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   The populations appearing on the images selected, live in a zone South of a line going from Savannaket (Laos) to Quang-Tri (Vietnam). This area does not include all the "montagnards" or so-called "minority" ethnic groups of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
   We have addressed two human groups only, as distinguished by specialists on linguistic grounds: Austronesians (also called "malayo-polynesian") and Austro-asiatics (so called "mon-khmers"). Austro-asiatics are also found North of the Quang-Tri – Savannaket line, where however they live among larger ethnic groups (Tai-Kadai, Miao-Yao and Tibeto-Burmese) who have significantly influenced their mode of living. The groups selected are not solely characterized in linguistic terms. Cultural features are also important: systems of lineage, a mode of living in symbiosis with the forest once largely based on swiddening agriculture, and a spiritual life marked by a generalized animism where numberless "yang" genii crowd the environment. Domestic animals are frequently sacrificed to them, particularly water buffaloes, in spectacular rituals.
The bibliography on this site gives more information about the characteristics or location of these very diverse groups (the main ones are named – according to the current Vietnamese spelling: Hre, Gia-Rai, E-de, Ba-Na, Co-Ho, Ma, and so on). They are grouped here as we have found them in most studies. Ethnolinguistic maps are also available on the Internet, such as the ones from the University of Texas.
   The collective denomination “Montagnards” was not historically the first by which they came to be known. Their immediate neighbours, the Vietnamese, made them known first under the pejorative name "moï". Westerners and among them French colonizers took up this word sometimes replacing it with its translation in their language: "sauvages" 1.


   After the end of the second World War, during the French attempt at turning the uplands into an independent political entity (the P.M.S.I: "Pays Montagnards du Sud Indochinois" - a policy inspired by the hope of countering the ever more insistent encroachments of Vietnamese nationalists) the word "Montagnards" generally replaced "moï" at least in the official literature of the French colonial power.
   A local elite appeared as a consequence of this attempt (particularly among the E-dhé/Radhé group as a result of the education based on the French model on offer since the 1920s around Ban-me-thuot) and it reached positions of responsibility. That elite adopted this generic denomination in the hope of founding a political association of societies traditionally without political structure beyond villages or group of villages in frequent conflict among themselves.
   The Vietnam war implicated the uplands and their populations with a destructive frenzy which caused a downright disaster for the traditional cultures. It caused a near annihilation by all parties in conflict of "non-aligned" political leaders. Some survivors of the tragedy having found refuge in the USA took up the term which was also popular among a part of the American actors of the conflict and named their associations: "Montagnard Foundation", "Montagnard Human Rights Organization" and their websites: Montagnard Human Rights Organization 2.
   Since then, they have created another global generic term, "Degar", which they endeavour to popularize3. We have nevertheless, as a makeshift, adhered to the word "Montagnard" as best known internationally; it is also adequate as we see it both to the historical period covered here and to the national origin of the authors of our main collections.

1 - "savage". The French term "sauvage" is however much ambiguous as appears for instance in the works of both Montaigne and Rousseau.
2 - Some of their American friends objected, trying to accredit the idea that "Montagnard" as a legacy of the "shameful" French colonial past was ultimately a pejorative term. There is, however, sufficient evidence to the contrary, both in the French language itself, and in the national and colonial history of France.
3 - Degar ou Dega: see
Jean-Pierre Chazal - All rights reserved 2010-2015