Introduction / History
The Punoi inhabit portions of north-central Laos around Phongsali. They are a Tibeto-Burman people with Mongoloid features. Very little is known about them, except that they are closely related to the Bisu, Pyen, and Mpi. Lacking specific information on the Punoi, some assumptions have been made based on their location in northern Laos and neighboring ethnic groups with a similar background.
Like other Tibeto-Burman peoples, the Punoi migrated from southern China into northern Laos. Their language is part of the Lolo linguistic groups, who were the dominant power in southern China in the eighth and ninth centuries. In the early ninth century, they made their way into Southeast Asia.
Laos has been a pawn in the political competition between Vietnam, Russia, and China. As a result of the many foreign invasions and land wars, the people of Laos have experienced massive social upheaval and dislocation. Vietnam continues to give Laos some military support.
What are their lives like?
The hill peoples such as the Punoi are hunters and gatherers of forest products, as well as farmers. However, their practice of shifting cultivation prevents them from establishing permanent villages. Hill peoples who live at higher elevations are firmly entrenched in their customs and traditions. In contrast, those who live closer to the lowland areas tend to engage in limited trade with the neighboring villages, acquiring their languages and cultures.
Punoi villages consist of small groups of houses made of wood or bamboo, built on stilts, and clustered against the sides of the hills. Their residential areas are usually adjacent to their farm lands. With the houses built above the ground, the family livestock-poultry, pigs and goats-run freely underneath the houses. Because their villages are usually organized around the tribal lineage, it is likely that their social structure is based on family units.
The northern provinces of Laos have an ideal climate for growing opium-producing poppies. The tribal people are known to have traditionally used opium as a medicine, a cash or barter crop, and as a drug. Drugs produced in this area generally move northward on routes into China.
What are their beliefs?
The Punoi practice an ethnic religion, which is often a blend of animism and ancestor worship. Animism includes the belief that forces and aspects of nature (wind, rivers, trees, earth) are attached to spirits or supernatural beings. These spirits help find or grow food, cure illness, and avert danger. Through sacrifice and ritual, the worshipper tries to manipulate the spirit into helping him.
Ancestor worship involves praying to deceased relatives for blessings, protection, and guidance. It is believed that these spirits are alive and need to be fed and cared for.
What are their needs?
Laos is one of the poorest countries of Southeast Asia. Malaria, influenza, dysentery, and pneumonia are the major health problems, and malnutrition is widespread. Infant mortality rates are high, and life expectancy is low. Many of the elite fled the country in 1975, including most of the country's physicians, which created a serious problem for the new government. Village infirmaries and dispensaries were built, and medical workers were trained in most of the provinces. These village medical workers, often using only traditional medicinal herbs, now provide most of the country's primary health care, but it is not adequate for the great need.
The Vietnam War in the 1970's had a grave effect on the northern provinces of Laos. U.S. planes bombed northern Laos, where sizable North Vietnamese forces were fighting with the pro-Communist Pathet Lao. The Punoi have possibly been affected by leftover land mines or cluster bomblets dropped by U.S. war planes during bombing runs. There is presently a Laos bomb removal project, but it has not yet reached their area. There are, however, mobile teaching teams bringing awareness and teaching mine clearance techniques.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send Christian medical workers to labor among the Punoi and the people of Laos.
* Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Punoi Christians.
* Pray that God will open the hearts of Laotian governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Punoi church for the glory of His name!