while all of the nats are inherently evil, some are more evil than others. One must spend their life trying to appease the nats. If the nats are pleased, the people will have a bountiful harvest and good health. If favor is not found with the nats, the people may be subject to great harm. The Palaung believe that these spirits can do almost anything in nature, such as prevent floods and other natural disasters.
What are their needs?
The Palaung have been tremendously affected by the fighting and bloodshed of the past. They need healing and new spiritual hope.
There is a great need for Christian resources.
* Ask God to call out prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send many laborers into Myanmar to share Christ with the Palaung.
* Ask God to protect and encourage the small number of Palaung believers.
* Pray that the Palaung Christians will be a clear witness to their people of God's goodness and grace.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Palaung towards the Gospel.
* Ask God to create a hunger within the hearts of the Palaung to know the Truth.
* Pray for many fellowships of Christian believers to be raised up among the Palaung.