Prayer Profile
The Hill Tribes of Myanmar

[IMAGE] Myanmar has always been somewhat isolated, due to its geographical location and the independence of its people. Home to more than 100 distinct ethnic groups, the country is torn by internal conflicts between the various minority groups and the Myen (Burmese), the dominant group.

The hill tribes generally live in the remote, forested mountain regions that lie along all of Myanmar's borders, while the Myen live in the fertile plains of the Irrawaddy River. Most of the tribal groups belong to the Tibeto-Burman family, and originally immigrated from southern China.

Myanmar has a long history of wars, governmental changes, and coups. Today, the Burmese military forcibly maintains control over the ethnic groups who wish to have equal importance in government and trade. The military offers special services to the minority groups, signing peace treaties and promising cease-fire; however, at the slightest hint of rebellion, the government attacks violently. In May of 1994, over 17 battles occurred in Shan State alone.

What Are Their Lives Like?
Because the hill tribes have been heavily influenced by both the Shan and Burmese, many groups are bilingual. While Shan is the favored language for trade, most still speak their native languages at home.

The principal occupation of the Myanmar Hill Tribes is rice cultivation. Some plant rice on mountain terraces, which is the ideal; while others practice "shifting cultivation," moving from one plot to another. Some of the other important crops grown include maize, cotton, tobacco, and opium poppies. The amount of tobacco supplied cannot meet the demands made by the many smokers of this region. Estimations say that as much as 50% of the world's illegal opium is produced in Shan State, which is part of the infamous "Golden Triangle."

More land is now being cultivated for fruit which is a cash crop. There also provides access to valuable iron deposits in the "Triangle." The northern tribes gather rubber and amber from the valleys for trade. People also grow vegetables in gardens just outside the towns and larger villages to sell in the market.

Since many of the smaller communities are not self-sufficient, they must maintain contact with the people of the valleys and plains for survival. The Burmese have set up troops along main trade routes, preventing the smaller, more dependent ethnic groups from entering into trade with the Shan.

For many generations, the tribal families have maintained permanent rights to their respective territories by paying taxes to the government. Some ethnic groups resent this collection of taxes as they see the saohpa (hereditary rulers) sitting in their luxurious residences getting rich. Therefore, they have supported an "anti-feudalist" protest to demand that all their taxes be returned to them. For the commoners, the government is one of five traditional enemies along with fire, famine, flood, and plague.

Most of the Hill Tribes' villages are located on hilltops, high mountain ridges, or slopes where they are protected from the mountain winds. They are typically situated near streams or springs. Extended families live together in large houses that are raised on posts about three or four feet above the ground. Some are up to 100 feet in length and contain numerous families. Today, there are signs that many of the villages are breaking down into smaller communities. The basic family unit is exogamous, which means that they only marry within their own groups. However, inter-tribal marriages do exist. The tribes are patrilineal in nature. This means that the line of descent is traced through the males.

What Are Their Beliefs?
Buddhism was introduced into Myanmar in the fifth century; and today, most of the Hill Tribes are Buddhist. However, they have also maintained their traditional ethnic belief in evil spirits, or nats. The people believe that while all of the nats are inherently evil, some are more evil than others. One must spend his 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. They believe that these spirits can do almost anything in nature, such as prevent floods and other natural disasters. The belief in these spirits is strongest among the more isolated groups.

What Are Their Needs?
Unfortunately, very few of the hill tribes have any portion of the Scripture in their languages, and very few have missions agencies working among them. A greater effort must be made to reach them with the Good News. Prayer is the first step toward breaking down the barriers that separate them from the Light of the Gospel.

Prayer Points
  • Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are targeting the Hill Tribes of Myanmar.
  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth additional laborers into Myanmar.
  • Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio in this region.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that God will give the believers within the Hill Tribes opportunities to share Christ with their own people.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Hill Tribes bound.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams to begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Myanmar through worship and intercession.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among each of the Hill Tribes by the year 2000.
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See also the single profile on:
The Burmese Shan of Myanmar

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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