Introduction / History The Tai Lue inhabit the tropical forests and valleys scattered throughout northern Thailand, especially around Chiangrai at the border of Laos. Thailand is located in the center of mainland Southeast Asia and was once known as "Siam." Other Tai Lue communities can be found in China, Myanmar (formerly Burma), and Laos.
China is the original homeland of the Tai Lue, however many have migrated south due to pressure by the Chinese. During World War II, when the establishment of a Communist regime ended the Tai Lue kingdom, they fled to Burma and Northern Thailand.
The tonal language of the Tai Lue belongs to the southwestern group of Tai languages. Most of the Tai Lue are bi- or tri-lingual. Central Thai is the language used in schools; Northern Thai is used in town for trade and employment; and Lu is used exclusively for talking to other Tai Lue people. They are proud of their native language and are eager to be identified as Lu.
What are their lives like? Most of the Tai Lue are farmers living in river valleys. There, they grow wet rice for consumption and sale. They still use primitive, wooden equipment drawn by buffalo. The Tai Lue are also good fishermen and clever silver smiths. The men fabricate the famous Tai Lue swords, and the women's specialties include weaving and embroidery.
The refugee population of northern Thailand, particularly in the town of Mae Sai, is restricted by the Thai government as far as their movement. Many of these earn a living by making reed brooms, while others are employed in factories as cutters and polishers of precious stones.
Tai Lue villages are located either on raised ground surrounded by rice fields, or on high ground on either side of a road or pathway. Their houses are the characteristic Thai "pile" dwellings, with floors made of split bamboo and straw thatched roofs. Each village is headed by a semang, or chief, whose task is to choose the right place to sow rice. Rather than a strict form of social control, there is evidence that witchcraft is used to keep the people oppressed. Public opinion, gossip, and the like are manipulated in Lu villages.
Tai Lue men are bigger, taller, and stronger than the Shan or Northern Thai. They traditionally dress in blue coats; dark blue bell trousers with bands of red, yellow, or white; and large white turbans. The men are known for their unusual and picturesque sword dances. The women wear light blue embroidered jackets that are adorned with small pieces of silver. They also wear red or scarlet skirts and turbans.
Homes contain ancestral shrines that are used during marriage ceremonies and in the control of sexual behavior. Premarital sexual relations seem to be accepted among the Tai Lue. Once a couple is married, their living arrangements are decided according to which household most needs the services of the couple.
What are their beliefs? The majority of the Tai Lue practice ethnic religions. Thervada Buddhism is often mixed with folk animism. They believe that non-human objects have spirits, and that people have multiple souls. They also believe that there are "territorial spirits," which are identified with different levels of society. In addition, they practice ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance). They live in fear of their gods and constantly strive to appease them with religious chants, rituals, and sacrifices.
The Tai Lue put great emphasis on reincarnation, believing that if they live a good life they will be reborn into a higher social order. If they are wicked, however, they will be reborn as degraded animals.
What are their needs? Progress has been slow with the Tai Lue of Thailand. Their only copies of the New Testament are from a 1933 translation in which they can no longer read.
Prayer Points * Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Tai Lue towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
* Ask God to raise up long-term workers to live among the Tai Lue.
* Pray that God will call out prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of believers.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will complete the work begun in their hearts through adequate discipleship.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Tai Lue of Thailand.