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MODERN HISTORY ] SURVIVAL ]

 



We are called Montagnards (mountaineers), a name given to us by the French.
We are called "Yards"by the American who fought with us in the Second Indochina War.
We are called "Moi", or savages, by the Vietnamese.
We are called "Nguoi Dan toc" by the Vietnam government.

We call ourselves Degar, a name coined by those who fought in the forest for their freedom.

We are the Indigenous People of Vietnam's Central Highlands.

  

 

The French who were first to colonize our territories from 1895-1954, called us “ Montagnards”, which means mountaineers, because over the centuries we were driven from our fertile coastal areas to the mountains of Southeast Asia by invading Cham and Vietnamese peoples. Our ancestors thus settled in these mountains - an area now known as the Central Highlands. To their credit however, the French recognized our rights to these lands on which we were born, which our ancestors had occupied for thousands of years. France defined our borders and formalized our right to our own nation in 1946. They called this land the “Pays Montagnards du Sud Indochinois”, the Montagnard country of South Indochina, and we had high hopes of continuing our development among the other free nations of this earth, as a peaceful agricultural society of hunters and farmers.

The Vietnamese who invaded our coastal areas, and took over the “colonization” of our lands (after the French left in 1955) called us “ moi”, which means savages. Their desire to exploit our country began with this attempt to dehumanize us, as is the custom of nations who declare war on their neighbors. By this process, their soldiers might feel justified to slaughter us like animals, take our land and property, and deprive us of those human rights, which many citizens of this world take for granted. In this way, we have suffered a fate similar to the Native Americans, Australian aboriginals, African Bushmen and other original inhabitants subjected to invasion and exploitation by outsiders.  

The American soldiers, who fought by our side in the Second Indochina War often called us “ Yards” - a simplification of the French term “Montagnard.” When we met the American soldiers in our homeland, we discovered in them the same open, honest nature, which we had come to expect of our own people. Therefore, we trusted and supported them, as they helped us to defend our land.

We, the indigenous hill tribe people who have been struggling to survive and who today cry for freedom, call ourselves Degar, which means all of our tribal peoples who live in the former country of Montagnard in South Indochina, called P.M.S.I. (Pays Montagnard du Sud Indochinois). Degar means “Sons of the mountains”. The Degar race was the first peoples to inhabit this region and we are the rightful owners of the land the world knew as the Central Highlands of Vietnam during the Second Indochina War.

The Degar population once numbered over 3 million during French colonialism. Today our race has dwindled to only a few hundred thousand survivors. The remaining tribes are Bahnar, Jarai, Rhade, Koho, Sedang, Bru, Pacoh, Katu, Jeh, Cua, Halang, Hre, Rongao, Monom, Roglai, Cru, Mnong, Lat, Sre, Nop, Maa, Stieng, etc. There are more than forty distinct and recognizable aboriginal groups that inhabit Central Vietnam. Their languages are derived from the Malayo-Polynesian and Mon-Khmer families.

More than two thousand years ago, our people were in possession of most of south Indochina. These lands stretched from what is now the 17th parallel in the north of Vietnam to the tip of Ca Mau in the south; and from the eastern coast to the mountains with their fertile valleys ( see map II ).   In 192 AD, the ethnic Vietnamese occupied the Red River Delta along the coast while the Cham people were found in Hoanh Son spur (see map I) .   At this time, the Vietnamese were under the domination of the Chinese. When the Vietnamese gained their independence from the Chinese in 939 AD, their southern border would extend to the Hoanh Son mountain spur with Champa in the south.

As time passed, the Chams migrated south and established their kingdom in 875 AD at Indrapura in what is now Danang province. By the year 1069, however, the Vietnamese conquered and took these lands extending to the coastal plain north (which is the present city of Hue) from the Cham peoples. In 1306 Vietnamese control was extended to the Deo Hai Van region just above Danang. Following their crushing defeat of the Chams in 1471, the Vietnamese swept southward to the coastal plain just south of Qui Nhon. Between 1611 and 1697, the remaining Chams were pushed to Bien Hoa and into Cambodia. Ever since, the Vietnamese descendants of Annam have illegally occupied our coastal regions. We - the Degar peoples who were living in the coastal plain -- were forced to join those who had been living in the mountainous areas. During this period however, they never ventured into our mountain retreat (the Central Highlands) until after the French had colonized our territories.

The renowned anthropologist Dr. ld C. Hickey stated in his book titled, Sons of the Mountains, “At no point did the Vietnamese in the pre-twentieth century establish hegemony over the highlands”. Historically the Vietnamese also believed the mountains were the abode of evil spirits and the upland streams held the dreaded nuoc doc (poisoned water) that caused malaria. They had great fear to go to the Central Highlands and thus for a time we, the Degar people, remained insulated in the Central Highlands. Here our people felt safe and we remained for many generations in peace, tending our crops and livestock.

Historically, our world has revolved around small villages where resources are shared and kinship is important. Our leadership is well defined, and moral order is expressed in systems of education and justice that respect individual rights and dignity. Throughout our existence, we had been animists, although missionaries have converted many of us to Christianity during the past two centuries. Nevertheless, a common animist thread still unites all of our peoples, and we try to maintain harmony with our physical surroundings and the ancient deities. We farm the plateaus, the slopes, and the valleys of ancient mountains and rivers. We fish the streams and hunt the forests. Over the centuries, each tribal group has developed its own distinct and recognizable forms of art, architecture, music and dance. Our traditions have preserved a way of life that was rewarding and satisfying in the spirit of indigenous peoples and their love of the land.        

Throughout our history the cultural enmity between our people and the modern world has taken a heavy toll. But nothing has wounded us more brutally than the last 50 years of war, brought to our homeland by outsiders who viewed the highlands as little more than an invaluable resource of hidden supply lines and nearly impregnable battlefield sanctuaries. It was after these wars that the Vietnamese invaders began extensive forced assimilation policies and genocidal practices against our people.        

As the denizens of this once peaceful land, we the Degar people were recruited and attacked by both sides of the Viet Minh and the French in the first Indochina war. Later both North and South Vietnamese governments would do the same in the second Vietnam War. This resulting crossfire killed hundreds of thousands of us, and the period since the war has been no kinder. The war’s victors, the ancient cultural enemies of our people, have no interest in preserving us as indigenous people. They have publicly stated their intention to destroy our culture and continue to commit genocide against us. Our culture is suppressed, diluted and they desire to kill us off and erase us as a race of people.

Since the war, the Central Highlands has been virtually closed to foreigners; however, reports now indicate that only a few hundred thousand of our people still remain. These remnants survive there today, trapped by geography and politics in a cultural killing field where, unless the rest of the world intercedes, our people are sure to be buried forever.

THE TERRITORIES OF THE MONTAGNARD / DEGAR PEOPLE

Prior to the Chams and Annam peoples invading our coastal lands, our peoples in Southeast Asia were basically free to live in our peaceful village societies. When the French created the Federal Government Commissariat for the Montagnard People of South Indochina on May 27, 1946, they excluded however, our coastal region.

The borders of our territories were as follows:

 
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To the North, limited by the 17 th parallel.

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To the East, limited by the Annamitic Ridge (Chaine Annamitique).

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To the South, limited by the Cochin China borders.

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To the West, limited by the Laotian and Cambodian borders. (See map III)

The French government thus gave these lands to the Chams and Vietnamese peoples which historically had never belonged them.

   

 

 

MODERN HISTORY ] SURVIVAL ]

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