Phunoi in Thailand

Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

The Phunoi are a Tibeto-Burman group living in northern Thailand. Little is known about them, except that they are closely related to the Bisu, Pyen, and Mpi, whose locations in Thailand are uncertain. Without specific information about the Phunoi, this profile is based on their location and the influence of their Thai surroundings.

The Phunoi are part of the Lolo linguistic groups, whose origins were possibly in northwestern China, and who seemed to be the dominant power in southern China during the eighth and ninth centuries. In the early ninth century, they mounted a series of raids as they made their way into Southeast Asia. They were later conquered by the Mon peoples.

The language most Phunoi families use in the home is also called Phunoi, and it is a member of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic family. Central Thai is the official language of Thailand and is distinct from the Phunoi language. Many Phunoi are likely fluent in Central Thai.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Phunoi live in the northern part of Thailand, east of the provincial city of Chang Mai. This area is primarily inhabited by a number of tribal peoples, all of whom share a somewhat similar lifestyle and culture.

Agricultural production remains low, however, due to the relatively dry climate and the saltiness of the soil. Because northeastern Thailand frequently suffers from drought, the people who live there are often thought of as being poverty stricken. Yet, these people have become an urban, industrial labor force, and many of them have found jobs as factory workers.

Phunoi society is hierarchically organized on the basis of age, occupation, wealth, and residence. The rural farmers have a place below the artisans, merchants, and government officials of the cities. The clergy are a separate group.

The basic unit in society is the family. The immediate family usually lives together under one roof, with each generation treating the other with mutual respect. They live, eat, and work together. Occasionally, a newly married couple will live with the bride's family until they are able to establish their own independent home.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Phunoi are ethnic religionists. Ethnic religions are generally syncretistic, and most often blend aspects of animism and ancestor worship. Animism includes the belief that forces and aspects of nature (wind, rivers, trees, earth) are connected with spirits or supernatural beings. These spirits are hardly ever worshipped or consulted regarding moral issues of life. Rather, they are points of contact for people who are attempting to solve the urgent practicalities of life, such as securing food, curing illness, and averting danger. Most of these spirits are local deities who are not to be truly worshipped, but venerated and hopefully manipulated to the petitioner's advantage through sacrifice and ritual.

Ancestor worship, is the belief that the spirits of deceased ancestors are alive and need to be fed and cared for. Ancestral spirits of mythical leaders often are believed to have power over matters of concern to the entire society, such as rain and the growth of crops and cattle; whereas, the spirits of heads of families and clans are said to influence matters of immediate concern to the particular families. The spirits are generally regarded as very helpful to their living descendants. They are propitiated through sacrifices and rituals in established ceremonies, as well as at times of crisis.

What Are Their Needs?

The Phunoi have many physical needs. Hepatitis and malaria are serious problems in rural areas. Perhaps Christian doctors and nurses will have the greatest opportunities to minister to the Phunoi.

Spiritually, the Phunoi are also very needy. Prayer is the key to seeing them reached with the Gospel.

Prayer Points

* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Phunoi.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Pray that God will give Phunoi believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
* God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Phunoi Christians.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Phunoi church for the glory of His name!

Profile Source:   Bethany World Prayer Center  

People Name General Phunoi, Cong
People Name in Country Phunoi
Population in Thailand 1,000
World Population 42,000
Total Countries 3
Indigenous No
Progress Scale 1
Unreached Yes
Frontier People Group No
Unengaged Yes (per Finishing the Task)
GSEC 1  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed 1
Alternate Names Phu Noy, Punoi, Xa Xam Khoong, Xa Xeng, Xam Khong
People ID 14382
ROP3 Code 108015
Country Thailand
Region Southeast Asia
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Location in Country Chiangrai   Source:  Ethnologue 2010
Country Thailand
Region Southeast Asia
Continent Asia
10/40 Window Yes
National Bible Society Website
Persecution Rank Not ranked
Location in Country Chiangrai.   Source:  Ethnologue 2010
Primary Language Phunoi (1,000 speakers)
Language Code pho   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Unknown
Total Languages 1
Other People Groups Speaking Phunoi
Primary Language Phunoi (1,000 speakers)
Language Code pho   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 1
People Groups Speaking Phunoi

Primary Language:  Phunoi

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible-Portions No
Bible-New Testament No
Bible-Complete No
Resource Type Resource Name
None reported  
Primary Religion: Ethnic Religions
Major Religion Percent
20.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 0.13 %)
0.50 %
Ethnic Religions
79.50 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
Other / Small
0.00 %
0.00 %
Christian Segments Percent
0.0 %
10.0 %
0.0 %
Other Christian
0.0 %
45.0 %
Roman Catholic
45.0 %
Photo Source Bethany World Prayer Center 
Map Source Bethany World Prayer Center  
Profile Source Bethany World Prayer Center  
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Read more

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