Western Karen in Thailand

Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge


With a population in excess of a quarter million, the Western Kayah are the largest ethnic group in Kayah State in eastern Myanmar. One source states, 'Myanmar's Kayah State sits on its eastern border with Thailand, directly opposite Mae Hong Son Province. The entire state is consumed by a range of mountains that stretch the length of the eastern section of the country, varying in elevation from 3,000 to 8,000 feet within the Kayah State itself. Two major rivers, the Nampawn and the mighty Salween, run on a north-south route through the area, and have served as geographical landmarks throughout the fierce fighting which has raged here for over 20 years. The majority of the population lives in the military occupied towns and villages of the western third of the state and along the rebel borderlands near Thailand as IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples). The entire state is off-limits to foreigners.' The main centre for the Kayah people is the town of Loikaw in north-western Kayah State.

An additional 20,000 Western Kayah refugees are presently stuck in refugee camps across the border in Thailand. Large numbers started fleeing Myanmar in the early 1990s, escaping the war between the Burmese military and the KNPP (Karenni National Progressive Party), an anti-government faction operating in the Kayah State. Numerous horrific human rights abuses such as genocide and mass rape have been committed against the Kayah people by Burmese soldiers. Many Kayah are always on the move, travelling just ahead of the war parties from one location to another. The Kayah are an 'often confused or misunderstood group of people. They are regularly confused with the term Karenni, a blanket term used to cover all groups living within the Kayah State of eastern Myanmar. Karenni can include the Padaung, Sgaw Karen, Kayah, and a couple of other small groups.... The true Kayah live primarily in the northern half of the State, and speak their own language, though most also speak Sgaw Karen.' The Kayah are also called by the nickname Red Karen because of their brightly-coloured red head-cloths and shawls.

The Western Kayah speak a different language from the Eastern Kayah, a group of about 70,000 who live in eastern Kayah State and in Thailand. Speakers of Eastern Kayah 'have difficulty understanding Western Kayah of Myanmar '. The Eastern Kayah have not been included in this book since only a minority believe in Buddhism.


The Western Kayah are 'primarily Buddhist in name, though there are very strong animistic characteristics woven throughout their belief system. They observe Buddhist rituals and make periodic visits to pagodas and monasteries, but almost all villages participate in spirit worship, paying homage to the nats, or other spirits. '


Because Kayah State is completely off-limits to foreigners, it is difficult to gauge the number of Christians among the Western Kayah today, though the number is small and not likely to exceed one or two per cent of the population. Perhaps a thousand of the Western Kayah refugees in Thailand have turned to Christ, the result of practical love and evangelism by Karen Christian refugees and foreign missionaries.

Prayer Points

Scripture Prayers for the Karen, Kayah Western in Thailand.

Profile Source:   Peoples of the Buddhist World, Asia Harvest  Copyrighted ©   Used with permission  

The Kayah
Source:  Asia Harvest      Download

People Name General Karen, Kayah Western
People Name in Country Karen, Kayah Western
Natural Name Western Karen
Population this Country 22,000
Population all Countries 184,000
Total Countries 2
Indigenous No
Progress Scale 2
Unreached No
Frontier People Group No
Pioneer Workers Needed
Alternate Names Darieng Daeng; Karenni; Karieng Daeng; Karrenyi; Kayah; Kayah Li; Red Karen; Western Karen; Yang Deang
People ID 12587
ROP3 Code 104775
Country Thailand
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Country Thailand
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Primary Language Kayah, Western (22,000 speakers)
Language Code kyu   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Kayah, Western (22,000 speakers)
Language Code kyu   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Kayah, Western

Primary Language:  Kayah, Western

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible-Portions Yes  (2008)
Bible-New Testament Yes  (2009-2016)
Bible-Complete No
Bible-NT Audio Online
Bible-NT Text Online
Possible Print Bibles
World Bibles
Forum Bible Agencies
National Bible Societies
World Bible Finder
Virtual Storehouse
Resource Type Resource Name
Audio Recordings Audio Bible teaching (GRN)
Audio Recordings Online New Testament (FCBH)
Audio Recordings Story of Jesus audio (Jesus Film Project)
Film / Video God's Story Video
Film / Video Jesus Film: view in Kayah, Western
Film / Video LUMO film of Gospels
Text / Printed Matter Bible: Lisǎsè̌ Athè̌ - Kayǎ Ngó̤
Text / Printed Matter Online Bible Text (Scripture Earth)
Primary Religion: Buddhism
Major Religion Percent
50.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 2.00 %)
28.00 %
Ethnic Religions
22.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %
Christian Segments Percent
0.0 %
5.0 %
0.0 %
Other Christian
0.0 %
50.0 %
Roman Catholic
45.0 %
Photo Source Copyrighted © 2021  Peoples of the Buddhist World, Asia Harvest  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source Anonymous  
Video Source Asia Harvest
Profile Source Peoples of the Buddhist World, Asia Harvest  Copyrighted ©   Used with permission  
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Read more


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