Prayer Profile
The Northeastern Tai of Thailand

[IMAGE] The Northeastern Tai, also known as the Siamese, are dispersed throughout seventeen provinces in northeastern Thailand. This area takes up nearly one third of Thailand's total land mass. It is basically flat, with a few mountains rising up through the plains. This area is one of Thailand's most beautiful terrains, and boasts an abundance of intriguing plateaus, cliffs, caves, rivers, waterfalls, and woodlands. The region is also noted for its archeological relics and monuments.

Hundreds of years ago, the Tai migrated southward from China's Yangtzekiang province to escape Chinese oppression. As they traveled, they conquered many peoples along the way. During the eighth or ninth century, they began to settle along the Mekong River.

By the tenth century, large numbers of Tai had reached Thailand and Laos. Today, they speak Northeastern Tai (Isan) in their homes, but some are also fluent in Chinese and Central Tai, the official language of Thailand.

What are their lives like?
Most of the Northeastern Tai are farmers. They grow wet rice, cassava, and sugarcane by using irrigation and terracing. Like other Tai groups, they also raise cattle. Fruit and fish are abundant, and supplement their daily diet. Agricultural production remains low, however, due to the relatively dry climate and the saltiness of the soil. Although some industry is hindered by the shortage of water, the Northeastern Tai are still able to produce their world famous mud-mee silk.

The Northeastern Tai are organized into small village territories, each of which is limited to a single valley. Each village is under the control of the chao muong, or prince, to whom the commoners pay taxes. As a whole, 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 make up a separate group. The husband is the head of the household, although the wife is responsible for managing the family budget.

The Northeastern Tai are well known for their friendliness and openness. They are family and community oriented, which makes them generally non-competitive and easy-going.

Because northeastern Thailand frequently suffers from drought, the people who live there are often thought of as poverty stricken. Yet, the Northeastern Tai have become an urban, industrial labor force, and many of them have found jobs as factory workers.

Although the Northeastern Tai may be culturally less developed than the Northern and Central Tai, public education and better communication lines in the northeastern area have brought great improvements in the last generation.

What are their beliefs?
More than half of the Northeastern Tai are Theravada (orthodox) Buddhist. They follow the teachings of Buddha (the "enlightened one") and seek to eliminate suffering and improve their future by gaining "merit" in their present lives. Ultimately, they are in pursuit of nirvana, or perfect peace. They believe that merit can be acquired through feeding monks, donating to temples, and frequently worshipping in the temples. Traditionally, young men enter a Buddhist monastery for three months to study Buddhism.

Many of the Northeastern Tai continue to practice their traditional ethnic religions. They combine Buddhist teachings with folk animism, seeking help through the worship of spirits and objects.

What are their needs?
Approximately 100,000 people in northeastern Thailand are blind due to vitamin deficiency, venereal disease, or indiscriminate use of medicine. Sadly, those who become blind are ostracized from society, since the Buddhists believe that even a child's blindness is "a result of sins committed in a previous incarnation." The Northeastern Tai desperately need Christian medical teams who can treat their physical as well as spiritual blindness.

Prayer Points

  • Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are currently working among the Northeastern Tai.
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio to the Northeastern Tai.
  • Ask God to speed the completion of the Jesus film and other evangelistic materials into the Isan language.
  • Pray that the Lord will give the Northeastern Tai believers opportunities to share the Gospel with their friends and families.
  • Ask God to send Christian doctors and nurses to work among the Northeastern Tai.
  • Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that are keeping the Northeastern Tai bound.
  • Pray that God will call forth teams of intercessors to stand in the gap for these precious people.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Northeastern Tai by the year 2000.

See also the following Groups:
The Southern Tai of Thailand; The Northern Tai of Thailand; and The Central Thai of Thailand.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Northeastern Tai
  • Country: Thailand
  • Their language: Isan (Kaleung)
  • Population: (1990) 14,722,200
    (1995) 15,572,000
    (2000) 16,398,000
  • Largest religion: Buddhist 60%
    Ethnic religionist 39.1%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 140,148
  • Scriptures in their own language: Bible
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 12
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 7,147,500 (46%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 918,700 (6%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 6,228,800 (40%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 8,424,500 (54%)
  • Country: Thailand
  • Population: (1990)55,582,700
  • Major peoples in size order: Central Tai 34.6%
    Northeastern Tai 26.4%
    Northern Tai 10.5%
    Southern Tai 7.8%
  • Major religions: Buddhist 91.6%
    Muslim 4%
    Chinese folk religionist 1.4%
  • Number of denominations: 40

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Bethany World Prayer Center

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