Introduction / History The Southern Tai live in about fourteen different provinces in southern Thailand. They usually live on the beaches and in the marshy swamplands, which gradually reach the foothills of jungle-covered mountains and into lush valleys. Although Thai is the official language of the country, most Southern Tai speak their tonal language, Dambro, at home.
Centuries ago, the Southern Tai lived in China. However, relentless pressure by the Chinese gradually forced them to move southward. They conquered many peoples and cultures as they sought a new homeland.
By the tenth century, they were in southern Thailand in substantial numbers, mixing with the Mon-Khmer and Negritos of the land. A bloodless revolution in 1932, led by Westernized intellectuals, instituted a democratic constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has had many governmental changes and military upheavals.
What are their lives like? The Southern 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 Southern 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 Southern 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.
Wet-rice farming and cattle production dominate the agricultural economy. The Southern Tai are also skilled gardeners, famous for their large fruit plantations. Rubber and coconuts are the most important products in the far south. The marshes are rich in fish, and Southern Tai fishermen deliver a quota of salted fish for export to Singapore. Tin mining is another source of revenue.
The wealthier Southern Tai live in sturdy, wood-paneled homes that are raised off the ground and have planked floors and tile roofs. Those with less income typically live in bamboo framed houses with thatched roofs and dirt floors. Hepatitis and malaria are severe problem in rural areas.
What are their beliefs? More than half of the Southern Tai are firm believers in Theravada (orthodox) Buddhism, which was introduced into Thailand in 329 B.C. Tai Buddhists devoutly follow the principles of Buddha (the "enlightened one") 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. They also follow the old tradition that a man should enter a Buddhist monastery for three months to study Buddhism.
The large Sunni Muslim influence comes from Malaysia. Southern Tai Muslims believe wholeheartedly in semangat, a "soul substance" found in everything from inanimate objects and animals to human beings. They believe that the loss of semangat results in poor crops, poverty, and illness. They believe that evil spirits cause illness, so every village has a bomo, which is a man of high moral character who puts himself into trances to exorcise the evil spirits and thus heal the sick person.
For the Southern Tai, Buddhism and Islam are both combined with folk animism, a practice in which they seek help through the worship of supernatural spirits and objects.
What are their needs? Although several missions agencies have labored among the Southern Tai, response has been low. Few of the Southern Tai are Christians and the majority have never heard a clear presentation of the Gospel.
Prayer Points * 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 missions agencies focusing on the Southern Tai.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number Southern Tai Christians.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Southern Tai towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a holy and growing Southern Tai church for the glory of His name! * Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.
References Note: Identity trumps speech for the Thai groups. Even though they speak a different - although related - language, they completely understand and self-identify as Thai rather than as Southern Thai. They function in standard Thai in school, on the web and in TV and national news and politics. There are a number who speak Northern Thai in addition to those in other countries who also speak it but who do not identify as Thai.