The Montagnards Nation

A Brief History of the Montagnards Nation

The indigenous peoples of Vietnam’s Central Highlands are often referred to as “Montagnard” or Mountain People. Other tribal names include, “Anak Cu Chiang” or “Dega” referring to the “Original People” of the Central Highlands. Our ancient peoples inhabited the coast of Vietnam and later migrated to the Central Highlands region where we lived for centuries. Our tribes speak Mon Khmer and Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) languages. The ancient Malay Polynesian groups migrated from Polynesia and Indonesia, with the Mon Khmer speaking tribes migrating from Burma (Myanmar.)


The Malayo-Polynesian languages are spoken by the Rhade, Jarai, Chru, Rai (Seyu), Roglai, and Hroy. Mon Khmer languages include those spoken by the Bahnar, Rengao, Sedand, Halang, Jeh, Monom, Koho, and Chrau, Katu, Phuang, Bru and Pacoh.


Prior to 1800, the Central Highlands tribal peoples lived isolated in a highlands existence under a feudal system of government living peacefully with our customs, culture and traditions in a village-centered society. We were separated from lowland cultures. Our spiritual life was rooted in our relationship with the land; the rivers, lakes, and forests.  The life of the Montagnard “Anak Cu Chiang” peoples revolved around nature; the seasons, family, and village. Our weapons were crossbows and spears for hunting. For our transportation, we used horses and elephants.


There are over 28 tribal groups with the five major tribes being: Bahnar, Jarai, Rhade, Koho and Mnong. The early peoples believed in nature spirits and the divine, “Ae Die” (Grandfather Sky / God) was present in all creation.

  • In the last 200 years, the outsiders- the French, Vietnamese, Americans and present day Vietnamese government, used our ancestral land. Our land became a battlefield for over thirty years. During the French-Indochina and Vietnam wars (1945-1975), the Montagnard Indigenous Peoples were used as a tool of the war and our people became victims of the conflict on our ancestor’s land. As a result, more than a million Montagnards were killed and eighty-five percent of our villages were destroyed or abandoned. The Montagnards fought and died for France’s interests in Vietnam, for America, and especially for the dream of freedom which today, benefits all Vietnamese people in Vietnam.

  •  1848– The first French Catholic missionaries explored the remote areas of the Central Highlands in Indochina and established a post in Kontum. The French organized the diverse tribes into a cohesive political unit and gave them the name, “Montagnard Du Sud Indochinois” or Montagnard of South-Indochina. During the colonization period the French Federal Government recognized the territorial sovereignty and integrity of the Montagnard people. There were no ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh people) and others living in the Central Highlands during that time.

  • In 1892, the French transcribed our dialect into Roman alphabet and constructed the first elementary school in 1901 at Buon Ama Thuot.

  • 1945-1954, the French Indochina War between the French and the North Vietnamese Communists took place. The French Federal government recruited thousands of Montagnard teenagers and including 13 battalions of Montagnards who were armed and recruited to join the French Forces in their fight against the North Vietnamese Communists, Viet-Minh.

  • May 27, 1946, Admiral D’Argenlieu, a representative of the French Federal Government in Indochina, created an autonomous country for the Montagnard population of South Indochina called “Pays Montagnards Du Sud Indochinois (PMSI). This Ordinance gave the Montagnard people a Statute Particular granting self-administration and self-determination to the Montagnard people of the Central Highlands.

  • July 25, 1950– The French classified the Montagnard territory as a “Domain de la Couronne” (Crown Domain) directly under the control of Emperor Bao Dai. The 13 battalions of Montagnard troops continued to serve the French Federal Government and  to protect the Crown Domain for the Vietnamese Emperor.

  • May 21, 1951, Decree No. 16/QT/TD was issued. Article 1 said that the non-Vietnamese populations who lived on territories called the “Montagnard Regions of the South” and the Central Highlands administration was separate from the lowlands.

  • July 1953, Montagnard autonomy was suppressed by the regime of Emperor Bao Dai. The Pays Motnagnard Du Sud Indochinois (PMSI) was changed to Pay Montagnard Du Sud) PMS, Country of the Montagnards of the South.

  • July 21, 1954– The Geneva Convention announced the end of the Indochina War. At the Convention, there were delegations from France, Britain, the U.S., Soviet Union, the Republic of China, Cambodia, Laos, South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Only the French and the Vietnamese representatives signed the agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam. The French did not allow representatives of the Montagnard people to participate in the Convention and consequently the Montagnard voice and interests for their homeland and territory was not represented.

  • Vietnam was divided into two countries. Ho Chi Minh assumed leadership in North Vietnam and King Bao Dai of South Vietnam, divided by the 17th parallel. Later Ngo Dinh Diem, with support by United States became the first President of the Republic of South Vietnam. The French agreed to withdraw from Vietnam. The order was given to strike down both the French and Montagnard flags and the South Vietnam flag was raised. Thousands of Montagnads were stunned by this betrayal when the French transferred all Montagnard land and governance to South Vietnam.

Watch the reference