The Burmese Shan of Myanmar
The Burmese Shan are a large group of civilized people who migrated south from China in the twelfth century and established three small states in Myanmar (Burma). The Shan language belongs to the southwestern group of tonal languages. The people refer to themselves as the "Great Tai."
Myanmar 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 Shan have their own army who fight against the current Burmese military regime. The Burmese military forcibly maintains control over the country's various ethnic groups, especially the Shan, who wish to have equal importance in government and commerce. As civil war divides families, many sons have died fighting against the Burmese government or have joined the secessionist Shan State Army.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Agriculture is the driving force in the Shan economy. Rice is the major cash and family crop. Other crops include tea, soybeans, peanuts, coffee, and cotton. People living near larger villages or towns grow vegetables to sell in the market. Shan farmers grow one other crop—it is estimated that as much as fifty percent of the world's illegal opium is produced in the Shan State.
Traditionally, rice is grown in irrigated fields, especially along the Salween River. However, farmers sometimes resort to "slash and burn" cultivation to grow hill rice. Farmers raise cattle and buffalo, not for meat, but to draw heavy wooden plows since farming is not mechanized. Because many of their sons have lost their lives in the ongoing civil war, farmers are finding it necessary to hire outside labor.
Shan farmers live in villages of ten to five hundred or more households clustered or lined among trees along roads or riverbanks. The Shan have neither clans nor family lines. Marriages are monogamous, based on the couple's mutual consent. Newlyweds usually live with the bride's parents for the first two or three years or until they can set up their own home. Gossip and reputation are important social restraints.
Shan 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 citizen, the government is one of five traditional enemies along with fire, famine, flood, and plague.
Shan are wholesalers who move trade good through northwestern Thailand and eastern Myanmar. As a result of improved transportation, women have become retailers of domestic goods sold in village markets instead of individually trading with one another. The people are good silversmiths who make beautiful buttons and daggers. They also market bamboo products and paper.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Buddhism was introduced into Myanmar in the fifth century and more than ninety-nine percent of the Shan are Buddhists. The Buddhist's goal is to seek the middle path to nirvana, or ultimate peace. The Shan view of the world centers on the idea of 'power protection,' which protects people from the consequences of their actions, allowing them to do as they please. Buddha and Buddhist monks are the most powerful beings, followed by spirits of the village, spirits associated with fields, households, and the forest. For the Buddhist, death is not a threat if one has done good deeds; it is simply passing from one life to another.
What Are Their Needs?
The tiny Shan Church (less than one percent) needs more leadership and the opportunity to train their leaders within Myanmar. The Bible is available in the Shan language, as are the Jesus film and Christian radio broadcasts. Only one missions agency is working among these people.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Burmese Shan bound.
- Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the Shan Christians.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to complete the work of adequate discipleship begun in the hearts of the Burmese Shan.
- Pray for the effectiveness of the Jesus film among the Burmese Shan.
- Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
- Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agency that is targeting the Burmese Shan.
- Pray for opportunities to train Shan leaders within their country.
- Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio to the Burmese Shan.
- Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Burmese Shan by the year 2000.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Burmese Shan
- Country: Myanmar
- Their language: Shan (Ngio)
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 18,206
- Scriptures in their own language: Bible
- Jesus Film in their own language: Available
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
- Mission agencies working among this people: 1
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 1,262,300 (42%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 1,772,000 (58%)
- Country: Myanmar
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 43
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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