The Dai

Historically, the Dai (also known as the "Tai") are said to have appeared in the Yangzi River valley around the 1st century A.D. but were driven south by the expansion of the Chinese empire. The majority of the Dai moved into the northern parts of Southeast Asia and are found today in Thailand, Laos, northeast Myanmar (Burma), and northern Vietnam. The majority of China's Dai population of over one million live in the Xishuangbanna region and in Dehong Prefecture. Dai means "peace and freedom loving," and it is no coincidence that the Dai/Thai are often regarded as being some of the most gracious people in the world.

The Dai mostly inhabit the plains areas around rivers and lakes. To keep away from the damp earth, they live in bamboo stilt houses, with the second floor given over to the living quarters and the first floor reserved for livestock.


The Dai practice Theravada Buddhism, and there are Buddhist temples and pagodas in every village, though individual villages are not beyond their own animistic beliefs and spirit worship. The Water Splashing Festival (Poshui Jie), a huge tourist attraction, also marks the Dai New Year. According to legend, the Dai were once terrorized by a sadistic demon who took for himself seven consorts. In an in vino veritas moment, the youngest of the consorts, who was plying the demon with strong libations, discovered that he would die if hung by his own hair. As soon as the demon fell into a drunken stupor, she grabbed a strand of his hair and strangled him. The demon's head fell off but burst into unquenchable flames as it rolled through the land wreaking havoc. The seven consorts took turns dousing the ball of fire with water. To this day, water is splashed on everyone in gratitude for deliverance from the demon, and to wash away your own sins as well as any disasters or diseases. The wetter you are, the more luck you're likely to receive in the coming year. The lively festival is also marked by dragon boat races, group dances, temple visits, and rocket launching.

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