Bahnar– THE MONTAGNARDS
They call themselves Dega.
The French called them Montagnards (Mountaineers).
The American’s affectionately called them Little People or Yards.
The Vietnamese call them Moi, or savages.
They are the Indigenous People of Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
The Bahnar, along with the Bru, the Rhade, the Jarai, the Koho, the Sedang and any of the more than forty distinct and recognizable aboriginal groups that inhabit the Central Highlands of Vietnam make up the Montagnard population, which once may have numbered 3 million persons, but now has dwindled to only a few hundred thousand survivors.
Hundreds of Bahnar tribesmen fought alongside Special Forces Teams in the Khe Sanh area during the Vietnam War. Many of the Bahnar died or were wounded helping their American friends.
In 1975, many of the South Vietnamese people fled South Vietnam. For the most part, it was the high-ranking, well-educated, and the sophisticated who ran. Leaving the country was not an option or consideration for the Bahnar tribe, our “little people”, the guys who worked and risked death with us. They are the “stay behinds”. They have suffered and will continue to do so under the Communists government unless we help.
Their world revolves around small villages where resources are shared and kinship is important. Their leadership is well defined, and moral order is expressed in systems of education and justice that respect individual rights and dignity. They farm the plateaus, the slopes, and the bottom land of ancient rivers. They fish the streams and hunt the forest. Their lifestyle would almost seem idyllic, except for one thing.
The Communist Vietnamese, seemingly have no interest in preserving the lifestyle of the Montagnards; in fact, they appear to be committed to the principle of cultural leveling in which the differences among people are suppressed, diluted, and finally erased.
The children of these brave fighters are now trying to survive under Communist rule which does little to support them. The Bahnar are engaged in a battle of fighting off malnutrition, disease, and trying to cope with the ever encroaching Vietnamese population. Unexplored ordinance is also a major problem. Friends of the Bahnar tribesmen, with their generous donations have been able to supply vitamins, clothing, potable water wells, and medical support to several villages.