The Tai Ya were one of the most surprising ethnic groups we met at the Tribal Festival in Chiang Mai in August, 2014. We had never seen these people in Thailand, never even heard of them…Sometimes they are called Tai Yar.
They 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’). 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.
In the late 1920s and 1930s, some of them migrated to Chiang Rai province, Thailand, for economic and religious reasons. The people 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. In December 2014 we visited Ban Nam Bor Khaw, which 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.
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 Tai Ya House. The Tai Ya really work hard on keeping their traditions alive. These pictures were taken in Ban Nam Bor Khaw.