The Tai of Malaysia
Approximately 20,000 Thai live in northern Peninsular Malaysia bordering Thailand. Living in a tropical, mountainous region, they dwell along rivers or near roads. They speak a tonal language called Thai and are part of a larger people group known as the Tai.
Originally from China, the Thai emigrated south due to unending Chinese pressure, conquering many peoples and cultures along the way. By the tenth century, they were in southern Thailand in substantial numbers. Eventually, they moved as far south as Peninsular Malaysia.
The Malay culture has been strongly influenced by that of other peoples, including the Thai. The city of Bangkok has played a major role in Peninsular Malaysia since the thirteenth century, and mutual respect exists between Thailand and Malaysia. Originally, the rivers were the means for political and diplomatic relations. Today, however, highways and railways maintain trade and communication between the two nations.
What are their lives like?
Wet-rice agriculture and cattle-breeding dominate Thai economy. The people are also skilled gardeners, famous for their large fruit plantations. In addition, they now have large rubber plantations. Some Thai work in tin mines, while others are good fishermen, delivering a quota of salted fish for export to Singapore. In the north, rubber and coconuts are the most important products.
Traditionally, Thai social structure consisted of a somewhat feudal organization with distinct class divisions between nobility and commoners. Although the head of a village was a commoner, he was required to report to a nobleman who was the overseer of a district. Weakness of power on the part of the overseer led to the breakdown of this system. The nobility has now been replaced by appointed and elected officials subject to a parliament, but class distinctions are still a notable part of Thai society.
The Thai are mainly a rural people, living in villages rather than towns. Houses are usually built on stilts four to eight feet high and have thatched roofs. The wealthier Thai, however, have homes with plank floors and tile roofs. The typical household consists of a husband, his wife, and their children.
In general, the Thai are very polite, respectful, and hospitable. Children are taught from a young age to accept a code of social behavior based on respect for those of higher rank. Independence and self-reliance are also emphasized. Traditionally, marriages have been arranged by the parents.
The Thai, especially in northeastern Peninsular Malaysia, enjoy participating in popular puppet performances. Thai instruments, which include drums and small bell cymbals, are used, and Hindu-based prayers are offered to the gods in the Thai language. The actual play, however, is in the more common Malay language.
What are their beliefs?
The official religion of Malaysia is Islam. Despite the claim of religious freedom, there is severe pressure for radical Islamic reforms and the formation of an Islamic state. There are also discriminatory laws and actions against all non-Muslims. A relatively small number of Thai (2.4%) have given in to such pressures and have converted to Islam. The majority, however, have remained Theravada Buddhists. In addition, some remnants of their ethnic religion can still be found, such as their constant attention on guardian spirits and their various ceremonies for good harvests or good weather.
What are their needs?
Although there are many Christian resources in the Thai language, it is illegal to witness to Muslims in Malaysia. Every effort is made to prevent the conversion of the small ethnic communities to Christianity. There is also much discrimination and bureaucratic obstruction. Worship services in private homes are strongly discouraged, and churches are closed on the weakest of pretexts. Governmental restrictions make it extremely difficult for missionaries to work in traditional ways. Urgent prayer is needed for the spiritual climate of Malaysia to be penetrated with the light of the Gospel.
- Ask the Lord of the harvest to send Christians who will witness with their lives to the Thai of Malaysia.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to give creative ideas for evangelism to the missions agency that is targeting the Thai.
- Pray for the Lord to use the Jesus film to soften the hearts of the Thai towards the Gospel message.
- Ask God to open the spiritual ears of the Thai as they listen to Christian radio broadcasts.
- Pray that God will give the Thai believers courage to share Christ with their own people.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Thai bound.
- Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
- Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Thai church for the glory of His name!
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Tai
- Country: Malaysia
- Their language: Thai
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 121
- Scriptures in their own language: Bible
- Jesus Film in their own language: Available
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
- Mission agencies working among this people: 1
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 9,400 (47%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 10,700 (53%)
- Country: Malaysia
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 41
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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