Introduction / History The Black Tai are widely scattered throughout Central and Southern Thailand in Nongkhai, Korat, Loei, and Saraburi. Their tonal language, Tai Dem, belongs to a larger cultural-linguistic grouping of people known as the Tai. The Tai include the Laotians, the Shans, and others.
The Black Tai, together with the White Tai, were named for the color of their women's blouses. Their language can be partially understood by the White Tai, and those who have had prolonged contact with both groups become bilingual; however, each group has a distinct writing system.
The Black Tai of Thailand are descendants of former captives of war from Muang Thaeng. The Thai emigrated south from China due to unending Chinese pressure. As they traveled, they conquered many peoples and cultures. In 1932, a bloodless revolt of Westernized intellectuals led to a democratic monarchy. This brought on many governmental changes and military riots.
What are their lives like? The family is the basic unit of the Black Tai society. They live, eat, and farm together. The entire immediate family often lives together under one roof, and there is mutual respect for one another at all levels. Sometimes a newly married couple lives with the wife's family until they can establish their own home.
Among the Black Thai, both sexes dress in black. The women wear long cloaks with large sleeves, or black bodices with tight-fitting, narrow sleeves and black skirts.
The Black Thai live in valleys where they cultivate wet rice, making use of irrigation and terraces. They also farm on mountainsides and grow opium as a cash crop.
They are organized into small village territories, each limited to a single valley. Each village is under the control of the chao muong, or prince, to whom the commoners pay taxes. As a whole, their society is organized on the basis of age, occupation, wealth, and residence. Within this hierarchy, rural farmers have a place below the craftsmen, merchants, and city government officials, and the clergy are a separate group.
They are a patriarchal society, which means that the oldest male is the head of the tribe. Within Tai families, husbands and wives generally live in harmony and there is almost no division of labor by gender. Both the women and men plow, hoe, fish, cook, tend babies, clean house, and wash clothes.
Although most of the Black Tai are farmers, many who live along trade routes have specialized occupations, such as blacksmithing. Since new road construction projects are allowing more accessibility, they often travel to sell their items.
The Black Tai are unusually polite, respectful, and hospitable. Children are taught from a young age to accept a code of social behavior based on respect for those who rank higher, with additional emphasis on independence and self-reliance. They are very sympathetic people and are full of humor.
What are their beliefs? The vast majority of the Black Tai practice ethnic religions. Theravada Buddhism is mixed with folk animism, meaning that the people often seek help through supernatural spirits and objects. They believe in a multiple personal soul and have ceremonies for recalling the soul and strengthening the individual personality within. They practice ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance), and believe that there are spirits within every object and person. They also believe in guardian spirits and "locality spirits," which are identified with different levels of society. These spirits must be appeased so that they might avoid curses and receive blessings.
What are their needs? The history of the Black Tai indicates that they have not known peace for any extended period of time. Only a few hundred Christians have been found. As a spiritually inclined people, they need to have God's power revealed to them.
Prayer Points * Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Thailand and share Christ with the Black Tai.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Black Tai Christians.
* Pray for faithful intercessors who will stand in the gap for the Black Tai.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Black Tai toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Pray for the development of Christian materials that can be used as tools to share the Gospel with the Black Tai.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Black Tai.