The highlanders of mainland Southeast Asia are indigenous ethnic peoples whose ancestral territories once spanned the uplands of Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Often collectively referred to as Montagnards, they consist of more than 30 different ethnic groups, including the Bunong, Jarai, Ede, Koho, Tampuen, Brou, and Kreung.
Traditionally they lived in networks of independent villages governed by their own inhabitants, who put up stiff resistance to encroachment on their ancestral lands by Vietnamese and Cambodians from the lowlands as well as French colonial rule.
War, ethnic and religious persecution, and loss of their ancestral lands has forced many Montagnards into exile. Thousands have resettled as refugees to the United States, where North Carolina is now home to the largest number of Montagnards outside of Southeast Asia.
In this panel discussion, historian and human rights researcher Sara Colm will track the history of the Montagnards and present-day human rights challenges they face in Vietnam and Cambodia. UNCH students Phun H and Ly Nuin will discuss their fieldwork last summer in Cambodia and Vietnam, where they documented the folklore traditions of four Montagnard ethnic groups — the Bunong, Jarai, Ede and Koho — in an effort to preserve and promote awareness of these endangered cultures.
Sara Colm is a specialist on human rights and indigenous peoples in Cambodia and Vietnam with more than 20 years’ experience in Southeast Asia. She is the author of Repression of Montagnards: Conflict Over Land and Religion in Vietnam’s Central Highlands (2002).