Profile Source: Bethany World Prayer Center
Introduction / History
China is a land of great diversity in geography, climate, languages, and ethnic groups. It is home to approximately 180 distinct groups, including the 12,000 Mahei who live in Yunnan Province of southern China. They are generally included with the Hani, one of China's 55 national minorities, although some scholars think they may be related to the Akha, who live in the same area. Their origin is not known, but legends say that their nomadic ancestors gradually migrated south from a far away northern plain. Since their language is of the Tibeto-Burmese group, some believe that they originated in Tibet.
Where are they Located?
The Mahei live near the Myanmar border in an area that is characterized by forested mountains, abundant rainfall, and rich soil. Their farmers are noted for building tiered terraces along steep mountain slopes. Their small farming villages usually consist of 30 to 40 homes. Centuries of isolation in the high mountain terrain have left the Mahei socially and economically backward.
What are Their Lives Like?
The family unit is considered to be very important among the Mahei. Some aspects of family life, however, differ from region to region. For instance, monogamy (one husband, one wife) is the rule in some areas, while having multiple spouses is common in others. "Family order" is both patriarchal (male dominated) and patrilineal, meaning that a male child becomes part of the father's lineage, while a female will become part of her husband's lineage. Male children are given names that are connected with their father's name, but females are not.
The Mahei are well known for their sincere hospitality. When a guest enters a Mahei home, he is offered wine and strong tea. If he declines the drinks, the family will be highly offended; if he drinks them, the host will generously serve him with the finest he has to offer.
The Mahei celebrate several major festivals each year, the most notable being the New Year festival. This seven day event is celebrated at harvest time, during the tenth month. At noon on New Year's Day, an announcer throws three balls of blackened rice behind him to bid farewell to the old year. He then greets the new year by tossing three balls of white rice in front of him. Next, he pushes the ropes of a special swing and all of the people, regardless of sex or age, begin swinging. (They believe that this will ward off disaster and ensure a prosperous year.) That evening, the villagers stand around a bonfire eating, drinking, singing, and dancing. At midnight, the announcer cuts down the frame of the swing to signify the end of the festival and the beginning of a new work year.
During times of celebration, the Mahei wear attractive tribal costumes of hand-woven cotton dyed blue or black. The men wear distinctive jackets and turbans, while the women wear collarless blouses and special caps.
What are Their Beliefs?
Traditionally, Mahei beliefs were a combination of animism (belief that non-human objects have spirits), polytheism (belief in many gods), and ancestor worship (praying to the dead for blessings and guidance). Trees in the "holy hills" were believed to be their guardian spirits. Today, most still adhere to similar beliefs, however, approximately 28% are Buddhist. They are very superstitious and view certain events, such as the birth of twins or handicapped children, as unlucky. These children are killed, their parents banished, and their homes and possessions burned. They believe in the existence of many ruling spirits, such as spirits that rule over heaven and earth, spirits that protect their villages, and evil spirits that bring diseases.
The Mahei have three major religious leaders: the zuima (a male elder who directs all religious activities), the beima (males who perform magic and exorcisms), and nima (fortune tellers and medicine men).
What are Their Needs?
Since China's government strictly forbids Christianity, there are currently no missions agencies working among the Mahei. The Bible has not yet been translated into their language and there are no Christian broadcasts in their area. Intercession and missions activity are necessary for these people to hear the Gospel.
* Pray that God will give the Mahei believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* Ask God to speed the completion of evangelistic materials into the Mahei language.
* Pray that the doors of China will soon open to missionaries.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Mahei Christians.
* Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Mahei language.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Mahei.
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