All of these groups speak Tai languages. Estimates placed the total of Tai in the late 20th century at 75,, including 45, in Thailand including both Thai and Lao3, in Laos, 3, in Myanmar, 21, in China, and about 2, in Vietnam. Among the different groups, however, there is much variation in this type of Buddhism. In the villages of many Tai groups the wat temple compound or monastery is both the social and the Thailand people called centre.
Most young men spend a period as monks. Along with the Buddhist tradition there exist pre-Buddhist animistic beliefs; shrines are dedicated to spirits phi important in day-to-day affairs.
These animistic beliefs tend to be strongest among those peoples farthest from the traditional centres of Tai Buddhism. The major economic pursuit is the cultivation of rice, dry rice in the highlands and wet in the valleys.
The usual Tai household consists of a husband, wife or wivesand unmarried children. The status of women is high.
None of the Tai peoples has a caste system. Though they live in political entities varying from independent nations Thai and Lao to chiefdoms in non-Tai statesthe basic structure of their semi-autonomous villages is similar.
Communal leadership is provided by an elected village headman, together with the Buddhist monks and elders. The Tai appeared historically in the 1st century ad in the Yangtze River valley. Chinese pressures forced them south until they were spread throughout the northern part of Southeast Asia.
Traditionally, they have been ruled by princes saohpa s, or sawbwa s with semidivine attributes, but the princes have lost most of their former autonomy. The Thai comprise most of the population of Thailand, living along the rivers and in the alluvial plains.
Their villages have Thailand people called ranging from to 3, Present-day Thai society consists of a lower stratum of rural dwellers above whom are the artisans, merchants, government officials, and priests. The Lao live mainly in the valley of the Mekong River and its tributaries, comprising about two-thirds the population of Laos. Their houses are typically built on piles seven or eight feet high. They are culturally less Sinicized than the Tai of other Chinese provinces and maintain close relations with the Tai of Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.
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Thailand in brief
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