Introduction / History The Highland Yao, also known as the Mien, are people of the mountains and people of learning. Unlike their neighbors, they are villagers with a strong tradition of literacy. Although they are found throughout the northern tier of Southeast Asia, they look to China as their ancestral homeland.
Centuries ago, while living in northern China, the Yao were constantly pushed southward by the expansion of the Han people. In the late 1800s, feuding warlords challenged one another for control of new lands, including those occupied by the Highland Yao. Villagers began crossing the border into Southeast Asia, particularly into Burma and Laos. The Highland Yao found that. northern Laos provided high mountains, virgin jungles, and a non-intrusive government-favorable conditions for establishing prosperous communities. Many believe that the Highland Yao are distantly related to the Hmong who also migrated from northern China and who are linguistically similar. The language of the Highland Yao is Mian.
What are their lives like? Houses in the Highland Yao villages are made of durable hardwood and have packed dirt floors. They are large enough for ceremonial gatherings and sturdy enough to withstand strong hurricane-force winds and torrential rains that sweep across the highlands of Laos. Villagers cultivate rice and corn, and gather wild jungle products such as resin and honey to trade with Lao merchants. Their principal cash crop, however, is opium. The "black tar" opium can be used as money when doing business with Chinese traders. Without health services, opium has been an important drug, but has also caused serious addictions.
Social status in the Highland Yao villages is determined by behavior, accomplishment, generosity with others, and scholarship in religious studies. The basic village household may consist of a man, his wife, their unmarried children, their married sons and daughters-in-law, their grandchildren, and other relatives. Because the extended family lives together, child rearing is a cross-generational affair, with grandparents giving the young parents on the job training.
Each person has a well-defined role in Yao society. Women are generally responsible for the day-to-day essentials of life, while men are concerned with the long-term welfare of the family. Men are also responsible for relations between the living family, their dead ancestors, and the world of spirits. In the villages, men fell jungle trees and burn the areas to be cultivated. The women plant, hoe, and harvest. Villages work together in building houses and clearing fields, and celebrate together at feasts.
Within each village community, there are a select few who gain prominence because of their literacy in Chinese. Young men from well-to-do families study and master Chinese characters in the expression of Yao concepts. They become experts in the writing of ritual texts and family genealogies.
Highland Yao dress reinforces their ethnic identity. Yao men wear distinctive earrings and specially embroidered tunics. Women wear elaborate costumes with bright red wool collars. Infants wear intricately embroidered caps, believed to protect them from harm from malevolent spirits.
What are their beliefs? The religion of the Highland Yao is far more than a component of their culture. It is a total belief system that explains all the natural events of life and provides a way to gain control over those events. The Yao are influenced by their ancestors, as well as by their animistic beliefs (the belief that the natural world around them is inhabited by spirits). Time and resources are spent to make sure that the ancestors remain content and the spirits are pacified. Rituals that reflect a blending of Taoist belief and animism are often conducted by well-trained priests.
What are their needs? As with most animistic cultures, the Highland Yao live in fear of displeasing the spirits of ancestors or nature. A desire to be free from fear and their emphasis on kindness and generosity within society would provide an opening for the Gospel. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached for Christ.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to live and work among the Highland Yao.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Highland Yao.
* Pray that the Lord will raise up long term workers to join the few who have already responded.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to complete the work begun in the hearts of the Highland Yao believers through adequate discipleship.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Highland Yao.