Prayer Profile
The Highland Yao of Laos

[IMAGE] 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 1800's, 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 the 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 Belief?
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
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities that are keeping the Highland Yao bound.
  • 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 the missions agencies that are targeting the Highland Yao.
  • Pray that God will reveal Himself to the Highland Yao through dreams and visions.
  • Pray that the Lord will raise up long term workers to join the few who have already responded.
  • Ask God to speed the completion of the Jesus film and other evangelistic materials into the Mian language.
  • 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 by the year 2000.

See also the following related groups:
The Highland Yao of Vietnam;
the Yao of China and Thailand.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: The Highland Yao
  • Country: Laos
  • Their language: Mian (Yao, Man)
  • Population: (1990) 74,500
    (1995) 86,600
    (2000) 99,400
  • Largest religion: Ethnic religionist 98.3%
  • Christian: 1.6%
  • Church members: 1,420
  • Scriptures in their own language: New Testament
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 2
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 23,100 (27%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 6,600 (8%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 16,500 (19%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 63,500 (73%)
  • Country: Laos
  • Population: (1990) 4,201,700
    (1995) 4,881,800
    (2000) 5,602,200
  • Major peoples in size order: Lao 53%
    Khmu 7.5%
    Chinese Shan 2.6%
    Phu Tai 2.5%
    So 2.1%
  • Major religions: Buddhist 58%
    Ethnic religionist 32.5%
    Nonreligious 4.7%
  • Number of denominations: 8

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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