Tai Ya – culture and history

The Tai Ya are a Tai ethnic group and most of them live in Yunnan province, China. In China they are called the Huayao Tai (Chinese for ‘Colorful Waist Tai’). In Thailand they are also called Tai Yar. This name comes from the colorful cloth belts worn by the women. In a 1990 official Chinese government survey 55000 Huayao Tai were reported living in Yunnan. The Huayao Tai practice a mixture of Theravada Buddhism and animism. The Tai Ya have their own language. More information about their language you can find here.

Two women of Tai Ya, Chiang Rai
Tai Ya women, Chiang Rai. Picture by Frans Betgem

In the late 1920s and 1930s, some of them migrated to Chiang Rai province, Thailand, for economic and religious reasons. They who moved to Thailand were Christian. They were persecuted in China. In Thailand they live in several communities between Mae Chan and Mae Sai in northern Chiang Rai province. Ban Nam Bor Khaw was one of the first settlements in Thailand and is currently the biggest community. It is located in Tambon Huay Khrai in Amphoe Mae Sai. There are only about 400 Tai Ya in Thailand. Their traditional dress is very beautiful and colorful with the characteristic bamboo hat. The people of Ban Nam Bor Khaw are in touch with their fellow Tai Ya in China. Several members of Ban Nam Bor Khaw have visited communities in Yunnan.

Chiang Rai Tai Ya woman
Tai Ya woman, Chiang Rai. Picture by Frans Betgem

There is a small community Center in the Nanthitham Church in Ban Nam Bor Khaw. I was told that there are plans to build a traditional house. They really work hard on keeping their traditions alive. They were present at a tribal festival in Chiang Mai in 2012 and that’s where we met them for the first time.