The Muei Tai of Laos
The Muei Tai are recent immigrants into central Laos, living in the Khammouan Province. While the time of their appearance in Laos can be traced to the 1920's, their movement into the country has been a long, continuous process. For many centuries, numerous generations of Tai peoples have migrated from southern China towards the Mekong River delta. The Muei Tai are generally assumed to have come from an area somewhere west of Hanoi in present day Vietnam. Their language is a dialect of a commonly known language, Tai Dam (or Black Tai). This has no reference to color but to the closeness of their original home to the Black River in Vietnam.
After years of invasions, a series of land wars, and possession by the French, Laos has finally entered into good relations with its neighbors and with distant countries, such as Russia and the United States. Independence from France was gained after World War II, but Laos remains dependent on other nations due to their lack of access to the sea.
What are their lives like?
The Muei Tai are an unusually polite, respectful, and hospitable people. Children are taught from a young age to accept a code of social behavior based on respect for those who rank higher in society. Additional emphasis is placed on being independent and self-reliant.
Most Muei Tai make their living as migratory, swidden ("slash and burn") cultivators. Reluctantly, some of the Muei Tai are venturing into terrace farming and irrigation for rice production. They are feared by many surrounding non-Tai tribes who find them warlike and who disapprove of their tendency to destroy the forests.
Although patriarchy (male domination) is still the foundation of their social structure, Tai husbands and wives live in harmony. There is almost no division of labor by sex. Both men and women as well as men plow, till, fish, cook, tend to the children, clean house, and wash clothes.
The village, rather than the extended family, is the most important social unit among the Muei Tai. However, the household is valuable for the continuation of the village because it is the foundation for production and consumption. The decisions regarding marriage are based on building a strong, economical household rather than kinship. Marriages are arranged by the couple's parents and mediated by a pholam, or "go-between," who is chosen on the basis of his honesty and good judgment. The wedding begins with a ceremony called a baci. This is a ritual of binding the khwan ("spirits of life") to the person by tying cotton threads around his wrists. Following the wedding, the bride and groom live with the husband's family, and only later will the couple establish a separate household.
What are their beliefs?
The Muei Tai are ethnic religionists. Their religious practices often include aspects of animism (belief that non-human objects have spirits) and ancestor worship (praying to deceased relatives for help or guidance). Muei Tai religious life revolves around the spirit world. Public worship is addressed to the "phi muang" (village spirit), whose shrine is usually placed in the bush somewhere in the vicinity of the village. Offerings are made twice annually, once at the time of growth of the crops and again after the harvest. The "phi heuan" (household spirit) is the object of more individual worship, such as prayer. In serious situations, a spirit medium is employed to communicate with the spirits and to find out how to appease them.
Unlike the Buddhists around them, the Muei Tai dispose of their dead by burial, not by cremation. They believe that the village or household spirits never allow cremation and would kill the children of the deceased if it is done.
What are their needs?
A complete translation of the Scriptures is needed for the Muei Tai, along with a Tai Dam version of the Jesus film and discipleship materials. Most of the Muei Tai have not yet heard a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They need the opportunity to meet the One who can give them the refreshing Water of Life.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities that are keeping the Muei Tai bound.
- Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to work among the Muei Tai.
- Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will break up the soil through worship and intercession.
- Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agencies that are targeting the Muei Tai.
- Pray that God will reveal Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to complete the work begun in the hearts of the Muei Tai believers.
- Ask God to speed the completion of the Jesus film and other Christian materials into the Tai Dam language.
- Ask the Lord to bring forth a triumphant Muei Tai church for the glory of His name!
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Muei Tai
- Country: Laos
- Their language: Tai Dam
- Largest religion:
- Christian: 4%
- Church members: 1,562
- Scriptures in their own language: Portions
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 2
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 11,700 (30%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 27,400 (70%)
- Country: Laos
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 8
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Bethany World Prayer Center
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