Prayer Profile
The Phunoi of Thailand

[IMAGE] The Phunoi are a Tibeto-Burman group living in northern Thailand. Little is known about them, except that they are closely related to the Bisu, Pyen, and Mpi, whose locations in Thailand are uncertain. Without specific information about the Phunoi, this profile is based on their location and the influence of their Thai surroundings.

The Phunoi are part of the Lolo linguistic groups, whose origins were possibly in northwestern China, and who seemed to be the dominant power in southern China during the eighth and ninth centuries. In the early ninth century, they mounted a series of raids as they made their way into Southeast Asia. They were later conquered by the Mon peoples.

The language most Phunoi families use in the home is also called Phunoi, and it is a member of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. Central Thai is the official language of Thailand and is distinct from the Phunoi language. Many Phunoi are likely fluent in Central Thai.

What are their lives like?
The Phunoi live in the northern part of Thailand, east of the provincial city of Chang Mai. This area is primarily inhabited by a number of tribal peoples, all of whom share a somewhat similar lifestyle and culture.

Agricultural production remains low, however, due to the relatively dry climate and the saltiness of the soil. Because northeastern Thailand frequently suffers from drought, the people who live there are often thought of as being poverty stricken. Yet, these people have become an urban, industrial labor force, and many of them have found jobs as factory workers.

Phunoi society is hierarchically organized on the basis of age, occupation, wealth, and residence. The rural farmers have a place below the artisans, merchants, and government officials of the cities. The clergy are a separate group.

The basic unit in society is the family. The immediate family usually lives together under one roof, with each generation treating the other with mutual respect. They live, eat, and work together. Occasionally, a newly married couple will live with the bride's family until they are able to establish their own independent home.

What are their beliefs?
The Phunoi are ethnic religionists. Ethnic religions are generally syncretistic, and most often blend aspects of animism and ancestor worship. Animism includes the belief that forces and aspects of nature (wind, rivers, trees, earth) are connected with spirits or supernatural beings. These spirits are hardly ever worshipped or consulted regarding moral issues of life. Rather, they are points of contact for people who are attempting to solve the urgent practicalities of life, such as securing food, curing illness, and averting danger. Most of these spirits are local deities who are not to be truly worshipped, but venerated and hopefully manipulated to the petitioner's advantage through sacrifice and ritual.

Ancestor worship, is the belief that the spirits of deceased ancestors are alive and need to be fed and cared for. Ancestral spirits of mythical leaders often are believed to have power over matters of concern to the entire society, such as rain and the growth of crops and cattle; whereas, the spirits of heads of families and clans are said to influence matters of immediate concern to the particular families. The spirits are generally regarded as very helpful to their living descendants. They are propitiated through sacrifices and rituals in established ceremonies, as well as at times of crisis.

What are their needs?
The Phunoi have many physical needs. Hepatitis and malaria are serious problems in rural areas. Perhaps Christian doctors and nurses will have the greatest opportunities to minister to the Phunoi.

Spiritually, the Phunoi are also very needy. There are currently no Scriptures or Christian resources available in their language. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached with the Gospel.

Prayer Points

  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities that have kept the Phunoi bound for many generations.
  • Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Phunoi.
  • Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
  • Pray that God will give the Phunoi believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
  • God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Phunoi Christians.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Phunoi language.
  • Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Phunoi church for the glory of His name!

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Phunoi
  • Country: Thailand
  • Their language: Phunoi
  • Population: (1990) 11,100
    (1995) 11,800
    (2000) 12,400
  • Largest religion: Ethnic religionist 99%
  • Christian: 1%
  • Church members: 118
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 0
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 2,100 (18%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 800 (7%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 1,300 (11%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 9,700 (82%)
  • Country: Thailand
  • Population: (1990) 55,582,700
    (1995) 58,790,700
    (2000) 61,909,300
  • Major peoples in size order: Central Tai 34.6%
    Northeastern Tai 26.4%
    Northern Tai 10.5%
    Han Chinese 8.2%
    Southern Tai 7.8%
  • Major religions: Buddhist 91.6%
    Muslim 4%
    Chinese folk-religionist 1.4%
  • Number of denominations: 40

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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