Identity The Tai Dam (Black Tai) are so named because of the predominant color of their traditional clothing, and also because they live along the banks of the Black River. In China, where they have been included in the official Dai nationality, the Tai Dam are also known as the Jinping Tai after the county they inhabit.
The Tai Dam use an ancient Indic script, which seems to have been the forerunner of the current script used by the Thai people in Thailand. Tai Dam has some intelligibility with Tai Kao.
History The Tai Dam people are believed to have originated in southern China but gradually migrated into Southeast Asia due to oppression by the Chinese. The Tai Dam even had their own government in north Vietnam for a short time in the 1950s. The spread of smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and malaria was rampant among the Tai Dam in the past, decimating entire communities.
Customs It is common for all the elders of a Tai Dam family to be equally responsible for raising children. Each village is under the control of a Chao Muong, or prince.
Religion The Tai Dam are one of the few members of the great Tai race never to have embraced Buddhism. They are animists. They believe that "non-human objects have spirits, and that people have multiple souls. These spirits must be appeased so that they might avoid curses and receive blessings." The Tai Dam in Vietnam believe in the King of Heaven who founded the city of Dien Bien Phu, formerly called "Heavenly City" by the Tai Dam. They believe there used to be a vine which reached from the earth to heaven. One mother was upset because her son kept climbing the vine to fellowship with God. She cut the vine and ever since then the Tai Dam have been unable to communicate with God.
Christianity Several years ago a young Tai Dam man was imprisoned in southern Vietnam. He found Christ through the witness of a Vietnamese pastor, who was incarcerated at the same time for his faith. After his release, the young man returned to his village and shared his new faith. Impressed by the dramatic change in the ex-criminal's life, 753 Tai Dam turned to Christ and were baptized. In contrast to the Tai Dam church in Vietnam, which now numbers several thousand,9 few of their counterparts in China have ever heard the gospel. Translation work is currently under way to bring more of God's Word to the Tai Dam people.
More than 34,000 Tai Dam live in Jinping County in southern China's Yunnan Province. The majority of Tai Dam are found in northern Vietnam where approximately half a million live around the city of Dien Bien Phu. They also extend into nearby areas of Laos and "to the south-west into central Thailand due to conquest and deportation by the (Bangkok) Thai in the early nineteenth century." Most of the 50,000 Tai Dam now living in Laos fled there in the 1950s after the Communist terror in north Vietnam. Refugee communities of Tai Dam are also located in such diverse places as Iowa, USA; Sydney, Australia; and Paris, France. (Source: Operation China, 2000)