Mlabri in Laos

Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

Mlabri or Mabri is the self-name of this group. The Lao and Thai call them Kha Tong Luang, which means "slaves of the Yellow Banana Leaves." This name is given to them because of their custom of living in temporary ground-level shelters made of a wooden frame and covered with banana leaves. When the leaves wither and turn yellow the Mlabri abandon their homes and move to a different area to hunt for food. This cycle usually repeats itself every 5-15 days.

There is another group of about 300 people called Kha Tong Luang in Laos, who practice the same customs. They live in remote mountains on the Laos-Vietnam border. The Mlabri and this later group are not linguistically related and are separated by a considerable distance. To complicate matters, the Pakatan in Laos are also labeled Kha Tong Luang by the Lao.

The Mlabri people live in Laos' Phiang District of Xaignabouri Province. Epidemics and a decrease of their resources has almost wiped them out. Others live across the border in Nan and Phrae provinces of Thailand.

What Are Their Lives Like?

Mlabri men wear little clothing, except a small loin-cloth. Their matrilineal social organization allows serial monogamy; a Mlabri woman typically changes mates every five or six years, taking any children from the previous union with her.

After death, the corpse of a Mlabri is placed in the treetops to be devoured by birds.

What Are Their Beliefs?

They are animists who believe they are not entitled to cultivate the land for themselves. They believe in many gods. They believe evil spirits inhabit trees, and fear rainbows, which they believe are monsters who devour human flesh. There has never been a known Christian among the Mlabri in either Laos or Thailand. Eugene and Mary Long, missionaries with New Tribes Mission, worked selflessly among the Mlabri for more than 20 years in Thailand. Even though they are deeply loved by the Mlabri, none have yet made a decision to follow Christ. Pray God would help the Mlabri break through the spiritual barriers that prevent them from following Christ.

Ask God to bless and multiply the work of New Tribes Mission among the Mlabri in Thailand.

Pray for an unstoppable movement to Christ among the Mlabri people.
13369 LA There is some confusion surrounding the existence of the Nguan. Despite the fact they are a relatively large group, and are very ethnically distinct and isolated, the Nguan do not appear in the authoritative Ethnologue, and have therefore also not appeared on Christian mission lists. This is probably due to the fact that until recently, the Lao government counted the Nguan as part of the Khmu and did not recognize them as a distinct tribe. There is no doubt that ethno-linguistically the Nguan qualify as a distinct group.

The Nguan language is a distinct member of the Mon-Khmer family. It is partially related to Khmu and Samtao. The Nguan can understand only a little of the Lamet language.

The Nguan divide into two main clans, which are named after two different kinds of birds: Sim Takok and Sim Ome. To the clan members, these birds are sacred and must never be killed.

The majority of Nguan live in the districts of Nale, Viangphoukha and Luang Namtha in Luang Namtha Province, where their villages are near the Khuen, Lamet and Khmu Rok. In 1975 a number of Nguan families migrated to Houayxay District in Bokeo Province, where today they inhabit several communities. Laos is the only country where they live. The Nguan live in stilted houses. Craftsmen carve images into the stilts. Nguan roofs are made of wooden tiles and are not simply thatch as is the case with most tribal groups in Laos. Their villages are arranged with the houses in a circular pattern, facing towards a communal house in the middle. The Nguan are animists. They sacrifice chickens to appease the spirit of the forest, kill pigs to placate the spirit of the village, and cows or buffaloes to the spirit of the house.

Shamans are still active among the Nguan. Their main job is to preside over the annual rice festival when a pig is sacrificed. There are at least two churches among the Nguan, containing more than 200 believers. Most this people group, however, have yet to hear the gospel. Pray that they will choose to follow Christ rather than to sacrifice and worship evil spirits.

Ask God to empower the Nguan Christians to witness for his glory.

Pray for an outpouring of the conviction and grace of God to come upon Nguan people everywhere.

Pray for the Nguan people to understand that God provides for all of their needs, and they can put their faith in him alone.
19027 LA The Nyahon live on the Bolaven Plateau at a low altitude but are classified as Lao Theung (300-900m) simply because they are a Mon-Khmer group. The Nyahon ethnic group inhabit 30 villages in southern Laos, primarily on the eastern part of the Bolaven Plateau in Champasak Province. Others are found in neighboring Attapu and Xekong provinces. Despite their relatively close proximity to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, there is no evidence of Nyahon people living outside of Laos. The Nyahon used to wear their own style of traditional clothing, but they lost this custom at least three generations ago. Today the Nyahon wear normal Lao clothing.

Although in many respects Nyahon society is matriarchal, inheritance rights are divided equally between sons and daughters.

Pre-marital sex is not only allowed in Nyahon communities but is actually encouraged. 'Flower' houses are set aside for young people to spend the night together. After marriage, the husband must live with his wife's family. Animism has a strong hold on the Nyahon. They won't make a decision until they ask the spirits about their wishes. The Nyahon believe each person has seven souls. They especially revere a spirit called Brrah. Other spirits of nature include the spirit of trees, water, rice-field, thunder, and mountains.

Shamans, or spirit priests, conduct regular ceremonies where they make sacrifices and offer up prayers to protective spirits. They believe they can identify offended spirits by a ritual involving rice and the organs of a chicken. They hold special ceremonies in the event of a natural disaster or epidemic. The best immediate hope for the evangelization of the Nyahon may rest with believers from recent people movement to Christ that have occurred among several tribal groups in northern Cambodia. At this point, less than one percent of the Nyahon people are Christian. The Nyahon have been separated from the Gospel throughout their history. Pray many would soon hear.

Ask God to raise up laborers to plant churches among the Nyahon.

In prayer, disarm the principalities that have prevented the Nyahon from hearing and believing the gospel.
16148 LA Although they maintain a separate ethnicity, the Nyaw speak a language similar to Phutai. When people from the two groups meet, they are able to communicate with each other without too many problems except some different pronunciation and a few different words. Because of these similarities, the Nyaw were counted as part of the Phutai ethnic group in the 1995 Lao census.

The Nyaw live in central Laos. Their main location in Laos is within the Pakkading District of Borikhamxai Province, where they are spread out over almost the entire district. They spill over into the Pakxan and Borikhan districts of Borikhamxai, and also the Hinboun District of Khammouan Province. An unspecified number of Nyaw yo also live among the Thai Isan people in northeastern Thailand. More live in Thailand than Laos. Many Nyaw live along the Mekong River, which they fish from. The Mekong is the 12th longest river in the world (the 10th largest in terms of volume). Until recently, there was not a single bridge crossing the Mekong into Laos. The Thai-Lao Friendship bridge, constructed with the help of the Australian government, was opened in late 1993. The Nyaw believe in many spirits and gods. Buddhism has made little impact on them despite the fact they have lived alongside the Lao for a considerable time. Some of the major spirits worshipped by the Nyaw include the spirit of the rice, water, forest, village, and trees. They also worship the spirit of heaven, as do the Phutai.

There are a small number of known Tai Nyo Christ followers on both sides of the Lao-Thai border. They usually meet in Lao churches in Laos, or Isan churches in Thailand. Fervently intercede so that all Nyaw would soon receive a gospel witness, and many would trust in Jesus Christ.

Pray the gospel would spread among Nyaw families to those who remain trapped in spirit worship.

Ask God to raise up laborers to help start a church planting movement among the Nyaw.

Pray for the Lord to demonstrate his power and love by providing them with an abundant harvest this year.
14118 LA In Vietnam the O Du are acknowledged as an official minority nationality, but in Laos the O Du are not officially recognized at all. Neighboring people groups in Laos call the O Du Tay Hat, or Hat. This is a derogatory name meaning "rag people." They call themselves O Du.

Five centuries ago, the O Du were a large and prosperous group who lived along the Nam Mon and Nam Mo rivers in both Laos and Vietnam. At different times they were attacked by the Tai Dam, Han Chinese, Hmong and Khmu, who chased them away and took them as slaves.

The O Du people live in the Nonghet District of Xiangkhoang Province, directly on the Laos-Vietnam border. The area was previously known as Samnuea Province. The O Du like to build their houses on stilts and have thatched straw roofs. Inside, rooms are partitioned off with plaited bamboo. Despite being on the verge of extinction, the few remaining O Du are proud of their ethnicity.

The O Du language, which is part of the Northern Mon-Khmer family, is on the verge of extinction. It is only spoken by a few elderly people, who are greatly respected because of it. The O Du believe they must learn their language again in their old age so that when they die, they will be able to communicate with their ancestors. They fear if they cannot speak their language their ancestors will not be able to recognize them in the afterlife. In the same way, old O Du women carefully preserve a traditional garment. They put it on at the end of their lives so they can be presented to their ancestors. The O Du worship a multitude of spirits. They believe each person has a soul. When someone dies their soul leaves the body and resides in the house, watching over the family's activities.

Jesus Christ has never been named among the O Du. They remain an unreached people in both Laos and Vietnam. The O Du people need to put their trust and identity in the hands of the loving God of Creation who sent his son to make it possible for them to enter the Kingdom of God. The O Du have been slaves to people and demons for centuries. Pray they would soon find liberation in Christ.

Ask God to raise up laborers to plant churches among the O Du.

Pray that God would lead Khmu and Hmong believers to share the gospel with the O Du.
14238 LA The Oy say they originated in China and have lived in their present location for 150 years. Some of the Oy live in 21 villages on the fertile Boloven Plateau region of southern Laos and others live at the foot of the plateau. Many of the Mon Khmer groups in the south are grouped together so that the Oy live intermingled with Brau and Ngae peoples. Their principle crop is rice. In some ways, the Oy are adopting the culture of their neighbors. They still cling to ancestor worship rather than accepting Buddhism. Other than those communities that are isolated, they do not practice animistic ceremonies except in times of crisis. Then the rituals resume. There are Christian believers today meeting in several churches. The Laos government has persecuted the believers greatly, including imprisonment for their pastors.

The Overseas Christian Fellowship were the first mission to minister to the Oy. Part of their work was a leprosy clinic for 700 lepers in the area. The first believer was a shaman. After converting to Christ, he was murdered by his own people. They gouged out his eyes and dumped his body in the forest. Pray for the spiritual blindness and bondage to the evil one to be removed so they can understand and respond to Christ.

Pray for the Lord to provide for their physical and spiritual needs as a testimony of his power and love.

Pray the Oy people will have a spiritual hunger that will open their hearts to the King of kings.

Pray for an unstoppable movement to Christ among them.
14249 LA Pacoh means, "mountaineers." The Pacoh language is part of the Eastern Mon-Khmer linguistic branch. About 70% of Pacoh are mono-lingual, meaning they cannot speak any other language except their own. Only about 15-25% of Pacoh adults are able to read.

In Laos, the Pacoh inhabit the northern part of Saravan Province (Samouay District) and the southern part of Savannakhet Province (Nong District). These provinces are in an extremely remote mountainous area near the Vietnam border. At least several thousand Pacoh are also located inside Vietnam, where they are part of the official Ta Oi minority. The Pacoh are slash-and-burn agriculturists. They do not know how to weave, so they buy their clothing from the Kantua and other groups.

The Pacoh live in stilted houses in groups of ten homes, called vel. Each village has a communal house where social activities take place. Men go there to drink, receive guests, and boast about their hunting achievements.

After a long day in the field, the Pacoh love to come together and relax with singing and dancing. Traditional songs, called oat, express their joys and sorrows. They sing of the struggles their forefathers endured and the oppression and hostility they have faced from other ethnic groups who desired to take them as slaves. They have many poems, proverbs and puzzles that tell of the struggle between good and evil, and the true love and dedication between men and women. The Pacoh are animists. They construct spirit-houses on the outskirts of every village. The Pacoh pray to numerous gods, ghosts and deities for the protection and blessing of their communities, harvests and animals. Although there are about 100 Pacoh Christians in Vietnam, none of their counterparts in Laos have believed. The Gospels of Mark and John were translated into Pacoh by missionaries in 1965, but it is not known how many Pacoh in Laos could read it. The Pacoh are people in need of the gospel and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Pray for light of the gospel to clearly shine among them, drawing them to truth.

Ask the Lord of Lords to glorify himself among the Pacoh.

Pray for a movement to Christ among the Pacoh people in both Vietnam and Laos.,Savannakhet%20Province%20(Nong%20District).

10770 The Lao government does not count the Pala as a distinct ethnic group. It is probable they were officially counted as part of the Akha in the 1995 census, even though the Pala have a different autonym and language from other Akha groups in Laos.

The Pala live in a mountainous area near the Oma, a group they share some cultural and linguistic similarities with. The Pala are an isolated group, living at an altitude of between 800-1500 meters (2,600-4,920 feet) above sea-level. The Pala are considered relatively closed to new ideas and development. They mostly trade with the Lao and the Khmu. On occasions they venture down to the market in Koua where they buy and barter for products they need.

Pala people inhabit 26 villages in northern Laos. Fourteen Pala villages are located within the Mai District of Phongsali Province, with an additional 12 villages in Koua District. Pala women wear traditional clothing which they produce in their village. These days, they mostly wear their traditional clothes on festival days or when they go to the market. They add decorations of coins and aluminum to give a striking appearance. The women also adorn themselves with embroidered aprons, vests, trousers, and turbans. Both men's and women's everyday clothing are made of simple blue indigo cloth. Animism and ancestor worship are the dominant religious beliefs among the Pala. Every home has a sacred ancestral altar where they make rituals and offerings at appointed times. The Pala worship other spirits and deities. Every June, after they plant the rice harvest, they hold a ceremony called Tgelapeu to honor the spirits of the village and the harvest. Other religious ceremonies are held whenever there is a birth, death, or wedding among the Pala. A spirit-priest is called upon to officiate. He acts as a mediator between the Pala and the spirits, taking the people's requests and prayers to the realm of the spirits. The Pala are completely unreached by the gospel. Few have ever heard of Jesus Christ. Possibly the only Christian community in southern Phongsali is among the Khmu. They may represent the best opportunity for the Pala to hear. Ask God to send Khmu Christians to share Christ with the Pala. Pray for smooth communication.

Pray the Holy Spirit would draw many Pala to himself.

Pray the Lord would put a desire to seek the truth in the hearts of many Pala people in Laos.
18892 LA The Phana have never appeared in official government literature in either Laos or China. Small groups with little influence tend not to exist" in nations where there is no benefit to be gained from acknowledging small ethnic groups like the Phana. Despite their small population, there are three clan divisions among the Phana in Laos: Sing Di, Sing Chao and Sing Pong.

A mere 350 members of the Phana ethnic group live in two distinct areas of northern Laos. Two villages (Bopiet and Namtoung) are located in the Luang Namtha District of Luang Namtha Province, near the Laos-China border. One additional village of Phana is located further south, in the Houayxay District of Bokeo Province.

There are possibly several thousand Phana living in southern Yunnan Province, China, where they are officially included under the Hani nationality. The Phana in Laos say they migrated from China eight generations ago, under the authority of a Chinese leader named Lateu Kouang. They arrived first in the Viangphouka District of Luang Namtha, before dispersing to their present locations. Traditionally, the Phana lived in the mountains, but in the last 35 generations some have moved down to the plains and valleys.

What Are Their Needs?

They have learned how to grow irrigated crops, and now intermingle with other ethnic groups. Today, it is difficult to tell the Phana apart from the Lu, Lao and Khmu. The Phana have not worn their traditional dress for many generations, but now wear Lu and Lao clothing.

The Phana build their houses similar to the Hmong. This may have contributed to them being erroneously placed in the "Miao-Yao" section of Laurent Chazee's 1995 book, as the Phana language is actually part of the Tibeto-Burman language family and is related to Akha. Some Phana are bilingual in Lahu.

The Christian world has had some contact with the Phana however. Sometime in the past, missionaries helped produce a gospel recording cassette in the Phana language. Unfortunately, because few people have even heard of the existence of the Phana, we don't know if this tool has ever been used.

Prayer Points

Pray the Holy Spirit would prepare the hearts of many Phana in Laos and China to receive salvation leading to a movement to Christ in both countries.

Ask God to send his children to take Christ to the Phana.

Pray the Phana would soon worship God in their own culturally-relevant and God-glorifying churches.

Scripture Prayers for the Mlabri in Laos.

Profile Source:   Joshua Project  

People Name General Mlabri
People Name in Country Mlabri
Alternate Names Ma Ku; Mla; Mrabri; Phi Tong Luang; Toong Luang; Yellow Leaf; Yumbr; Yumbri
Population this Country 90
Population all Countries 500
Total Countries 2
Indigenous Yes
Progress Scale 1
Unreached Yes
Frontier People Group Yes
GSEC 0  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed 1
People ID 13749
ROP3 Code 106686
Country Laos
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 31  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Xaignabouri province, phiang district   Source:  Faces of the Unreached in Laos, 1999
Country Laos
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
Persecution Rank 31  (Open Doors top 50 rank, 1 = highest persecution ranking)
Location in Country Xaignabouri province, phiang district.   Source:  Faces of the Unreached in Laos, 1999
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 0.00 %)
0.00 %
Ethnic Religions
100.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %
Primary Language Mlabri (90 speakers)
Language Code mra   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Unknown
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Mlabri (90 speakers)
Language Code mra   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Mlabri

Primary Language:  Mlabri

Bible Translation Status:  Translation Needed

Resource Type Resource Name Source
None reported  
Photo Source Copyrighted © 2023  Peoples of Laos, Asia Harvest  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Map Source Joshua Project / Global Mapping International  
Profile Source Joshua Project  
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Learn more.