The Yao tribe in Thailand originated from China and are located in the eastern areas of Northern Thailand. There are approximately 60,000 members located in Thailand. This tribe makes its living as skilled silversmiths and embroiderers. In addition to this, the major crops grown by the people are rice and corn.
The Yao has several things that set them apart from other tribes in Northern Thailand. First, this people group has a written language. Linguistically, they are related to the Chinese and their writing style is very similar to traditional Chinese.
The homes of the Yao are built on stilts. Most homes feature a communal living area, bedrooms and guest areas. When girls reach maturity, they are given a private bedroom to entertain potential marriage candidates.
The traditional dress for the Yao is exquisite. Women wear long black jackets which are accented with scarlet lapels. In addition to the jackets, the women wear loose, flowing black pants that are embroidered and black turbans. Men wear loose jacket accented with embroidered trim and pocket and loose black pants.
The silversmiths of the tribe make silver neck rings featuring intricate ornaments and chains. The females in the tribe also wear large earrings and cuff style bracelets. In addition to jewellery, the silversmiths make a variety of farm implements, including plows, which are sold to other tribes in the area.
The crops grown by these people include rice and corn; however, other types of vegetables are grown. Some tribes still grow opium; however, because of Thailand’s anti-opium laws, this practice is steadily diminishing.
The Yao practice polygamous marriage. Young boys choose their wives outside of their own clan. Dowries are part of the arrangement; however, if the family is poor or only has one daughter, the boy may move into the wives home. The Yao families often adopt children. Finally, marriages often occur between cousins and premarital sex is quite common.
The Yao worship nature as well as ancestors. Their beliefs are heavily influenced by Taoism. The Yao have a written sacred scripture that was adopted from Taoism that explains their ceremonies and rituals. Each home has a spirit altar that can be seen from the main door of the house. A list of deceased ancestors is placed on the altar. Animal sacrifice, monetary sacrifice and rice sacrifice are common among the people.