Pa-O in Myanmar (Burma)


Population
Main Language
Largest Religion
Christian
Evangelical
Progress
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

The Pa-O are called Taungthu by the Burmese, which means “hill people.” The British colonialists called them Black Karen because most Pa-O women wear black or dark blue dresses. The Pa-O language shows that they are part of the large collection of Karen groups in Myanmar and Thailand, which together number as many as five million people with 20 language groups. Many Pa-O do not even know of this connection to the Karen and consider themselves a unique people group.

The Pa-O believe that their ancestors fled north to Shan State from southern Burma, after the overthrow of the Mon King Manuha in the eleventh century by King Anawrahta of Pagan. Today the Pa-O are the second most numerous people in Shan State after the Shan.

The large majority of the Pa-O reside the southwestern part of Shan State in Myanmar near the Thai border. The geographical center of the Pa-O is the mountains around the towns of Taunggyi and Kalaw.

Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. Much of modern Burmese history has been one of civil wars between the Burmese majority and the nation’s minority groups that includes the Shan, Karen, Lahu, and Rohingya. The military launched another coup in 2021 and is currently ruling the country.

The New Testament and the JESUS Film are available in the Pa-O language.


What Are Their Lives Like?

The lives of the Pa-O vary depending upon whether they live in urban or rural areas. In the countryside the Pa-O live much like their ancestors cultivating rice, vegetables, tropical fruits, and coconuts. Most Pa-O villages raise chickens, goats and pigs to supplement their diets. Some men fish and work in the logging industry. Most Pa-O villages have an elementary school. Children often quit school after a few years in order to help their family make a living.

The Pa-O who live in cities work in construction, manufacturing, administration, and retail. Educational opportunities are much better for Pa-O children who live in cities. Many young people are moving to cities in hope of a better life. Within a few years of living in the cities, the Pa-O young people begin to speak Burmese are their primary language and start to lose the distinctive aspects of Pa-O culture.


The people, however, still hold onto some animistic beliefs, and spirit shrines and magnificent wooden temples dot the outskirts of villages.
What Are Their Beliefs?

The Pa-O have been a strong Buddhist group for many centuries. Buddhism dominates every area of the lives and communities of the Pa-O. In Myanmar, most Pa-O villages can be identified by the magnificent wooden Buddhist temples that located on the outskirts of their villages.

Missionaries first translated Scripture portions into Pa-O in 1912. The majority of the Pa-O consider themselves to be Buddhists. Their brand of Buddhism is heavily influenced by animism, the belief that spirits inhabit the objects of nature such as trees, animals, mountains, and rivers.

Buddhism is the major world religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama or the Buddha, who lived in the 6th and 5th century BC in ancient India. The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths by which one can gain spiritual knowledge and escape the endless cycles of reincarnation. Theravada, one of the two major branches of Buddhism, declares that by following the Noble Eightfold Path of right intentions and right actions that a Buddhist can achieve nirvana or a state of freedom and salvation.

To most Buddhists, however, these things have far less meaning than their traditional beliefs, which are usually animistic. In animism, evil spirits must be appeased through prayers, sacrifices and rituals. Buddhism allows people to mix Buddhist teachings with traditional religion.

Two of the important Buddhist yearly holidays are Vesak, the Buddha's birthday celebrated in May or June and Bodhi Day, the holiday which commemorates the day that the historical Buddha experienced enlightenment under a Bodhi tree.

A tiny fraction of Pa-O claims to be followers of Jesus Christ.


What Are Their Needs?

The Pa-O would greatly benefit by access to modern medicine. Some of their isolated villages do not have electricity. Solar panels brought by teams of believers would help them. Most of all, the Pa-O need to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. He alone can forgive their sins and free them from their fear of evil spirits.


Prayer Points

Ask the Lord to send workers to the Pa-O people of Myanmar.

Pray for the authority of Christ to bind hindering spiritual forces to lead the Pa-O from darkness to light of Christ.

Pray for signs and wonders among the Pa-O and for great breakthroughs with a rapid multiplication of disciples and house churches.

Pray for an unstoppable movement to Christ among Pa-O of Myanmar in this decade.


Scripture Prayers for the Pa-O in Myanmar (Burma).


Profile Source:   Joshua Project  

Shan State
Source:  Asia Harvest      Download

People Name General Pa-O
People Name in Country Pa-O
Pronunciation pah-OH
Population this Country 860,000
Population all Countries 861,000
Total Countries 2
Indigenous Yes
Progress Scale 1
Unreached Yes
Frontier People Group No
GSEC 1  (per PeopleGroups.org)
Pioneer Workers Needed 17
Alternate Names Black Karen; Karen; Pao Karen; Pa'o Karen; Taungthu; Tau-soo; Tau-sooo
People ID 10892
ROP3 Code 101515
Country Myanmar (Burma)
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank 12  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country The large majority inhabits the south-western part of Shan State in Myanmar. The geographical centre of the Pa-O (Black Karen) could be considered the mountains around the towns of Taunggyi and Kalaw. An additional 900 Pa-O live inside Thailand, inhabiting four villages within the Muang District of Mae Hong Son Province.   Source:  Peoples of the Buddhist World, 2004
Country Myanmar (Burma)
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank 12  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country The large majority inhabits the south-western part of Shan State in Myanmar. The geographical centre of the Pa-O (Black Karen) could be considered the mountains around the towns of Taunggyi and Kalaw. An additional 900 Pa-O live inside Thailand, inhabiting four villages within the Muang District of Mae Hong Son Province..   Source:  Peoples of the Buddhist World, 2004
Map of Pa-O in Myanmar (Burma) Ethnolinguistic map or other map

Primary Language Pa'o (860,000 speakers)
Language Code blk   Ethnologue Listing
Primary Dialect Southern
Dialect Code 334   Global Recordings Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Pa'o (860,000 speakers)
Language Code blk   Ethnologue Listing
Primary Dialect Southern
Dialect Code 334   Global Recordings Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Pa'o

Primary Language:  Pa'o

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible-Portions Yes  (1912-1964)
Bible-New Testament Yes  (1961-2009)
Bible-Complete No
Bible-NT Audio Online
Possible Print Bibles
Amazon
World Bibles
Forum Bible Agencies
National Bible Societies
World Bible Finder
Virtual Storehouse
Resource Type Resource Name Source
Audio Recordings Audio Bible teaching Global Recordings Network
Audio Recordings Online New Testament Faith Comes by Hearing
Audio Recordings Story of Jesus audio Jesus Film Project
Film / Video God's Story video God's Story
Film / Video Jesus Film: view in Pa'o Jesus Film Project
General Bible for Children Bible for Children
General Gospel resources links Scripture Earth
Primary Religion: Buddhism
Religion Subdivision: Theravada
Major Religion Percent
Buddhism
77.30 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 0.30 %)
1.70 %
Ethnic Religions
20.60 %
Hinduism
0.00 %
Islam
0.00 %
Non-Religious
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.40 %
Unknown
0.00 %
Christian Segments Percent
Anglican
0.0 %
Independent
10.0 %
Orthodox
0.0 %
Other Christian
0.0 %
Protestant
75.0 %
Roman Catholic
15.0 %
Photo Source Copyrighted © 2022  Kerry Olson  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source People Group location: IMB. Map geography: ESRI / GMI. Map design: Joshua Project.  
Video Source Asia Harvest
Profile Source Joshua Project  
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Read more