THE Iu-MIENH PEOPLE

Who are they and where have they come from?

The Iu-Mienh people are one of six ethnic groups that have for centuries been called "Yao" by the Chinese, Southeast Asians and others. Some have innocently adopted this term, which to the Iu-Mienh themselves means "barbarians." For this reason, the tribe strongly prefers the term "Iu-Mienh", which to them means "the people"-and all others are outsiders.

In China there are 2 to 3 million Yao. Of these an estimated 700,000 are Iu-Mienh. The name is also spelled Iuh Mienh or Yiu-Mienh and they most often shorten it to Mienh. In the unified script spelling of the language the "h" is written at the end of "Mienh" to denote the falling tone with which the word is pronounced. In English we usually write simply "Mien." In Vietnam "Yao" is written "Dao."

HISTORY

Iu-Mienh originated in China. Some records indicated these people were known as early as 1500 B.C. in central China. Others say that their existence became known about 500 B.C.

With the increasing dominance of the Chinese population, the Iu-Mienh were gradually forced into mountain areas. For various reasons, including a resistance to levies imposed by the Chinese government, a search for freedom and an escape from famine, a number of Iu-Mienh moved from the Shantung and central areas of China into Southeast Asia. The majority remain in the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces of south China.

One branch of the Mienh has legends of having traveled by sea on a difficult voyage after which they say they began their animistic spirit worship.

The Iu-Mienh migration from China was made in two different movements. The first group of Iu-Mienh migrated into northern Vietnam in the 1700's. These people are called "Man", another Chinese term for "barbarians." The migration of the Iu-Mienh into Thailand and Laos did not occur until the mid-nineteenth century.

As early as 1963, the Iu-Mienh in Namtha, a northernmost province of Laos and a center for United States' CIA mercenary forces, were engaged in CIA activities led by a warlord "Chaomai" and his brother "Chaola". They were gradually forced to abandon their villages as the Pathet Lao, the Lao communist force supported by North Vietnam, gained more and more territory. "The long-standing family cooperation with the Royal Lao, French and United States governments (the U.S. in particular) naturally means that they and their followers would be marked for execution in the Communist takeover" (Hartmann, John).

Escaping persecution and seeking freedom, most of the Iu-Mienh in Laos moved south and then west. They fled across the Mekong River into Thailand where they were confined in refugee camps in the northern provinces of Chiengrai and Nan. In those camps food was insufficient and life was difficult.

But many have since been resettled in various countries around the world. Today, there are about 25,000 Iu-Mienh people in the United States. Most of these are located in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. In China, there are still 700,000 Iu-Mienh. Approximately 300,000 are in Vietnam. In Thailand, there are 40,000. There are still some left in the war torn country of Laos. These are numbered to be about 10,000. There are also Iu-Mienh people in other countries such as France, Canada, New Zealand, Denmark and possibly in Australia and Burma.

The Iu-Mienh are one of the newest tribes currently making a new life in the United States who survived through many disastrous war experiences. Life in America is as tough for many as it was in Laos when the Communists were taking over. Cultural shock was awaiting like a lion ready to devour these newcomers as they arrived. Due to the language barrier, many can not get a job and they do not have a piece of land to raise their own food. Many wish they had not come here to America.

For a Iu-Mienh to learn English is not as easy as it is for an American to learn a foreign language. The Iu-Mienh are not an industrialized people. The Iu-Mienh culture and language have been kept alive by oral tradition. Their written language has not been developed until recent decades. Thus, learning English is not just learning a language to them. It is like teaching a baby to speak: the whole process of learning a language (language acquisition) is involved. Therefore, if we want to succeed in bringing these people the message, it is important that we consider using the primary language as a vehicle.

CUSTOMS

Mienh women in Thailand and Laos wear black embroidered trousers, black jackets with red wool pom-poms around the neck and down the front, and black turbans. The dress of the women in China and Vietnam varies considerably from this. In western countries western dress is worn usually now except for special occasions.

For the most part they have lived in remote mountain villages of Asia growing rice, corn, vegetables and opium and raising pigs and chickens and using horses for hauling supplies.

Premarital sexual encounters have been normal. Monogamy is the norm but there are many cases of polygamy.

Traditions and history have commonly been passed on by means of antiphonal chanting of questions and response.

RELIGION

The great majority of the Mienh still practice a form of Taoism in which they worship and seek by involved rituals, incantations, and offerings to get on the good side of the spirits of their ancestors. In addition they feel bound to practice a form of polytheistic animism in which they endeavor to placate the spirits of the tiger, the knife, and numerous other "jungle" spirits. Magical curses are put on enemies.

Those who fled Laos as refugees have been most open to the Gospel. Christians now are estimated at 4,100 + in U.S., 1,200 in Thailand, and 1,600 in North Vietnam and a few elsewhere.

ESTIMATES OF IU-MIENH POPULATION
Prepared by C.W. Callaway Oct. 1997

Families

Individuals

Christian Community

Baptized Believers

WASHINGTON (Seattle)

400

2,000

360

110

OREGON (Portland,Aloha,Salem)

400

2.000

400

120

CALIFORNIA
  • REDDING

270

1,400

300

90

  • OROVILLE
  • 60

    300

    70

    25

  • N. HIGHLANDS
  • 60

    300

    132

    30

  • SACRAMENTO
  • 1,000

    5,400

    800

    240

  • RICHMOND & vicinity.
  • 1,000

    5,400

    900

    320

  • OAKLAND
  • 400

    2,000

    240

    70

  • SAN JOSE
  • 60

    300

    30

    10

  • MERCED
  • 400

    2,000

    408

    120

  • FRESNO, STOCKTON, etc.
  • 120

    600

    16

    4

  • VISALLIA
  • 200

    1,000

    345

    100

    ILLINOIS

    10

    60

    50

    10

    ALABAMA, MISS., TEXAS, etc.

    10

    70

    15

    4

    ALASKA

    40

    200

    65

    10

    U.S.A. TOTALS

    4,000

    23,000

    4,100

    1,200

    CANADA

    20

    100

    75

    20

    FRANCE

    140

    700

    150

    40

    DENMARK

    2

    12

    8

    2

    NEW ZEALAND

    7

    35

    0

    0

    THAILAND

    8,000

    40,000

    1,200

    300

    LAOS

    6,000

    30,000

    120

    30

    N.VIETNAM

    50,000

    300,000

    1,600

    400

    CHINA

    140,000

    700,000

    ?

    BURMA (None remaining ?)
    GRAND TOTALS

    200,000

    1,000,000

    7,200

    2,000

    Please send me an email note with any needed updates to the information shown on any of these pages.
    Thanks, C.W. Callaway. My email address is: postmaster@motherteacher.org  
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