The Tung of China
The Tung first appeared in China somewhere between AD 960 and 1279. Some researchers think that they are probably the descendants of a group of people who lived in southern China for more than 2,000 years. Their true origin, however, is not clearly defined. They are often thought of as "water-dwellers" because their houses rest on poles over the water.
It wasn't until 1958 that the first writing system using Roman letters was developed for the Tung. However, most of them still continue to use the Chinese "ideographs," or picture words, in their written communications. Some of the ancient Chinese characters, or "pictograms," seem to indicate that the Chinese were once a culture that believed in one god.
What are their lives like?
Tung men are primarily agriculturists and grow rice and cotton. They also breed fish, work in forestry, and produce oil that is used in paints and varnishes. Tung women work alongside the men in the fields during planting and harvesting times. They are also skilled in weaving and embroidery work. The typical Tung girl is taught to weave and embroider when she is seven years old. About five years later, she begins working on her wedding outfit. Marriage usually occurs at the age of 17 or 18. After marriage, women live with their parents until after the birth of the first child.
One traditional Tung custom is the planting of a fir tree for each newborn baby. The trees, which are expected to mature in about 18 years, are appropriately called "18 year trees." They are then harvested and used to build houses for the newlyweds.
The Tung tend to cluster by families or as clans in villages. These villages may contain anywhere from 50 to 600 families; and, a typical village will consist of families having only one or two surnames. The village elders usually preside over local judicial matters. Traditionally only the men could inherit land, although women were given a few small plots they could cultivate.
The Tung are a very people-oriented community. When farm work is less demanding, for example, villagers and their guests assemble at the "drum tower." This is a round wooden structure built without nails and may be as tall as 30 meters (100 feet). Villagers gather around the drum tower to sing, share news, tell stories and play games. They are very fond of music and enjoy playing home-made flutes and bamboo pipes. During spring festivals, young couples who are attracted to each other will pair off and sing to each other all night.
What are their beliefs?
One god, a "kitchen god," is worshipped during their spring and fall festivals. In the spring they ask him for steady plant growth; and in the fall, for an abundant harvest.
What are their needs?
Peoples, such as the Tung, who practice pantheism and the worship of many gods, find it very hard to lay their beliefs aside and put all of their faith into only one God.
There have been some evangelistic efforts made at reaching the Tung; however, the Bible has not yet been translated into their language. This makes it very difficult to disciple new believers.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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