black tai

Tai peoples

''"Thai peoples" redirects here. For the subgroup of the Tai, see Thai people

The Tai or Tai-Kadai ethnicity refers collectively to the ethnic groups of southern China and Southeast Asia, stretching from Hainan to eastern India and from southern Sichuan to Laos, Thailand, and parts of Vietnam, which speak languages in the Tai-Kadai family and share similar traditions and festivals, including Songkran. Despite never having a unified nation-state of their own, the peoples also have historically shared a vague idea of a "Siam" nation, corrupted to Shan or Assam in some places, and most self-identify as "Tai".

Origin of the Tai

Comparative linguistic research seems to indicate that the Tai people were a proto Tai-Kadai speaking culture of southern China, and that they may have originally been of Austronesian descent. Prior to inhabiting mainland China, the Tai are suspected to have migrated from a homeland on the island of Taiwan where they spoke a dialect of Proto-Austronesian or one of its descendant languages. After the arrival of Sino-Tibetan speaking ethnic groups from mainland China to the island of Taiwan, the Tai would have then migrated into mainland China, perhaps along the Pearl River, where their language greatly changed in character from the other Austronesian languages under influence of Sino-Tibetan and Hmong-Mien language infusion. The coming of the Han Chinese to this region of southern China may have prompted the Tai to migrate in mass once again, this time southward over the mountains into Southeast Asia. While this theory of the origin of the Tai is currently the leading theory, there is insufficient archaeological evidence to prove or disprove the proposition at this time, and the linguistic evidence alone is not conclusive. However, in further support of the theory, it is believed that the O1 Y-DNA haplogroup is associated with both the Austronesian people and the Tai. The prevalence of Y-DNA Haplogroup O1 among Austronesian and Tai peoples also suggests a common ancestry with the Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic and Hmong-Mien peoples some 35,000 years ago in China. Y-DNA Haplogroup O2a is also found at high frequency among most Tai peoples, which is a trait that they share with the neighboring Austroasiatic peoples. Y-DNA Haplogroups O1 and O2a are subclades of O Y-DNA haplogroup, which itself is a subclade of Y-DNA Haplogroup K, a genetic mutation that is believed to have originated 40,000 yeas ago, somewhere between Iran and Central China. In addition to the ethnicities previously mentioned, the progenitor of Haplogroup K was probably the ancestor of nearly all modern Melanesian people, as well as the Mongols and the Native Americans. Haplogroup K, in turn, is a subclade of Y-DNA Haplogroup F, which is believed to have originated in Northern Africa or Southwest Asia some 45,000 years ago. Haplogroup F is believed to be associated with the second major wave of migration out of the African continent. In addition to the ethnicities previously mentioned, the progenitor of Haplogroup F was probably the ancestor of all Indo-Europeans.

Subdivisions of the Tai Ethnic Group

The exact structure of the clades of the Tai ethnicity are a topic of present debate among linguists and other social scientists. There is not a current consensus as to the stratification. However, there is a general consensus as to the existence of the following distinct groups:

  • the nuclear Tai peoples of China and much of Southeast Asia (including most notably the Thai, Lao, Isan, Shan and Zhuang)
  • the Li people of China (also known as the Hlai people)
  • the Kadai peoples of China and Vietnam (also known as the Geyan peoples)
  • the Kam-Sui peoples (which may or not include the Biao people)
  • the Saek people of Laos and Thailand
  • the Biao people of China

Other Tai-Kadai speaking ethnic groups of non-Tai ethnic descent

  • There is an ethnic group called the Lakkia in the Guangxi Province of China (Tai Lakka in neighboring portions of Vietnam) which is ethnically of Yao descent whose members speak a Tai-Kadai language called Lakkia. These Yao were likely in an area dominated by Tai speakers and assimilated an early Tai-Kadai language (possibly the language of the ancestors of the Biao people).
  • The Lingao people in the Hainan Province of China speak a Tai-Kadai language called Lincheng, although the ethnicity of the Lingao traces back to the Han nationality.

Geographic distribution

The Tai have historically resided in China, India and continental Southeast Asia since the early Tai expansion period. Their primary geographic distribution in those countries is roughly in the shape of an arc extending from northeastern India through southern China and down to Southeast Asia. Recent Tai migrations have brought considerable numbers of Tai peoples to Sri Lanka, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and North America as well. Greatest ethnic diversity within the Tai occurs in China, which is believed to be their prehistoric homeland.

Nuclear Tai peoples throughout China, India and Southeast Asia

Due to the great ethnic diversity among the nuclear Tai peoples in the countries of China, India and Southeast Asia, the geographical distribution of the individual Tai ethnic groups in these regions is discussed in three respective articles on the topic. Articles on each of the individual ethnic groups provide further detail as well.

Li people

The Li reside primarily, if not completely, within the Hainan Province of China.

Kadai peoples

The Kadai peoples are clustered in the Guangxi, Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan and Hainan Provinces of China, as well as the Ha Giang, Cao Bang, Lao Cai and Son La Provinces of Vietnam. for detailed geographic distribution

Kam-Sui peoples

The Kam-Sui peoples are clustered in China as well as neighboring portions of northern Laos and Vietnam. for detailed geographic distribution

Saek people

The center of the Saek population is the Mekong River in central Laos. A smaller Saek community makes its home in the Isan region of northeast Thailand, near the border with Laos.

Biao people

The Biao people are clustered in the Guangdong Province of China.

Lakkia people

The Lakkia are an ethnic group clustered in the Guangxi Province of China and neighboring portions of Vietnam, whose members are of Yao descent, but speak a Tai-Kadai language called Lakkia. These Yao were likely in an area dominated by Tai speakers and assimilated an early Tai-Kadai language (possibly the language of the ancestors of the Biao people).

Lingao people

The Lingao people are an ethnic group clustered in the Hainan Province of China who speak a Tai-Kadai language called Lincheng. They are categorized as Han Chinese under China's system of ethnic classification.

Other Tai populations throughout Asia

There is a large Shan community within Sri Lanka which settled in Sri Lanka from mainland India. In other parts of Asia, substantial Thai communities can be found in Japan, Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.

Tai of North America

The United States is home to a significant population of Thai, Lao, Tai Kao, Isan, Lu, Phutai, Tai Dam, Northern Thai, Southern Thai, Tay and Shan people. There are a significant number of Thai and Lao people living in Canada as well.

Tai of Europe

The most significant communities of Tai peoples in Europe are in the Lao communities of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Switzerland, the Isan communities of the United Kingdom and Iceland, the Thai communities of Finland, Iceland and Norway, the Tai Dam and Tay communities of France, and the Southern Thai community of the United Kingdom.

Thai of Oceania

There is a sizable Thai community in Australia, as well as a Northeastern Thai community in New Zealand.

Lao of Argentina

In recent times, large numbers of Lao have migrated to Argentina.

Common culture


The languages spoken by the Tai people are referred to as the Tai-Kadai language family. The most widely spoken of the Tai-Kadai languages are the Tai languages, including Thai, the national language of Thailand, Lao or Laotian, the national language of Laos, Burma's Shan language, and Zhuang, a group of languages of southern China. These languages are tonal languages, meaning variations in tone of a word can change that word's meaning.


The Tai throughout Asia celebrate a number of common festivals, including a holiday known as Songkran, which originally marked the vernal equinox, but is now celebrated on the 14th of April every year.


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