Tai Dam people
Tai Dam speakers in China are classified as part of the Dai nationality along with almost all the other Tai peoples. But in Vietnam they are given their own nationality (with the White Tai) where they are classified (confusingly for English speakers) as the Thái nationality (Tai people).
The Tai Dam originate from the vicinity of Dien Bien Phu, in Vietnam, the original area of occupation of the Tai people in the early history of the Tai settlement of Southeast Asia according to the legend of Khun Borom, the legendary progenitor of the Tai-speaking peoples. They called this area Muang Then, the land of God, a name that still applies to the valley around Dien Bien Phu.
The Tai Dam are known as "the people without a country." In the 1950s during the Vietnam-French War, many of the Tai Dam moved from Vietnam to Laos. In Laos, they worked as farmers, soldiers, and service workers. The Tai Dam language became infused with Lao. In the 1970s, Laos was undergoing a civil war and many of the Tai Dam became refugees and escaped into Thailand. After thousands of years of political oppression, the Tai Dam vowed they would stay together as a group. Iowa Governor Robert Ray and U.S. Cambodian Ambassador Dr. Kennith Quinn decided the state of Iowa would open its doors to the Tai Dam, after receiving a letter from Art Crisfield, an American living in Southeast Asia.
In order for this to happen, Governor Robert Ray had to convince the National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and President Gerald Ford to grant an exception to a State Department policy that refugees cannot be relocated in a group to any one community. Nearly 90 percent of the Tai Dam refugees immigrated to the U.S. state of Iowa. The other 10 percent went to places like Australia and France. Organizations and church groups sponsored families, and a task force was developed to provide jobs for the refugees.
Although their culture is male-dominated, women play an important part in Tai Dam society. Women have the responsibility of maintaining altars to deceased parents. The ethnic group's name originates from the traditional black skirts and headdresses worn by Tai Dam women. The black silk is embroidered with flowers and beautiful patterns. The belt is typically bright green. Tai Dam women still wear the traditional clothing, especially at ceremonies.
The Tai Dam religion consists of spirit worship, and the spirits of ancestors are especially important to them They wear white at funerals as a symbol of grief. After the funeral but before the cremation, coins are thrown into the crowd. The dead are cremated with gold and silver jewelry. This practice originates from the belief the person's dead spirit may need to produce payment into the spirit realm.
When the family finds a burial place, they sift through the ashes with water and pick out the melted jewelry for keepsakes before burying the ashes. Often food that includes a pig and fruit are set before the headstone as respect for the dead.
Pregnant women are not allowed at funerals for fear of spirits surrounding the situation, which Tai Dam believe can infiltrate the woman's womb and be born through the fetus.
Family members are expected to cry and women are asked to scream loudly. To symbolize their grief, they cannot take a full shower or bath until after the funeral. They also cannot attend or throw parties, such as weddings and graduations, for up to one year.
Proper name: Tay or Thay.
Other names: Tay Thanh, Man Thanh, Tay Muoi, Tay Muong, Hang Tong, Tay Do and Tho.
Local groups: Black Thai (or Tay Dam) and White Thai (Tay Don or Khao).
Population: 1,040,549 people (1999 census). Language: Thai language belongs to the Tay - Thai group (of the Tai - Kadai language family).
History: The Thai originated from inland Southeast Asia where their ancestors have lived since ancient times.
Production activities: Early in their history, the Thai adopted wet rice cultivation, using suitable irrigation networks. The work can be summarized in the Thai saying "muong - phai - lai - lin" (which means digging of canals, consolidating of banks, guiding water through obstacles, and fixing water gutters) in the fields. While the Thai once grew only one sticky rice crop a year, nowadays they have converted to two crops of ordinary rice. They also cultivate swidden fields, where they grow rice, corn, and subsidiary crops, especially cotton, indigo and mulberry for cloth weaving.
Diet: Today, ordinary rice has become the main food of the Thai, while sticky rice is still being eaten traditionally. Sticky rice is steeped in water, put in a steaming pot and put on a fire and cooked. A meal cannot go without ground chili mixed with salt and accompanied by mint, coriander leaves and onion. Boiled chicken liver, fish gut, and smoked fish called cheo could well be added to the meal. Ruminate meat should be accompanied by sauce taken from the internal organs (nam pia).
Raw fish should be either cooked into salad (nom) or meat-in-sauce (nhung), j or simply salted or sauced. Cooked food processing ranges from roasting, steaming and drying to condensing frying, and boiling. The Thai enjoy food with more hot, salty, acrid and buttery tastes, in contrast to those that have sweet, rich and strong tastes. They smoke with bamboo pipes, lighted by dried bamboo pieces. Before smoking, the Thai maintain their custom of hospitality by inviting others to join in, much as they would do before a meal.
Thai women wear short and colorful blouses, accented down the front with lines of silver buttons in the shapes of butterflies, spiders and cicadas. Their blouses fit beautifully with their tube-shaped black skirts. The belt is a green colored silk band. They wear a key chain round their waists. On festival occasions, Thai women can wear an extra black dress, with an underarm seam or like a pullover which has an open collar, thus revealing the silver buttons inside. The black dresses are nipped at the waist, include large shoulders and decorative pieces of cloth that are attached to the underarms or to the front of the shoulders in a manner similar to the White Thai.
Black Thai women wear the famous pieu shaw with colorful embroidery. Thai men wear shorts with a belt; a shirt with an open collar and two pockets on either side. White Thai men have an additional upper pocket on the left and their collar is fastened with a cloth band. The popular color of all clothes is black, pale red, striped or white colored. On festivals people wear long black dresses, with split underarm seams and an internal white blouse. A head turban is worn as a headdress, and in ceremonies the turban should be the length of an arm.
The Tai live in stilt houses with roofs of different designs: those houses with a round convex roof like a turtle shell with two ends called khau cut; those with a four paneled roof and a rectangle floor and corridors; those houses with a long and high roof and with rooms at either ends being used as halls; and those with a low roof and narrow interior, which is close to the Muong house style.
Carrying is the main way to transport things, while using a gui or back carrier is also popular. Baskets may be carried with the aid of tump lines tied around the carrier's forehead; at times, pack horses are used. Along large rivers, the Thai are famous for transporting goods and people using swallow-tailed boats.
The original social structure is called ban muong, also known as the phia tao regime. The Thai lineage is called Dam. Each person has three key lineal relationships: Ai Noong (everybody born from a common fourth-generation ancestor); Lung Ta (every male member of the wife's family throughout generations); and Nhinh Xao (every male member of the son-in-laws).
In the past, the Thai respected the selling and buying of marriage and the son-in-law's staying with the girl's family. To marry a husband, the girl's family needs to take two basic steps:
(dong khun) - means the introduction and bringing of the son-in-law to live with the girl's family, which is done to test his personality and hard work. Black Thai women generally adopt the custom of wearing their hair in a bun or chignon immediately after this first wedding ceremony. The son-in-law will stay at his wife's home for 8 to 12 years.
(dong long) - the bringing of the couple and their family to the paternal family.
Women give birth in the seated position. The placenta is put into a bamboo cylinder and hung on a branch in the forest. The mother is warmed by fire, fed rice using a bamboo tube, and must abstain from certain foods for a month. The bamboo tubes are hung on a tree branch. There are rituals to educate the child in gender-specific work and a Lung Ta(Title meaning "Great Uncle" who is a respected elder of the community, ie Great Uncle Bob, Lung Ta Bob) is invited to the house to name the baby.
Basically, there are two steps in a funeral: Pong: The bringing of offerings to the deceased and bringing the deceased to the forest for a burial (White Thai) or cremation (Black Thai). Xong: Calling the spirit to come back and live in the section of the house reserved for the worshipping of ancestors...
Showing the host his new house, the Lung Ta kindles a new fire. In celebrating a new house, people carry out spiritual rites on the spot, reading spiritual texts to drive away bad lucks and to bring good lucks, and to worship ancestors.
The Black Thai worship their ancestors on the 7th and 8th month of the Lunar Year. The White Thai also celebrate the new year according to the lunar calendar. Villagers also worship the gods of land, mountain, water and the soul of the central post of the village.
The Thai calendar follows the ancient horoscope or cosmology (which contains 12 key animals) like the lunar calendar. But the Black Thai's calendar has a time difference of six months.
The Thai have their own Sanskrit-style writing system. They language is taught orally. The Thai have many ancient written works on their history, traditions, customary laws, and literature.
The Thai Dam perform their xoe dance and play many kinds of flutes. They sing out verses and vivid alternate songs.
Thai popular games include con throwing, tug-of-war, horse racing, boat cruising, archery, xoe dance, spinning top, and mak le balls. There are many other games for kids.
- See Tai Dam language
Vietnam's classification of Tai peoples
Under Vietnam's classification of the vi:Người Thái or vi:Tày Khao are the White Tai (vi:Thái Trắng), Black Tai (vi:Tày Đăm/vi:Thái Đen), vi:Tày Mười, vi:Tày Thanh (vi:Man Thanh), vi:Hàng Tổng (vi:Tày Mường), vi:Pu Thay, vi:Thổ Đà Bắc.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tai Dam people.|
- Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David, The Black Tai of Loei Province
- Exhibits at the TAEC Museum in Luang Prabang, Laos are explicit on this point
- Bankston, Carl L. "The Tai Dam: Refugees from Vietnam and Laos" Passage: A Journal of Refugee Education Winter 1987 (vol 3, no. 3), pp.30-31.