white tai

Tai Dam language

Tai Dam is a Tai language spoken in Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and China (mostly in Jinping 金平). It is called pʰaːsaː tʰai dam ภาษาไทดำ ("Black Tai") in Thai and Dǎidānyǔ 傣担语 in Chinese.

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 (nothing to do with Thailand).

The Tai Dam originate from the south of China and have immigrated across Southeast Asia. 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 Laotian. In the 1970s, Laos was undergoing a civil war and many of the Tai Dam became refugees and escaped into Thailand. Nearly 90 percent of Tai Dam refugees immigrated to the state of Iowa. The other 10 percent went to other places like Australia and France After thousands of years of political oppression, the Tai Dam group vowed it would stay together as a group. The Tai Dam are known as "the people without a country." 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. Organizations and church groups sponsored families. A task force was developed to provide jobs for the refugees.

The ethnic group's name originates from the women's traditional black skirts and head dresses. 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 do not have a defined religion, but practice ancestor worship as carried on by their Chinese heritage. Like the Chinese, 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. It originates from the belief the person's dead spirit may need to produce payment into the spiritual 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 situation and can infiltrate the women'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.

An effort is underway to standardize the script in Unicode:

  • At the Workshop on Encoding and Digitizing the Thai Script, held on November 3, 2006 in Điện Biên Phủ, Việt Nam, it has been proposed that the name of the script be called Tay, to indicate the Tai language as spoken in Việt Nam.
  • At a Unicode subcommittee meeting on February 6, 2007, a proposal on the Tay Viet script was submitted by James Brase of SIL International.
  • At the ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 meeting on 2007-04-24, a revised proposal for the script, now known as Tai Viet, was accepted "as is", with support from TCVN, the Vietnam Quality & Standards Centre.
  • What will follow is balloting within the ISO/IEC membership to finally adopt Tai Viet into ISO/IEC 10646, in parallel with acceptance into Unicode.

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