Introduction / History
The Northeastern Tai, also known as the Lao Isan or Thai Isan, are dispersed throughout 17 provinces in northeastern Thailand. This area takes up nearly one third of Thailand's total land mass. It is basically a flat arid plain known as the Khorat Plateau with infrequent rainfall and few natural resources. The region is noted for its archeological relics and monuments dating back to Khmer influence under the Angkor wat regime.
Many of the present-day residents of the Khorat Plateau were forcibly relocated to this hostile region over a period of a hundred years from the Lan Chang Kingdom in what is now the People's Democratic Republic of Laos. Later the people, the region and their language was labeled by Siamese kings as Isan, the word for northeast. Even though this region is now fully incorporated into Thailand and all residents are Thai, the Lao Isan language, unique diet, ritual and culture continues to thrive among this people group.
A number of people that we call Thai Isan have migrated to other parts of the world, including New Zealand. These are usually women who are looking for economic security. Typically, they live in rural areas where local women do not want to live.
Where are they located?
Most of the Thai Isan people in New Zealand are in Wellington. They have their own Buddhist temple in Karori.
What are their lives like?
It is very common for Thai Isan women to move to Western countries like New Zealand to marry local men. This arrangement seems to work well, be it in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, or Iceland. However, the men need to understand that their wives are marrying for economic security, not love. Commonly a Thai Isan woman will marry a man who lives in a remote place where local Western women do not want to live. In New Zealand, she might find herself a farmer's wife, helping to tend sheep. Since the Thai Isan are from a rural part of Southeast Asia, this usually is not a big adjustment.
However, since she is probably the only Asian in a remote place where everyone else speaks English, this can cause her to be lonely. There is a Thai Association in New Zealand, and this provides them with some comradery with people from the old country. Ironically, it is called "Thai" though the people are actually Thai Isan, a different ethnic group from a different part of Thailand.
What are their beliefs?
More than half of them are Theravada Buddhists. They follow the teachings of Gautama Buddha and seek to eliminate suffering and improve their future by gaining merit in their present lives. Ultimately, they are in pursuit of nirvana, or perfect peace. They believe that merit can be acquired through feeding monks, donating to temples, and frequently worshiping in the temples.
Many of the Thai Isan continue to practice their traditional ethnic religions particularly for important rites of passage. They combine Buddhist teachings with folk religious practices, seeking help through the worship of spirits and venerated objects.
What are their needs?
The Thai Isan people in New Zealand need to understand their worth in God's terms, not man's terms. They rely on a religious system that blends animism and Buddhism where they and the spirit beings are simply using one another. God the Father has a far better way to live!
* Pray for Thai Isan people in New Zealand to put their worth in God, not in the world system.
* Pray for those who will produce culturally appropriate art, music, and drama materials that will help the Thai Isan people to understand Jesus Christ.
* Pray that God will call forth teams of long term missionaries and intercessors who will commit to seeing a Disciple-Making movement among the Thai Isan people in New Zealand.
Text source: Keith Carey