The Pana are an ethnic subgroup of the Akha who, in turn, have been officially placed under the Hani nationality in China. Because of this classification, few people know about the Pana, who view themselves as a distinct people group. In many areas today it has become difficult to tell the Pana apart from the Tai Lu.
The Pana now living in Laos say they migrated from China eight generations ago, under the authority of a Chinese leader named Lateu Kouang. They first arrived in the Viangphoukha District of Laos before settling down in their present locations. In China the Pana came under the control of the Xishuangbanna Tai Lu rulers in the past, who extracted tax and tribute from them.
Traditionally the Pana settled in the remote mountains, where they lived peacefully without trouble from other ethnic groups. The past 35 years in Laos have seen a number of Pana migrate down to the plains and valleys, where they have learned to grow irrigated crops. Despite their small population, at least three separate clan divisions exist among the Pana - each named after a sacred kind of bird, which the members of that clan are not allowed to kill. Most Pana no longer wear their traditional style of dress, except during festivals and other important occasions such as weddings and funerals.
Spirit worship and ancestor worship are practised by the Pana. In many respects the Pana rituals mirror those of their Akha neighbors and relatives, although it appears they do not follow the Akhazang system that is a dominant feature of the Akha throughout Southeast Asia.
Although few outsiders have ever heard of the Pana ethnic group of southern China and northern Laos, the Christian ministry Gospel Recordings in 1967 produced a cassette tape message of the good news in the Pana language. Unfortunately, because of the relative obscurity of the Pana, few mission organizations have ever made use of this resource to take the gospel to the Pana in their own language. Today, there are no known Christians among the Pana in either China or Laos. There are very few believers among any of the ethnic groups in Mengla County.