The Black Tai of Vietnam
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 after World War II. 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?
Ninety-five percent 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. Presently, three missions agencies are working with the Black Tai, and while some progress is being made, much remains to be done.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Black Tai bound.
- 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.
- Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to complete the translation of the Bible into the Tai Dam language.
- 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 by the year 2000.
See also the following Black Tai groups:
The Black Tai of Thailand;
The Black Tai of China; and
The Black Tai of Laos.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Black Tai
- Country: Vietnam
- Their language: Tai Dam
- Largest religion:
- Christians: 4.4%
- Church members: 26,502
- Scriptures in their own language: Portions
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
- Mission agencies working among this people: 3
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 255,400 (43%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 346,900 (57%)
- Country: Vietnam
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 20
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.