Introduction / History The Black Tai live along the banks of the Red and Black Rivers in northern Vietnam. Some moved south and are now settled mainly in Tung Nghia, Tho Thanh, and Pleiku. 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 are named for the color of the women's clothing. Their language is not clearly understood by the White Tai, and each group has a distinct writing system.
From China, the Tai emigrated south due to unending pressure by the Chinese. In 1895, the French ruled Vietnam in what became a joint rule with Japan for a short period after 1941. Communist rebels emerged and military regimes formed, leading to severe blood-shed until the Communist Republic of North Vietnam was pushed south in 1975. The Black Tai have strong ethnic pride and are part of the Thai official nationality in Vietnam.
What are their lives like? 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 generally live at higher altitudes and are less "Vietnamese" and more energetic than the White Tai. They are very sympathetic and full of humor, seeking any opportunity for feasting.
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. The family is the basic unit of their society, and unlike most Asian groups, the Black Tai do not generally live in extended families.
Their spacious houses are artistically designed and built on stilts with bamboo or wooden walls. The tortoise shell shaped roofs of their bamboo houses distinguish them from the White Tai's rectangular roofs. Their houses are clean and orderly, and the villages are usually surrounded by bamboo fences.
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 sex. Both the women and men plow, hoe, fish, cook, tend babies, clean house, and wash clothes. The men are known to be lazy, however, and the women do most of the work, often chewing leaves of the betel palm as a stimulant. The Tai enjoy a reputation of cloth-weaving.
The farming of wet rice dominates the economy, grown both as a dietary staple and for cash sales. The farmers are organized into agricultural cooperatives, sharing equally in production. In addition, small-scale industrialization led to the entry of Tai agricultural peasants into the Vietnamese working class.
The spread of small pox, cholera, tuberculosis, and malaria was rampant, but they have been brought under control by better medical schools and hospitals.
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? More missionaries are needed to minister healing and hope to these war-torn people.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Vietnam and share Christ with the Black Tai.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Black Tai Christians.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Black Tai toward Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
Pray that God will open the hearts of Vietnam's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
Pray that God would call teams of medical missionaries to Vietnam to help the Black Tai.
Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Black Tai.
Pray for those who "convert" to follow Christ, but quickly fall away.
North, along Red and Black rivers, Son La, Dien Bien, Yen Bai, Lai Chau, Lao Cai, and Phu Tho provinces; south, Lam Dong province, Tung Nghia; Dac Lak province, Tho Thanh; Gia Lai province, Pleiku; elsewhere. (Source: Ethnologue 2016)