The Young Family’s Work with the Wa People

William Marcus Young.
Copyright of Marcus Young.

William Marcus Young (永伟里), an American[1] missionary from Nebraska, came to Burma in 1892, perhaps under the auspices of the Boston Missionary Society. He and his wife established a mission in the area of the town of Kengtung in the Shan state (northeastern Burma). The mission buildings which William Young built in 1936 still stand today near the gate in the northern Kengtung town wall. They form the background for the picture at lower left.

His son Marcus Vincent Young (永文生, 永文森, Vinsin Yang) continued his missionary work, expanding to what is now southwest Yunnan province of China in 1912.[3] They devised the Latin-script transcriptions for both Lahu and Wa. Vincent Young founded a church and missionary school in the present Nuofu 糯福 district of Menglian 孟连 county, Yunnan, which the Youngs referred to as "Banna" or "Bana" (Tai/Shan for "rice-growing district" as in Xishuangbanna, or "the twelve rice-growing districts"). The school educated hundreds of Lahu and Wa students, many of whom became Christians and pastors of Christian congregations throughout the Wa-speaking area, including Menglian, Lancang 澜沧, Cangyuan 沧源, Shuangjiang 双江, and Gengma 耿马 counties.[4] In 1933 Vincent Young and his Wa colleagues published a "Wa Hymn Book," Lai Ra Praok, identified on the title page as in the "Kaishin Dialect."[2]

Vincent Young at work translating
(click for full team, including Rev. Yaw Ta,
Rev. Yawsu and others).
Copyright of Marcus Young.
This was possibly the first major publication written in Wa, in the pioneering orthography which came to be known among the local people as salawen 撒拉文, or "pastoral script." In the following two years they issued translations of parts of the Bible, first Lai Yohan, Gospel of John in Wa (Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1934), then Lai Mahteh, Gospel of Matthew in Wa (ibid. 1935). Then in 1938 they published a translation of the complete New Testament.[5]

The great-grandson of William M. Young and grandson of M. Vincent Young, Marcus Young (Makheu Yang), continues the family tradition today doing agricultural and orphanage work among the Wa people from a base in Mae Sai, Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand.[6] The Wa translation of the complete Old Testament, along with an updated Wa translation of the New Testament, worked on for over a decade by a team of Wa translators assembled by Marcus, was published in Thailand during 2005.

[1] Xiao Yufen and Wang Jingliu, "Wayu 'yancao' yici yuyuankao,", Wayu yanjiu, p. 170. (Full bibliographical details for works cited here can be found in the table of publications in and about the Wa language.) This source gives the year as 1887 and claims, as do several other Chinese sources, that Young was "British", but this has been corrected, based on the explanation of his grandson Dr. Philip Young (personal communication to RAK 2004.12.08).

[2] Listen to a track from a CD of Wa hymns. The 2001 Fourth Revised Edition of the hymnal, meticulously edited by the great Wa educator Ai Pao Pleek Sgu (Moses), has been added to our corpus of Wa texts (words only).

[3] Zhao Furong, "Wazu," in "Miao, Yao, She, Gaoshan, Wa, Bulang, De'angzu wenhuazhi," p.469.

[4] Xiao and Wang, p. 170.

[5] Hpuk lai sigang si siyeh pa hkrao [The New Testament in Wa] 佤文新约全书 by British and Foreign Bible Society, London, and printed by American Baptist Mission Press, Rangoon, Burma 1938. Reprinted 1950, 1985 (with Chinese title page, Yunnansheng Jidujiao Sanzi Aiguo Yundong Weiyuanhui/Yunnansheng Jidujiao Xiehui). Also republished in part as Lai Mahteh [Book of Matthew] (Rangoon, 1951).