Introduction / History
The Black Tai of Laos live in the narrow upland valleys of Khammouan Province. 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.
Due to pressure from the Chinese, the Tai emigrated south and made their homes along the Red and Black Rivers and in the landlocked country of Laos. Others are located in Thailand and Vietnam. After years of invasions, a series of land wars, and possession by the French, Laos has finally entered into good relations with all of its neighbors as well as Russia and the United States. The Black Tai have been able to preserve their traditional way of life almost exactly as it was before the expansion of the Tai-speaking peoples into Indochina.
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.
The family is the basic unit of their society. They live, eat, and farm together. Entire immediate families often live together under one roof, and there is mutual respect for one another at all levels. Sometimes newly married couples live with the wife's family until they can establish their own home.
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. Tribesmen are considered citizens of Laos, but most of them have no real representation in the government. The 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 Black Tai are a patriarchal society, meaning that the oldest male is the head of the tribe. 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. Chinese merchants also visit the villages.
What are their beliefs?
The vast majority of the Black Tai practice ethnic religions. Buddhism is also mixed with folk animism. They believe that non-human objects have spirits, and that people have multiple souls. They also believe that there are "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.
Ancestor worship is also common among the Black Tai. They believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors are alive and need to be fed and cared for. These spirits are said to become hungry and dissatisfied when they are not properly appeased, turning into evil spirits. The people pray to these spirits for help and guidance.
Many of the Black Tai are shamanists, believing in a host of unseen gods and demons. They depend on shamans (priests or priestesses) to cure the sick by magic, communicate with the gods, and control events.
What are their needs?
The Tai have been greatly affected by the fighting and bloodshed of the past. They need healing and new spiritual hope.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Laos and share Christ with the Black Tai.
* Pray that the doors of Laos will soon open to missionaries.
* 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 Laos' governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Black Tai.