Pa-O in Thailand

Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

The large majority inhabits the south-western part of Shan State in Myanmar. The geographical center of the Pa-O could be considered the mountains around the towns of Taunggyi and Kalaw. A smaller number of Pa-O live in Mon State, Karen State and as far south as the Tanintharyi (formerly Tenasserim) Division on the Gulf of Martahan in the southern tip of Myanmar.
Pa-O also live inside Thailand, inhabiting four villages within the Muang District of Mae Hong Son Province. The Pa-O in Thailand fled Myanmar in 1975 because of the terrible social upheavals and human rights abuses committed by the military junta.
The Pa-O are called Taungthu by the Burmese, which means 'hill people '. The British colonialists called them Black Karen because most Pa-O women wear black or dark blue dresses. The Pa-O language shows them to be part of the great collection of Karen groups in Myanmar and Thailand, which together have 20 language groups. Many Pa-O do not even know of this connection to the Karen, however, and consider themselves a unique people group.
The Pa-O believe that their ancestors 'fled north to Shan State from the Mon City of Thaton, in Lower Burma, after the overthrow of the Mon King Manuha in the eleventh century by King Anawrahta of Pagan '. This defeat took place in 1057. Today the Pa-O are the second most numerous ethnic group in Shan State after the Shan.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The lives of the Pa-O vary depending upon whether they live in urban or rural areas. In the countryside the Pa-O live much like their ancestors cultivating rice, vegetables, tropical fruits and coconuts. Most Pa-O villages raise chickens, goats and pigs to supplement their diets. Some men fish and work in the logging industry. Most Pa-O villages have an elementary school. Children often quit school after a few years to help their family make a living.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The people, however, still hold onto some animistic beliefs, and spirit shrines and magnificent wooden temples dot the outskirts of villages. One key area in which the Pa-O differ from other Karen groups is in their religious beliefs. While most of the Karen are either animists or Christians, the Pa-O have been a strong Buddhist group for many centuries. Buddhism has influenced all Karen groups to some degree, but Buddhism dominates every area of the lives and communities of the Pa-O. In Myanmar, most Pa-O villages can be identified by the magnificent wooden temples that are constructed on the outskirts of their villages.
One source states, 'The Pa-O people are Buddhists. They consider ordination as a novice even greater merit than ordination as a monk. During the first day of the novice ordination ceremony, called poi sang long, the sounds of drums, gongs and cymbals echo between the mountain ridges, when boys with shaved heads are taken from their homes to the temple. However, they still retain animist beliefs to some extent, but much less than the Pwo and Sgaw Karen. They worship spirits, such as the house and tree spirits and spirit shrines are located outside villages or near pagodas, where offerings can be made. '

What Are Their Needs?

The Pa-O would greatly benefit by access to modern medicine. Some of their isolated villages do not have electricity. Solar panels brought by teams of believers would help them. Most of all, the Pa-O need to hear and respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. He alone can forgive their sins and free them from their fear of evil spirits.

Prayer Points

Ask the Lord to send dedicated workers to the Pa-O people of Thailand.
Pray for their material and spiritual needs to be met, causing them to understand the loving work of the sovereign God.
Pray for great breakthroughs with a rapid multiplication of disciples and house churches.
Pray for an unstoppable movement to Christ among Pa-O of Thailand to come soon.

Scripture Prayers for the Pa-O in Thailand.


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

Profile Source:   Joshua Project  

Shan State

Source:  Asia Harvest      Download

People Name General Pa-O
People Name in Country Pa-O
Pronunciation pah-OH
Alternate Names Black Karen; Karen; Pao Karen; Pa'o Karen; Taungthu; Tau-soo; Tau-sooo
Population this Country 900
Population all Countries 867,000
Total Countries 2
Indigenous Yes
Progress Scale 2
Unreached No
Frontier People Group No
GSEC 6  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed
People ID 10892
ROP3 Code 101515
ROP25 Code 303732
ROP25 Name Karen
Country Thailand
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Location in Country Mae Hong Son province.   Source:  Ethnologue 2016
Country Thailand
Region Asia, Southeast
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Location in Country Mae Hong Son province..   Source:  Ethnologue 2016

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Ethnolinguistic map or other map

Primary Religion: Buddhism
Major Religion Percent
70.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 1.00 %)
25.00 %
Ethnic Religions
5.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %
Primary Language Pa'o
Language Code blk   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 1
Primary Language Pa'o
Language Code blk   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Pa'o

Primary Language:  Pa'o

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible-Portions Yes  (1912-1964)
Bible-New Testament Yes  (1961-2009)
Bible-Complete No
FCBH NT ( Online
Possible Print Bibles
World Bibles
Forum Bible Agencies
National Bible Societies
World Bible Finder
Virtual Storehouse
Resource Type Resource Name Source
Audio Recordings Audio Bible teaching Global Recordings Network
Audio Recordings Story of Jesus audio Jesus Film Project
Film / Video God's Story video God's Story
Film / Video Jesus Film: view in Pa'o Jesus Film Project
Film / Video World Christian Videos World Christian Videos
General Bible for Children Bible for Children
General Faith Comes By Hearing - Bible in text or audio or video Faith Comes by Hearing
General Gospel resources links Scripture Earth
Text / Printed Matter The Ancient Path Live Global
Photo Source Copyrighted © 2024  Kerry Olson  All rights reserved.  Used with permission
Video Source Asia Harvest
Profile Source Joshua Project 
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Learn more.

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