Introduction / History The Tai Lue live along the high hillsides of the easternmost border of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. They primarily inhabit the Kengtung district and the region where the Shweli River crosses into China. Their language, Lu, belongs to the southwestern group of Tai languages. Since Central Thai is the common language used at the market, many Tai Lue merchants are bilingual.
China is the original homeland of the Tai Lue, however many have migrated south due to pressure by the Chinese. A large number fled to Burma, Thailand, and Laos during World War II. At that time, a Communist regime was established in China, bringing an end to the Tai Lue kingdom.
Myanmar has experienced an array of coups, wars, and rebellions. Today, the Burmese military maintains forcible control over the ethnic groups, such as the Tai Lue, who want to have equal importance in the government and in commerce.
What are their lives like? The Tai Lue men are bigger, taller, and stronger than the Shan or Northern Thai. They traditionally dress in blue coats; dark blue bell trousers with bands of red, yellow, or white; and large white turbans. The women wear light blue embroidered jackets that are adorned with small pieces of silver. They also wear red or scarlet skirts and turbans.
Most of the Tai Lue are farmers living in river valleys. There, they grow wet rice for consumption and sale. They still use primitive, wooden equipment drawn by buffalo. The women's specialties include weaving and embroidery. Some Tai Lue work as merchants, buying and selling goods. There are many Chinese markets on a five-day rotation where the Shan, Burmese, Chinese, Tai Lue, Wa, and other hill-tribesmen gather to buy, sell, and trade.
Tai Lue villages are located either on raised ground surrounded by rice fields, or on high ground on either side of a road or pathway. Their houses are the characteristic Thai dwellings on tall posts. They are built with floors of split bamboo, short walls, and thatched roofs.
Each village is headed by a chief, whose task includes choosing the right place to sow rice. Rather than a strict form of social control, there is evidence that witchcraft is used to keep the people oppressed. Public opinion, gossip, and the like are manipulated in their villages.
The Lu are closely attached to their customs, and their social structure is based on family units. Homes contain ancestral shrines that are used during marriage ceremonies and in the control of sexual behavior. Premarital sexual relations seem to be accepted. Once a couple is married, their living arrangements are decided according to which household most needs the services of the couple.
What are their beliefs? The majority of the Tai Lue practice ethnic religions. Theravada Buddhism is often mixed with folk animism. They believe that non-human objects have spirits, and that people have multiple souls. They also believe that there are "territorial spirits," which are identified with different levels of society. In addition, they practice ancestor worship (praying to deceased ancestors for guidance). They live in fear of their gods and constantly strive to appease them with religious chants, rituals, and sacrifices.
The Tai Lue put great emphasis on reincarnation, believing that if they live a good life they will be reborn into a higher social order. If they are wicked, however, they will be reborn as degraded animals.
What are their needs? The Tai Lue have been tremendously affected by the fighting and bloodshed of the past. They need healing and new spiritual hope.
Copies of the New Testament are from a 1933 translation in which they can no longer read.
Prayer Points * Pray that Myanmar will soon open its doors to missionaries.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to soften the hearts of the Tai Lue towards Christians.
* Pray that God will call out prayer teams to break up the soil through worship and intercession.
* Ask God to raise up long-term workers to live among the Tai Lue.
* Pray that the Tai Lue believers will be bold witnesses for Christ among their own people.
* Ask the Holy Spirit to open the hearts of Myanmar's governmental leaders to the Gospel.
* Pray that Christian radio and television broadcasts will be made available in their language.
* Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Tai Lue.