Introduction / History
Phutai simply means 'Tai people'. The Phutai are distributed between Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. In Laos, they are heavily concentrated in the bottom half of Khammouan Province. Others spill southward into Savannakhet, Saravan and Champasak provinces, while small Diaspora Phutai communities are found in Oudomxai and Luang Prabang in the north. Since the Vietnam War, a Phutai refugee community has been allowed to move into the Los Angeles area in the United States.
The Phutai language is part of the Southwestern Tai branch. It is closest to Tai Kao and Tai Dam. Unlike most Tai-speaking groups, who have converted to Buddhism, the Phutai remain animists, with little Buddhist influence. They worship 25 different spirits. Every year during the third lunar month the Phutai gather for the Pi Tian ('Spirit of Heaven') festival. People relax and unwind by riding horses, elephants, and shooting arrows, etc. The focal point of the festival is a ritual when the whole community gathers and offers sacrifices and prayers to the spirit they believe resides in paradise above. After waiting for some time, the Phutai believe there is a moment when the spirit actually comes down from heaven. The normally-reserved Phutai dance and jump for joy, and often miracles such as healing takes place.
Despite this remarkable ceremony, there are few Phutai who have ever accepted Jesus Christ, who is the Holy Spirit who gives lasting joy. There are approximately 150 known Phutai believers in Laos today, although there may be significantly more. They do not have their own churches, but meet in mixed Protestant and Catholic congregations with the Lao.
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