The Degar (referred to by French colonists as Montagnard) are the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The term Montagnard means "mountain people" in French and is a carryover from the French colonial period in Vietnam. In Vietnamese, they are known by the term thượng (highlanders) - this term can also be applied to other minority ethnic groups in Vietnam. Thượng is the Vietnamese adaptation of the Chinese "Shang" (上). Montagnard was the term, typically shortened to "Yard", used by U.S. military personnel in the Central Highlands during the Vietnam War. However the term has been viewed as derogatory and the official term is now Người dân tộc thiếu số (literally means minority people).



Before the Vietnam War, the population of the Central Highlands, estimated at between 3 and 3.5 million, was almost exclusively Degar. Today, the population is approximately 4 million, of whom about 1 million are Degars. The 30 or so Degar tribes in the Central Highlands comprise more than six different ethnic groups who speak languages drawn primarily from the Malayo-Polynesian, Tai, and Mon–Khmer language families. The main tribes, in order of population, are the Jarai, Rhade, Bahnar, Koho, Mnong, and Stieng.

Originally inhabitants of the coastal areas of the region, they were driven to the uninhabited mountainous areas by invading Vietnamese and Cambodians beginning prior to the 9th century.

Although French Roman Catholic missionaries converted some Degar in the nineteenth century, American missionaries made more of an impact in the 1930s, and many Degar are now Protestant. Of the approximately 1 million Degar, close to half are Protestant, while around 200,000 are Roman Catholic. This made Vietnam's Communist Party suspicious of the Degar, particularly during the Vietnam War, since it was thought that they would be more inclined to help the American forces (predominantly Christian—mainly Protestant).

In the mid-1950s, the once-isolated Degar began experiencing more contact with outsiders after the Vietnamese government launched efforts to gain better control of the Central Highlands and, following the 1954 Geneva Accord, new ethnic minorities from North Vietnam moved into the area. As a result of these changes, Degar communities felt a need to strengthen some of their own social structures and to develop a more formal shared identity.

In 1950, the French government established the Central Highlands as the Pays Montagnard du Sud (PMS) under the authority of Vietnamese Emperor Bảo Đại, whom the French had installed as nominal chief of state in 1949 as an alternative to Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam. When the French withdrew from Vietnam and recognized a Vietnamese government, Degar political independence was drastically diminished.

The Degar have a long history of tensions with the Vietnamese majority. While the Vietnamese are themselves heterogeneous, they generally share a common language and culture and have developed and maintained the dominant social institutions of Vietnam. The Degar do not share that heritage. There have been conflicts between the two groups over many issues, including land ownership, language and cultural preservation, access to education and resources, and political representation.

In 1958, the Degar launched a movement known as BAJARAKA (the name is made up of the first letters of prominent tribes; compare to the later Nicaraguan Misurasata) to unite the tribes against the Vietnamese. There was a related, well-organized political and (occasionally) military force within the Degar communities known by the French acronym, FULRO, or United Front for the Liberation of Oppressed Races. FULRO's objectives were autonomy for the Degar tribes.

A US Army Ranger trains Degar guerillas.

As the Vietnam War began to loom on the horizon, both South Vietnamese and American policy makers sought to begin training troops from minority groups in the Vietnamese populace. The U.S. Mission to Saigon sponsored the training of the Degar in unconventional warfare by American Special Forces. These newly trained Degar were seen as a potential ally in the Central Highlands area to stop Viet Cong activity in the region and a means of preventing further spread of Viet Cong sympathy.[1] Later, their participation would become much more important as the Ho Chi Minh trail, the North Vietnamese supply line for Viet Cong forces in the south, grew. The U.S. military, particularly the U.S. Army's Special Forces, developed base camps in the area and recruited the Degar, roughly 40,000 of whom fought alongside American soldiers and became a major part of the U.S. military effort in the Highlands.

Thousands of Degar fled to Cambodia after the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese Army, fearing that the new government would launch reprisals against them because they had aided the U.S. Army. The U.S. military resettled some Degar in the United States, primarily in North Carolina, but these evacuees numbered less than two thousand. In addition, the Vietnamese government has steadily displaced thousands of villagers from Vietnam's central highlands, to use the fertile land for coffee plantations.

Outside of southeast Asia, the largest community of Montagnards in the world is located in Greensboro, North Carolina[2]

Further reading

  • Condominas, Georges. We Have Eaten the Forest: The Story of a Montagnard Village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977. ISBN 0-8090-9672-2
  • Montagnard Foundation. Human Rights Violations: Montagnard Foundation Report, 2001 : Report on the Situation of Human Rights Concerning the Montagnards or Degar Peoples of Vietnam's Central Highlands. Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Foundation, 2001.
  • Montagnard Foundation. History of the Montagnard/Degar People: Their Struggle for Survival and Rights Before International Law. Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Foundation, 2001.

See also



  • Sidney Jones, Malcolm Smart, Joe Saunders, HRW. (2002). Repression of Montagnards: Conflicts Over Land and Religion in Vietnam's Central Highlands, Human Rights Watch. ISBN 1-56432-272-6.
  • United States Congress. Senate. Committee on Foreign. (1998). The Plight of the Montagnards: Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Relations, Original from the Library of Congress [1].

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • dégar — bédégar …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • degar — tarla dönün …   Beypazari ağzindan sözcükler

  • Degar refugees in Cambodia — More than 1,000 Degar (Montagnard) refugees have entered Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, Cambodia, since 2001, raising issues of Cambodia s international law obligations toward refugees and its right to control its border.[1] The government has a… …   Wikipedia

  • Montagnard (Vietnam) — The French term Montagnard, meaning People from the mountain(s) refers to an indigenous people group generally from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It includes individuals from multiple tribal groups, including the Bahnar, Jarai, Koho, Mnong… …   Wikipedia

  • Jarai — Jaraï  Cet article concerne le peuple jaraï. Pour la langue jaraï, voir Jaraï (langue). Les Jaraï (graphie anglaise Jarai), ou Người Gia Rai en vietnamien, sont un groupe ethnique qui habite principalement les hauts plateaux du centre du… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Jaraï — Cet article concerne le peuple jaraï. Pour la langue jaraï, voir Jaraï (langue). Les Jaraï (graphie anglaise Jarai), ou Người Gia Rai en vietnamien, sont un groupe ethnique qui habite principalement les hauts plateaux du centre du Viêt Nam. La… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Operación Pasaje a la Libertad — La Operación Pasaje a la Libertad (Operation Passage to Freedom, en inglés) fue el término utilizado por la Armada de los Estados Unidos para describir el éxodo masivo de vietnamitas desde Vietnam del Norte (o República Democrática de Vietnam) a… …   Wikipedia Español

  • List of lists of ethnic groups — The following is a list of lists of ethnic groups: By region * Africa ** North Africa ** Horn of Africa ** Sub Saharan Africa * Americas (indigenous) ** Brazil ** USA *** Alaska *** Hawaii ** Canada * Asia ** Southeast Asia *** Vietnam *** Laos… …   Wikipedia

  • John Wayne — For other people named John Wayne, see John Wayne (disambiguation). John Wayne Born Marion Robert Morrison May 26, 1907(1907 05 26) Winterset, Iowa, U.S …   Wikipedia

  • Demographics of Vietnam — This article is about the demographic features of the population of Vietnam, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.