Tai Dam (or Thai Dam)

The Tai Dam (also spelled TaiDam, ThaiDam or Thai Dam) people, like many other ethnic minorities in South East Asia, originated in the mountains of China, where they once lived in their own kingdom. Around a thousand years ago their kingdom was attacked and mostly destroyed by a Mongol warlord and the survivors began migrating South to Northern Vietnam, where they established a new kingdom near the present day city of Dien Bien Phu, this kingdom lasted until the Indo-China wars.

Many Tai Dam also migrated to the countries of Laos, Thailand, and even France and America, but by far the largest populations of Tai Dam are in North Vietnam and North Laos. The Tai Dam live mostly in mountain communities, are proud of their conservative heritage and are resistant to change. The Tai Dam are respected by other peoples as honest and industrious people, and are known to be fun loving and are also well known for their fondness of holding feasts.

The Tai Dam live in large family units, many times three or four generations under the same roof. They will work, farm, eat and perform all other functions together. The oldest male in the family will be the head of the household. Husbands and wives share all work and household chores, there is no division by sex. Both women and men will work in the fields, fish, cook, do household work and care for children. It is easy to spot the Tai Dam women by their distinctive black skirts and silver-clasped blouses. The married women also wear their hair in a bun, usually high on their head.

The Tai Dam are not normally Buddhists, but instead practice animism (spirit worship) and ancestor worship. The Tai Dam believe the human spirit is made up of thirty-two souls (Khwan). Each soul is responsible for a different part of the body.

The Tai Dam women are well known for their weaving skills and their complex weaving designs are sold throughout the world. There is almost always a weaving loom under a Tai Dam house. The Tai Dam girls usually learn weaving skills from their mothers at a young age, the women spend many hours every day weaving, many also make their own natural dyes. Tai Dam men are also skilled at handicrafts, making baskets, fish, animal traps and other household utensils.

The reason they are called the Tai Dam (Tai is the original people group of most South East Asian, Dam means the color black) has been debated for many years, some say it is because of the Black colored skirts that the women wear, others say that it is because they came from the Black River area. They speak their own dialect and also have their own alphabet, however the alphabet is in danger of being lost as many of the younger people do not learn it but instead use the language and alphabet of their host countries.

One of the unusual traits of the Thai Dam is their ability to use either dry or wet methods of rice farming, this is unusual in South East Asian Hilltribes, as they tend to be dry rice farmers. The Thai Dam also raise water buffalo, cows, ducks, chickens, pigs and dogs all for food. They also are fond of hunting, trapping, and fishing for food, and collect plants, herbs and fruits in the forests when available.

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