There are about half a million Wa living in the isolated hills of northeast Myanmar (Burma). Up until the early 1970's. their tradition of inter-clan headhunting kept outsiders away and the Wa themselves fragmented. The communists. who dominated the area during 22 years of civil war with the government. curtailed the headhunting and gave them a greater sense of unity as a people. They also prohibited religious practice in favor of atheism. and left them weary. destitute. short of men and dependent on the opium trade to feed their people.
The needs of the Wa are all-encompassing. Both spiritual and physical needs seem overwhelming. The basic Wa religion is animism. where sacrifices are made to various spirits in order to appease their anger. It is a religion based on fear and uncertainty. They need to learn about the love. power and confidence that come through trusting in Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice on their behalf. Their physical needs are also compelling. The population is now heavily widows and orphans. with infant mortality estimated at 50%. They have neither a medical care nor an educational system. and the literacy rate is only 3%. They live in bamboo houses with grass thatch roofs and much of their region has been denuded of trees for use as fuel. They are currently able to grow only about 3 months of food for their people. so they must sell opium in order to buy food for the remaining 9 months. Unfortunately. the Myanmar government seems to oppose any development among the Wa. They fear a strong. independent Wa nation. so would rather keep them oppressed. poor and weak.