Most of the White Tai (who are named for the color of their women’s clothing) live in northern Vietnam along the banks of the Red and Black Rivers. A few have settled in the Tung Nghia region of southern Vietnam. In 2000 their population was estimated at 826,483. Although the White Tai are part of the Thai official nationality in Vietnam, they are not native to the land. Originally from China, they emigrated south to Vietnam because of unceasing pressure by the Chinese. However, settling in Vietnam did not bring them peace. By 1895, the French ruled Vietnam in an Indo-Chinese Union. After World War II, France and Japan governed the country jointly until Japan disarmed the French. Communist rebels emerged and military regimes formed, leading to severe blood-shed until the Communist Republic of North Vietnam spread to the South in 1975.
The White Tai speak a tonal language, Tai Don. They are members of a larger cultural linguistic group of Tai peoples, which includes the Shan, the Laotians, and others.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The White Tai are extremely polite, respectful, and hospitable. Children are brought up to respect those of a higher rank, and to be independent and self-reliant. Type of occupation, wealth, and place and type of residence follow age in terms of respect and rank. Rural farmers rank below craftsmen, merchants, and city government officials. Clergy are a separate group. Families are the core of White Tai society. In rural villages, the entire immediate family often lives together. Although the father is considered the head of the family, White Tai husbands and wives appear to have peaceful relationships. In fact, the White Tai are distinguished by an almost equal division of labor by sex. Both men and women plow, till, fish, cook, care for the children, clean house, and wash clothes.
Wet-rice, the main agricultural crop, is grown for consumption as well as for cash sales. The White Tai are also excellent cloth weavers. Their spacious, artistically designed houses (which are built on stilts) have rectangular roofs, which distinguish them from the Black Tai’s tortoise-shaped roofs. Tai culture has changed dramatically as a result of the transition from a feudal to a socialist society. Farmers now belong to agricultural cooperatives, and small-scale industrialization has helped turn Tai agricultural peasants into a Vietnamese working class. New social structures have also brought improved education and health care. Some medical schools and some hospitals have been built. These have helped gain control over diseases such as small pox, cholera, tuberculosis, and malaria.
Religion and Beliefs
Over half of the White Tai combine folk animism (belief that non-living objects have spirits) with Buddhism. They worship various spirits and objects, and also believe that people have “multiple personal souls.” They hold ceremonies for “recalling” the souls because they believe that this will strengthen the individual personality. The White Tai believe in spirits of the dead, the natural world, the political world, various localities, etc.
Nearly 40% of the White Tai are Buddhists. They are followers of Buddha (“the enlightened one”) and seek to eliminate suffering and improve their future by gaining merit in pursuit of perfect peace, or nirvana. They believe that merit can be acquired through feeding monks, donating to temples, and attending worship services. Traditionally, young men enter village monasteries for about three months to study Buddhism.
What Are Their Needs?
Currently, there is only one missions agency working among the White Tai of Vietnam. Unfortunately, only 5% of White Tai profess to be Christians. Only part of the scriptures have been translated into Tai Don. Although the Jesus film is not yet available in Tai Don at this time, some Christian broadcasts are being aired in their area. The White Tai have been deeply scarred by all of the fighting and bloodshed in the past. They desperately need healing and new spiritual hope.
-Ask the Lord to send additional laborers into Vietnam to work among the White Tai.
-Pray that God will raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil of Vietnam through intercession.
-Ask God to grant wisdom and favor to the missions agency that is currently targeting the White Tai of Vietnam.
-Pray that God will speed the completion of the Jesus film and other evangelistic materials into the Tai Don language.
-Ask God to anoint the Gospel as it goes forth via radio to the White Tai.
-Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the small number of White Tai Christians.
-Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to complete the translation of the Bible into Tai Don.
-Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the White Tai.