Introduction / History
Lying along the China Sea in southeast Asia, Vietnam is home to a number of distinct people groups. However, the majority of the population is ethnic Vietnamese. Historical upheavals forced the major people groups to intermingle with others, separate, and eventually live in scattered localities. Their cultures, languages, and lifestyles were all affected, resulting in a somewhat blurred national character.
At the end of the 1700s when Vietnam was in chaos, several ethnic groups united with the native groups of Thai speaking peoples. These people became known as the Tho. Today, they are regarded as an official minority in Vietnam. They prefer to be known as "Tay," since the term "Tho" is now considered derogatory.
Since the 1945 revolution and the reunification of North and South Vietnam, many changes have taken place. Various agencies are currently working to improve their standard of living.
What are their lives like?
The Tay are mostly peasants who live in the low, sloping mountains between the high mountains and the plains of southeast Asia. They grow wet rice and use slash and burn techniques to grow dry rice, maize, buckwheat, watercress, sugar cane, and other vegetables. They grow hemp and use it for making bags and nets for fishing. They sell or exchange products for household items and use forest products for food.
Traditionally, the Tay were master hunters. They used traps, cages, and automatically triggered arrows. Today, they hunt very little because of the changed ecological conditions.
The Tay mainly live in houses built on the ground. These houses are private property, as are their accompanying gardens. However, there are still some Tay who live in houses built on stilts. The architecture of these homes is simple, without the fancy gables and decorative work commonly seen on other houses. Today, nearly all the Tay are part of a collectivized agricultural program in the form of community (collective) farms. Farm land is seen as community property that people are free to use, but not own.
Villages used to be the center of economic activity, with local markets rotating among a series of villages and trading mainly with the Vietnamese and Chinese communities. Today, however, the Tay have been primarily assimilated into the Vietnamese society.
Tay families are usually small and the line of descent is traced through the father. Children begin school at six years of age and older. There, they begin studying the Vietnamese language. Young people choose their own marriage partners, and after a betrothal ceremony, many marriage rituals are performed. The groom is expected to perform some work for the bride's family as payment.
What are their beliefs?
The Tay worship a multitude of gods. Ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for protection and guidance) is commonly practiced. The Tay are also animistic (believe that non-living objects have spirits).
Traditionally, most Tay villages had temples where they worshipped a multitude of gods associated with earth, water, fire, and important ancestors. Many other spirits and ghosts were also worshipped. The major ceremony of the year was held at the beginning of the farming season, when the various deities were asked permission to prepare the farm and plant the seeds. Folk literature and art were also of importance in religious life.
What are their needs?
Over 44 years of war played havoc with the Vietnamese economy, making recovery particularly slow. Moreover, Vietnam remains one of the few Communist nations of the world.
Prayer is the first step toward seeing these people reached with the Gospel.
Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Vietnam and share Christ with the Tay.
Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of Tay Christians.
Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Tay 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.
Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Tay.