Among the lush valleys and undulating hills of Loei province lies the Tai Dam village in Chiang Khan, Thailand. Named for the black robes worn by both men and women, the Tai Dam — known as “Black Thai” in English — are an indigenous Vietnamese tribe that were scattered by war. Today, their descendents practise time-honoured traditions in their new home in Northern Thailand.
Local Life in the Tai Dam Village
When I arrived in the Tai Dam village, on the back of a tractor converted into what could only loosely be called a pick-up truck, I was met by a gaggle of children playing in the intense midday heat. They shyly greeted us, but were keen to return to their game which consisted of swinging a fabric clump through the air into a hoop twelve feet high.
Normally the children are in school, but the elders excuse a number from their lessons when foreign visitors come to the Tai Dam village so they can practise their English. This seems like a deal that the children are perfectly happy with, though there was much more playing and giggling than practising of English if I’m being totally honest. Like the adults, the children are dressed totally in black, though bright splashes of colour are used as decoration.
The clothes, as with the fabric toys and coloured amulets that adorn the village buildings, are made by hand. The Tai Dam women are skilled weavers who make a living from selling exquisite cotton goods. Along with the rice which they farm by hand, and a small additional revenue generated through tourism, they earn enough to keep their culture and traditions alive.
Spiritual Beliefs in the Tai Dam Village
Unlike most Thai people, who practise (some form of) Buddhism, the Tai Dam people believe in ancestor worship. They ask the spirits of their ancestors for guidance, and perform rituals to ward away evil spirits and bind the tribe closer together. These rituals are usually presided over by the oldest male, or a person of extra importance.
We were invited to join in with their welcoming ceremony, which consisted of forming a prayer circle and drinking (just a little) of a fiery spirit. The ceremony ended with a dance — and as much as I pretended to be preoccupied with my camera, I wasn’t able to escape without joining in!
Want to Learn about Local Life in the Tai Dam Village?
I visited the Tai Dam village as part of a community based tourism press trip to Loei province with Amazing Thailand and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT). These organisations support local Thai communities helping to preserve local traditions and culture, and can be contacted for more details about visiting the Tai Dam cultural village.