Tai (Dai), culture of

Tai (Dai), culture of
The Tai live almost entirely in Yunnan. They speak a language that belongs to the Zhuang-Dong Branch of the Sino-Tibetan family (see Sino-Tibetan language speakers) and they have their own writing system. The 1990 census showed the Tai with a population of 1,025,128. There are two main Tai branches. The first is the Shui (Water) Tai concentrated in Sipsongpanna (Xishuangbanna), who are close culturally and linguistically to the Thais of Thailand. The second is the Han Tai, who live mainly in Dehong to the northwest of Sipsongpanna and are identical culturally and linguistically to the Shan of Burma.
The prevailing religion is Theravada Buddhism. The Water Splashing Festival, with its religious significance of washing away personal disaster through cleansing the Buddha statues with water, is still prevalent, although it is now more secular than formerly.
One reason for boys to enter the temples for a period is to master their own written language, which is yielding to Chinese in the schools. Tai houses are frequently built on stilts with bamboo poles, floors of bamboo mats and livestock and farm tools below. The basic family unit is nuclear. Premarital contacts between men and women are comparatively free. Tai literature is rich in poetry and folk stories. The peacock dance imitates the movements and elegance of the peacock, a bird symbolizing good fortune and happiness for the Tai, and is a good example of the dance tradition. There is a Tai drama, the music being almost entirely Tai, though the costumes and stories are heavily influenced by Jingju (Peking opera). Tai drama survives but is in decline, especially in the cities.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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