October 8, 2015

Montagnards in Central Highlands of Vietnam - 'Racial Discrimination' or Silent Genocide?

Montagnard woman during the Vietnam War [quanonline]

Background
  • Most Vietnamese refugees coming to the US belong to the Montagnard ethnic group, which lived in the forested, central highlands in relative isolation until the Vietnam War.
  • The Montagnards have a history of tension with the mainstream Vietnamese. 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 Montagnards launched a movement known as BAJARAKA (the name is made up of the first letters of prominent tribes) to unite the tribes against the Vietnamese. There was a related, well-organized political and (occasionally) military force within the Montagnard communities known by the French acronym, FULRO, or Forces United for the Liberation of Races Oppressed. FULRO’s objectives included freedom, autonomy, land ownership, and a separate highland nation.
  • During the Vietnam War, the Montagnards had contact with US Forces, as the highland area was very strategic. Many fought alongside American soldiers and became a major part of the U.S. military effort in the Highlands. Montagnard bravery and loyalty earned them the respect and friendship of the U.S. military forces as well as sympathy for the Montagnard struggle for independence.
  • After the war, the Vietnamese government began to lay claim to some of the lands for the resettlement of mainstream Vietnamese. Increasing population density has required new farming methods, and the Montagnards have lost control of ancestral lands.
Culture and Tradition
  • The Montagnard people are made up of many different tribes with overlapping customs, social interactions, and language patterns.
  • The 30 or so Montagnard tribes in the Central Highlands comprise more than six different ethnic groups drawn primarily from the Malayo-Polynesian and Mon Khmer language families. The main tribes, in order of size, are the Jarai (320,000), Rhade (258,000), Bahnar (181,000), Koho (122,000), Mnong (89,000), and Stieng (66,000).
  • About 1 million people living in the highlands today are Montagnard. Of these, between 229,000 and 400,000 are thought to follow evangelical Protestantism. An additional 150,000 to 200,000 are Roman Catholic.
  • Physically, the Montagnards are darker skinned than the mainstream Vietnamese and do not have epicanthic folds around their eyes. In general, they are about the same size as the mainstream Vietnamese.
  • Traditional Montagnard religious beliefs lean towards animism, often involving the ritualistic sacrifice and blood letting of animals, to appease the spirits.
  • After the 1930s, mission schools and churches became important social institutions in the Highlands. Native pastors were locally trained and ordained. Montagnard Christians experienced a new sense of self-worth and empowerment, and the church became a strong influence in the Montagnard quest for political autonomy.
  • Montagnard families traditionally live in tribal villages. Related kin or extended families of 10 to 20 people live in longhouses that share public space with some private family room areas.
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  • Kinship and family roles vary by tribe, but many of the tribes have matrilineal and matrilocal marriage patterns. When a man marries a woman, he joins her family, adopts her name, and moves into her family’s village, usually into her mother’s house. Traditionally, the woman’s family arranges the marriage and the woman pays a groom price to his family.
  • In the family unit, the man is responsible for affairs outside of the house while the woman manages domestic affairs. The man confers with village leaders about community and governmental affairs, farming and community development, and political issues. The woman is responsible for the family unit, finances, and child rearing.
  • The Montagnard diet traditionally centers around rice with vegetables and sliced barbecued beef when meat is available. Common vegetables include squash, cabbage, eggplant, beans, and hot peppers. Chicken, pork, and fish are quite acceptable, and the Montagnards are open to eating any type of game.
  • Traditional Montagnard dress is very colorful, handmade, and embroidered. It is still worn to cultural events and sold as a handicraft.
  • The first language of a Montagnard is that of his or her tribe. In areas with overlapping tribes or tribes with similar language patterns, people may be able to communicate across tribal languages without much difficulty. The government has outlawed the use of tribal languages in schools, and those who have had schooling can also speak some Vietnamese.
  • In Vietnam, formal education for the Montagnards has been generally limited. Though levels of education vary widely, based on a person’s experience in Vietnam, a fifth-grade education for male villagers is typical. Women may not have attended school at all, though some did.
Adjusting to Life in America
  • Adaptation to American culture and intermarriage with other ethnic groups is changing the Montagnard traditions. Men and women both work outside the home and share childcare according to work schedules. Because of the shortage of Montagnard women in the United States, many men live together in simulated family units.
  • The shortage of women in the Montagnard community poses extraordinary challenges for the men because traditionally women are the family leaders and decision makers in many ways. Identity is traced through the wife, and the woman’s family arranges the marriage. Many Montagnard men have to move outside of their ethnic group if they hope to establish families in the United States. Yet few are culturally able to make this adjustment.
  • Landlords and neighbors commonly complain that the Montagnards do not maintain their houses and yards in accordance with U.S. customs. For example, furniture may be placed in yards or meat left to dry outside.
  • Even though most try to study English, their many responsibilities at home and work and their lack of formal education make formal language study very difficult.
  • Montagnards suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), related to war, survivor guilt, persecution, and torture. For refugees, of course, the condition is aggravated by the loss of family, homeland, culture, and traditional social support systems.
  • Most Montagnard children are not prepared for the U.S. school system. Most arrive with little formal education and little if any English. They often do not know how to behave or dress appropriately; few have proper school supplies.
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  • Source: worldrelief.org

3 comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an ongoing silent genocide by the Vietcong government against the Montagnard tribes...

Vernon Cole said...

It is very hard to get them into America when the Vietnamese government won't let them leave and the U.S government is more interested in trade with Vietnam than they are in genocide.

Vernon Cole said...

It is very hard to get them into America when the Vietnamese government won't let them leave and the U.S government is more interested in trade with Vietnam than they are in genocide.