Introduction / History
The White Tai are an influential people who inhabit the narrow upland valleys of northeastern Laos. The White Tai, together with their neighbors, the Black Tai, were named for the color of their women's clothing.
Centuries ago, the White Tai lived in China. Relentless pressure by the Chinese gradually forced them southward. Eventually they settled along the Red and Black Rivers, where they found themselves in the landlocked country of Laos and completely dependent on others to survive. Laos endured years of invasions, a series of land wars, and then a French colonial possession. Now an independent country, Laos has good relations with all of its neighbors, including countries such as Russia and the United States. However, the lack of an outlet to the sea means it is still dependent on outsiders.
The White Tai speak a tonal language, Tai Kao. They are members of a larger cultural linguistic group of Tai peoples that includes the Laotians, the Shan, and others.
What are their lives like?
The White Tai are extremely polite, respectful, and hospitable. Their children are brought up to respect those of a higher rank and to become self-reliant individuals. Age is highly respected in White Tai society. Type of occupation, wealth, and place and type of residence follow age in terms of respect and rank. Rural farmers rank below craftsmen, merchants, and city government officials; and clergy are a separate group.
Families are the core of White Tai society. In rural areas, the entire immediate family lives together with mutual respect for each other. A young married couple may live with the wife's family until they can establish their own home. The father is considered the head of the family, and White Tai husbands and wives appear to have a harmonious relationship. In fact, the White Tai are distinguished by an almost equal division of labor by sex. Both men and women plow, fish, cook, tend to the babies, clean house, and wash clothes.
The White Tai live in small, self-governing villages that are usually limited to a single valley. Each village is under the control of the chao muong, or prince, to whom the commoners pay taxes. Although the White Tai are Laotian citizens, they have very little say so in the government.
Most of the White Tai live on small valley farms, where they grow wet rice using irrigation and terraces. Opium is often grown as a cash crop. The construction of new roads has helped increase accessibility to the rural areas. Chinese shops have opened in several market towns and Chinese merchants often visit the villages.
What are their beliefs?
Over half of the White Tai combine folk animism (belief that non-living objects have spirits) with Buddhism. They worship various spirits and objects, and also believe that people have multiple personal souls. They hold ceremonies for recalling the souls because they believe that this will strengthen the individual personality. The White Tai believe in spirits of the dead, the natural world, the political world, various localities, etc.
Many White Tai are Buddhists. They are followers of Buddha ("the enlightened one") and seek to eliminate suffering and improve their future by gaining merit in pursuit of perfect peace, or nirvana. They believe that merit can be acquired through feeding monks, donating to temples, and attending worship services. Traditionally, young men enter village monasteries for about three months to study Buddhism.
What are their needs?
The White Tai have been deeply scarred by all of the fighting and bloodshed in the past. They desperately need healing and new spiritual hope.
* Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth additional laborers into Laos to minister to the needs of the White Tai.
* Pray that God will raise up prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to any missions agencies focusing on the White Tai.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of White Tai Christians.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the White Tai towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth many vigorous Christian fellowships for the glory of His name!