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Home | Overview | Introduction | Phonology | Consonants | Vowels | Tones | Alphabet Book | Keyboard
In constructing this web page of Tai Dam language and culture, our motivation has been to create a world home for the preservation and study of a very unique Tai minority that has its origins in the intermontane basins of northwestern Vietnam.  A record of their past is still to be found in manuscripts passed down from one generation to another, such as the Origin Myth we present here.  Another wonderful piece of indigenous literature that evokes a timeless past and provides a window to the world of traditional beliefs, is the dramatic epic of The Tale of Prince Therng that is preserved here in both written form - jotted down from memory by refugees - and spoken - oral poetry recited by a gifted elder chanter of tales.  A text, a Fortune Teller's Manual  whose meaning is obscure because it is a kind of secret practitioner's code - a collection of charts and drawings  -  is nevertheless an invaluable reflection and illustration of how an ancient Tai people dealt with the uncertainties of life at critical junctures, such as birth,, marriage, illness, death, and other troubling matters that required guidance from a master seer.  The distraught wife of Prince Therng, for example, calls upon a fortune teller to come and "read chicken bones" to help reveal the location and condition of her husband who got lost (and subsequently seduced) on a hunting expedition in the deep jungle.  Because time reckoning governs activities, we have included a traditional calendar from the year 1979As an aid to unlocking these works, we have provided some linguistic analysis of the writing system and phonology of the Tai Dam language.  Lessons in reading (actually "decoding") words are reproduced from a Primer published by linguists at the Summer Institute of Linguistics, who also developed the Tai Dam computer font that can be freely downloaded, along with an IPA font.  One of the oldest records of Tai Dam culture and language is the work of Infantry Marine Captain Edouard Diguet, who in 1895 published Etude de la Language Tai in Hanoi.  We have preserved the first part of his work (in his original French), which is a kind of ethnography of the Tai Dam and other neighboring ethnic groups such as the Meo/Hmong, Yao, and interesting details on the dress, marriage, burial, and childrearing customs, to name just a few of the practices he wrote of more than a century ago.  Perhaps of greatest interest is his description of the Tai Dam social classes, the nobility in particular, and the pronominal system that was a reflection of societal distinctions that existed at the point in time.  A Map of Ethnic Groups in Vietnam shows the dynamic mix of people and how the Meo/Hmong, for one, formed a ring of settlements in the mountains above the lowlander Tai Dam.  By and large, pieces of the world of the Tai Dam that we have assembled here are essentially a "Lost World,"  a world that has largely disappeared because of the huge political and social upheavals in Asia in the past century.   Glimpses of that fascinating world are preserved in two earlier published articles: Notes About the Tai, and  Black Tai and Lao Song Dam.

To the Tai Dam descendants scattered around the world today, just as their ancestors were thrust out of the primordial pumpkin and onto the landscape as the universe took shape out of a timeless fog, the mythical and historical past remains an important part of their identity and an intriguing revelation to all of the foundations of world civilizations. 

- JFH, 2003

Home | Overview | Introduction | Phonology | Consonants | Vowels | Tones | Alphabet Book | Keyboard
Tai Dam Origin Myth
(with Translation) | The Tale of Prince Therng (with Transcription)
Fortune Teller's Manual | Gallery | Etude de la Language | Bibliography

2003 SEAsite
Last Modified: 09/24/03