The Palaung of Myanmar
A cluster of 5 Palaung groups.
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?
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 bulls 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—an unbroken line of administrative authority from the Prime Minister 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?
What are their needs?
There are currently no missions agencies targeting any of the Palaung tribes in Myanmar. There is a great need for Christian radio and television broadcasts as well as Christian literature to be made available in their native languages. They also need translations of the Bible in their various dialects, since only the Riang-Lang have portions of scripture in their language.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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