Introduction / History
The Thai Nung (also known as the Highland Nung) immigrated from the Yunnan province of southern China into northern Vietnam. When the Vietnam conflict began in 1954, several thousand Thai Nung fled as refugees and resettled in southern Vietnam. Another 50,000 immigrated into north central Laos, and a little more than 115,000 remained in China, their original homeland.
The Thai Nung are a Diac people who speak one of the Central Tai languages. In China, they belong to the Zhuang minority people group; whereas, in Vietnam, they are considered an official nationality. In Chinese, Nung means "the fat ones."
In China, the Thai Nung are referred to as the "Yunnan Tai" in order to distinguish them from the Chinese Nung. Although they speak different languages, the two groups live together along the China-Vietnam border, primarily in the Western Kwangsi autonomous region. Among the Chinese, the Thai Nung are known as good soldiers; however, they also have a reputation as being "not exactly trustworthy."
What are their lives like?
The Thai Nung are hardworking farmers. They primarily live in the hilly areas, where they raise rice and Indian corn. They are widely known for their traditional craft of intricate embroidery. There is currently a project among some Thai Nung women at the borders of China and Vietnam in which they are learning to grow, spin, dye, and weave their own cotton.
The traditional clothing worn by the Thai Nung varies from group to group. In general, the men dress like the Chinese; whereas, the women usually wear long skirts over trousers. They also wear their hair in a large chignon (knot or bun) on their heads and wear small turbans.
The Thai Nung are divided into a number of clans. These divisions denote the lands in China from which they originated. Their societies are both patrilocal and patrilineal. This means that they live near the husband's relatives and the ancestral lines are traced through the males.
Marriages are arranged through a mediator, who negotiates between the man and the bride's parents. The girl's wishes are taken into consideration before a final agreement is made. If the proposal is accepted, a Taoist priest examines the birth dates of the young couple, comparing them with the signs of the zodiac. He then determines whether or not they are compatible for marriage. The Taoist priest then selects a date for the ceremony according to the stars.
After marriage, the bride leaves her home and moves in with her husband and his family. Newlyweds rarely have their own separate home. Although the Thai Nung men sometimes marry women of other ethnic groups, the women believe in strict endogamy (marriage within their own clans). Wealthy Thai Nung men may have more than one wife, and they all live together in one house.
Thai Nung houses are usually clustered closely together. Their communities include both of the local styles of houses: those built on the ground (like the homes of the Tho in China), or those built off the ground on stilts (like the homes of the Lao people). Each house contains an altar to the family's ancestors. The altar is located in the main room, opposite the doorway.
What are their beliefs?
The Thai Nung practice their own ethnic religion, which revolves around ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for help and guidance) and shamanism (spirit worship). They have also been heavily influenced by Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism.
The Thai Nung believe that the spirits of their deceased ancestors are alive and need to be fed and cared for. These spirits are said to become hungry and dissatisfied when they are not properly appeased, turning into evil spirits. They also believe in an unseen world of many gods, demons, and spirits. Many shamans (priests or priestesses) live in each village. The villagers depend on them to cure the sick by magic, communicate with the gods, and control events.
The Thai Nung believe that spirits, or phi, live in the elements of nature, particularly locations such as mountains, rocks, trees, water, and fields. Priests must have the power to control all of these spirits and to protect the villagers from them.
When a baby is born, a shaman is always present in order to prevent disaster at the hands of the spirits. When someone dies, the shaman performs a ritual to ensure the safe arrival of the deceased at "the place of the dead." The villagers frequently offer animal sacrifices to appease the spirits. This usually involves the slaughter of pigs, chickens, ducks, or whatever the priest suggests.
What are their needs?
The Thai Nung have the Jesus film and Christian broadcasts available to them at the present time. Tools such as Christian literature are desperately needed.
The Thai Nung in Vietnam and Laos have missions agencies focusing on them. Pray that God will send quality laborers to work among each of these groups.
* Pray for God to grant His wisdom and favor to missions agencies currently focusing on the Thai Nung.
* Ask God to strengthen, encourage, and protect the few hundred Thai Nung believers.
* Pray that the Holy Spirit will complete the work begun in their hearts through adequate discipleship.
* Pray that the doors of China will soon be opened to missionaries.
* Ask God to begin revealing Himself to these precious people through dreams and visions.
* Pray that God will call out prayer teams who will begin breaking up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask the Lord to raise up strong local churches among the Thai Nung.
* Pray for completion of Bible translation in this people group's primary language.
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