Central Highlands (Vietnam)

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Location in Vietnam

Tây Nguyên, translated as Western Highlands and sometimes also called Central Highlands, is one of the regions of Vietnam. It contains the provinces of Đắk Lắk, Đắk Nông, Gia Lai, Kon Tum, Lâm Đồng.

This region is sometimes referred to as Cao nguyên Trung bộ (literally "Midland Highlands"), and was referred to during the Republic of Vietnam as Cao nguyên Trung phần (literally "Central Highlands").


Statistics of Tây Nguyên (Central Highlands)
Provinces Capital Population (Census April 1, 2009) Area (km²)
Đắk Lắk Buôn Ma Thuột 1,737,600 13,139.2 km²
Đắk Nông Gia Nghĩa 407,300 6,516.9 km²
Gia Lai Pleiku 1,161,700 15,536.9 km²
Kon Tum Kon Tum 383,100 9,690.5 km²
Lâm Đồng Da Lat 1,179,200 9,776.1 km²


The native inhabitants of the Central Highlands are the Degar (Montagnard) peoples. Vietnam conquered and invaded the area during its "march to the south" (Nam tiến). Ethnic Vietnamese (Kinh) people now outnumber the indigenous Degars after state sponsored colonization directed by both the government of South Vietnam and the current Communist government of unified Vietnam. The Montagnards have fought against and resisted all Vietnamese invaders, from the anti-Communist South Vietnamese government, the Vietcong, to the Communist government of unified Vietnam.

The Champa state and Chams in the lowlands were traditional suzerains whom the Montagnards in ther highlands acknowledged as their lords, while autonomy was held by the Montagnards.[1] After World War II concept of "Nam tiến" and the southward conquest was celebrated by Vietnamese scholars.[2] The Pays Montagnard du Sud-Indochinois was the name of the Central Highlands from 1946 under French Indochina.[3]

The French, the Communist North Vietnamese, and the anti-Communist South Vietnamese all exploited and persecuted the Montagnards. North Vietnamese Communists forcibly recruited "comfort girls" from the indigenous Montagnard peoples of the Central Highlands and murdered those who didn't comply, inspired by Japan's use of comfort women.[4]

One of the flags of FULRO combines the Degar Montagnard and Cham flags together, with a white crescent on a green background on the left third of the flag, blue and white horizontal stripes in the middle third of the flag, and an all red right third of the flag.[5][6]

The Montagnard lands in the Central Highlands were subjected to state sponsored colonization by ethnic Vietnamese settlers under the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem which resulted in estranging the Montagnards and leading them to reject Vietnamese rule.[7]

The South Vietnamese and Communist Vietnamese colonization of the Central Highlands have been compared to the historic Nam tiến of previous Vietnamese rulers. During the Nam tiến (March to the South) Khmer and Cham territory was seized and militarily colonized (đồn điền) by the Vietnamese which was repeated by the state sponsored colonization of Northern Vietnamese Catholic refugees on Montagnard land by the South Vietnamese leader Diem and the introduction to the Central Highlands of "New Economic Zones" by the now Communist Vietnamese government.[8]

The thousand year violent war the Vietnamese in the lowlands had with the Montagnards in the mountains was a long established custom and the Vietnamese used the derogatory word "Moi" (savages) to address the Montagnards, the South Vietnamese government was strongly against the autonomous Montagnard CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Groups) who were fighting against the Vietcong because they feared that the Montagnards would gain independence so the South Vietnamese and Montagnards violently clashed against each other. The Vietnamese Communists implemented harsh punishment against the Montagnards after the defeat of South Vietnam.[9]

The Vietnamese viewed and dealt with the indigenous Montagnards in the CIDG from the Central Highlands as "savages" and this caused a Montagnard uprising against the Vietnamese.[10]

The Montagnard Rhades mounted a revolt, seizing hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers, assassinating officers of the Vietnamese special forces and seizing American advisers on 19–20 September but the 23rd Division of the South Vietnamese army stopped them from sizing Ban Me Thout, the provincial capital of Darlac Province.[11]

The South Vietnamese and Communists "victimized" the Montagnards.[12]

In the Central Highlands the Montagnard FULRO organization fought against both the Communists and South Vietnamese due to discrimination by the South Vietnamese army against the Montagnards. After the victory of the Communist North Vietnamese, the Vietnamese refused autonomy to the Montagnards, and on Montagnard land they settled around one million ethnic Vietnamese in addition to using "reducation camps" on the Montagnards, leading the Montagnard FULRO to continue the armed struggle against the Vietnamese.[13]

The Vietnamese were originally centered around the Red River Delta but engaged in conquest and seized new lands such as Champa, the Mekong Delta (from Cambodia) and the Central Highlands during Nam Tien, while the Vietnamese received strong Chinese influence in their culture and civilization and were Sinicized, and the Cambodians and Laotians were Indianized, the Montagnards in the Central Highlands maintained their own native culture without adopting external culture and were the true indigenous natives of the region, and to hinder encroachment on the Central Highlands by Vietnamese nationalists, the term Pays Montagnard du Sud-Indochinois PMSI emerged for the Central Highlands along with the natives being addressed by the name Montagnard.[14] The tremendous scale of Vietnamese Kinh colonists flooding into the Central Highlands has significantly altered the demographics of the region.[15]

Violent demonstrations with fatalities have broken out due to Montagnard anger at Vietnamese discrimination and seizure of their land since many Vietnamese Kinh were settled by the government in the Central Highlands.[16][17]

Long tails and excessive body hair were attributed as physical characteristics of Montagnards in Vietnamese school textbooks in the past.[18]

Up until French rule, the Central Highlands was almost never entered by the Vietnamese since they viewed it as a savage (Moi-Montaganrd) populated area with fierce animals like tigers, "poisoned water" and "evil malevolent spirits", but the Vietnamese became greedy and voracious for the land after the French transformed it into a profitable plantation area to grow crops on,[19] in addition to the natural resources from the forests, minerals and rich earth and realization of its crucial geographical importance.[20]

Ethnic minorities in general have also been referred to as "moi",[21] including other "hill tribes" like the Muong.[22]

The anti-ethnic minority discriminatory policies by the Vietnamese, environmental degradation, deprivation of lands from the natives, and settlement of native lands by a massive amount of Vietnamese settlers led to massive protests and demonstrations by the Central Highland's indigenous native ethnic minorities against the Vietnamese in January–February 2001 and this event gave a tremendous blow to the claim often published by the Vietnamese government that in Vietnam There has been no ethnic confrontation, no religious war, no ethnic conflict. And no elimination of one culture by another.[23]

The same state sponsored settlement of ethnic minority land by Vietnamese Kinh has happened in another highland region, the Annamite Cordillera (Trường Sơn), both the Central Highlands and Annamite Cordillera were populated by ethnic minorities who were not Vietnamese during the 20th century's start, but the demographics of the highlands was drastically transformed with the mass colonization of 6 million settlers from 1976 to the 1990s, which led to ethnic Vietnamese Kinh outnumbering the native ethnic groups in the highlands.[24]

The Montagnards in FULRO fought the Vietnamese for twenty years after the end of the Vietnam War and the scale of Vietnamese attacks on the Montagnards reached genocidal proportions with the slaughter of over 200,000 Montagnards after 1975.[25]

Leaving out any plans for autonomy for ethnic minorities, an assimilation plan was launched by the South Vietnamese government with the creation of the "Social and Economic Council for the Southern Highlander Country", the South Vietnamese based their approach to the highlanders by claiming that they would be "developed" since they were "poor" and "ignorant", making swidden agriculturalists sedentarize and settling ethnic Vietnamese colonists from the coastal regions into the highlands such as Northern Vietnamese Catholic refugees who fled to South Vietnam, 50,000 Vietnamese settlers were in the highlands in 1960 and in 1963 the total number of settlers was 200,000 and up to 1974 the South Vietnamese were still implemented the colonization plan even though the highland natives experienced massive turbulence and disorder because of the colonization, and by 1971 less than half of a scheme back by the Americans to leave Montagnards with just 20% of the Central Highlands was completed, and even in the parts of the highlands which did not experience colonization, the South Vietnamese threw the native tribes into "strategic hamelets" to keep them away from places where communists potentially operated and the South Vietnamese consistently spurned any attempts too make overtures to the native Highlanders.[26]

Former Green Beret and writer Don Bendell wrote a novel based on Vietnam's policies in the Central Highlands with details in his book such as accusing the Communist Vietnamese government implemented a genocidal and discriminatory policy against the native Montagnards in the Central Highlands, banning Montagnard languages and implementing Vietnamese language, having Vietnamese men marry Montagnard girls and women by force, colonizing the Central Highlands with massive amounts of Vietnamese settlers form the lowlands, inflicting terror and on the Montagnards with the Cong An, and making them perform slave labor, erecting plantations for rubber, tea, and coffee on the Central Highlands after destroying the vegetation in the area and due to these "apartheid-like conditions".[27]

After mass jailings and killings during the 2001 and 2004 protests by ethnic hill tribe minorities against the Vietnamese regime, foreigners were banned from the Central Highlands for a period of time by Vietnam.[28][29]

Since 1964 the Montagnards of FULRO struggled for their own country and continued to fight against the Vietnamese Communist regime which persecuted them for their religious beliefs.[30]

2001 Mass Protestants and Uprising[edit]

2004 Mass Protestants and Uprising[edit]


The Tây Nguyên region is home to a large population of ethnic minorities such as the people of Malayo-Polynesian languages (Jarai and Ede) and the people of Mon-Khmer languages (Bahnar and K'hor). They have made up the majority of the region's population for a long time. However, this changed over the last few decades due to immigration of Kinh people (ethnic Vietnamese). As of 2006, there was a Kinh majority in the Central Highlands, while there were still several districts that had a non-Kinh majority (most of them in Gia Lai Province).[31]

The Central Highlands had a population of 4,935,200 people in 2007.[32] As a result of resettlement campaigns of various governments (colonial, South Vietnam, post-war), the region's population has increased significantly. It was 420,000 in 1926, but had reached 2.8 million in 1991[33]:200 and 4.2 million in 2000.[34] Population growth between 2000 and 2007 averaged 2.24% per year, which is significantly higher than that of other regions, such as the South Central Coast (1.22%) and North Central Coast (0.86%).[32] Growth has been particularly fast in Đắk Nông Province with 4.76%, followed by Kon Tum Province with 2.64%.[32]

The Central Highlands' population density is 72.2/km² as of 2007, higher than that of the South Central Coast (68.4), but lower than that of the North Central Coast (86.1).[32] The most densely populated provinces are Đắk Lắk and Lâm Đồng, while Kon Tum is the least densely populated.


Dong Son village in Đắk Lắk Province, surrounded by mountains.

Tây Nguyên is a plateau، bordering the lower part of Laos and northeastern Cambodia. Kon Tum Province shares a border with both Laos and Cambodia but Gia Lai Province and Đắk Lắk Province only share borders with Cambodia. Lâm Đồng Province is landlocked, and thus has no international border.

Actually, Tây Nguyên is not situated on a unique plateau, instead it lies on series of contiguous plateaus, namely Kon Tum Plateau at the height of 500 m, Kon Plông Plateau, Kon Hà Nừng Plateau, Pleiku Plateau with the height of around 800m, Mdrak Plateau of approximately 500 m, Đắk Lắk Plateau of around 800m, Mơ Nông Plateau with the height of about 800–1000 m, Lâm Viên Plateau of approximately 1500 m and Di Linh Plateau of about 900–1000 m. All of these plateau are surrounded by the high mountain ranges and mounts (South Annamite Range).

Tây Nguyên can be divided into 3 subregions according to its deviation in topography and climate, namely: North Tây Nguyên (Bắc Tây Nguyên) (inclusive of Kon Tum and Gia Lai provinces), Middle Tây Nguyên (Trung Tây Nguyên) (covering provinces of Đắk Lắk and Đắk Nông), South Tây Nguyên (Nam Tây Nguyên) (Lâm Đồng). Trung Tây Nguyên has lower altitude and therefore has a higher temperature from other two subregions.


Tây Nguyên contains in it many primitive forests and is protected in its national parks, such as Cát Tiên National Park, Yok Đôn National Park, Kon Ka Kinh National Park. The region has an average altitude of 500–600 m with basalt soil, suitable for planting coffee tree, cacao, pepper, and white mulberry. Cashew and rubber plants are also planted here. Coffee is the most important product of Tây Nguyên, with production centred in Đắk Lắk Province. The provincial capital of Buôn Ma Thuột hosts a number of major coffee factories, including ones owned by major producer Trung Nguyên. Tây Nguyên is also the third natural bauxite source in the world[citation needed]. Plans for bauxite mining in the area have met with some controversy, both because of the environmental impact of the proposed operations, and because of labour issues.

Flora and fauna[edit]

Tây Nguyên is home to the most prominent and also the most endangered species in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, namely, the Indochinese tiger, the huge gaur, the Wild Asian Water Buffalo, the banteng, and the Asian elephant.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oscar Salemink (2003). The Ethnography of Vietnam's Central Highlanders: A Historical Contextualization, 1850-1990. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 35–336. ISBN 978-0-8248-2579-9. 
  2. ^ Zottoli, Brian A. (2011). Conceptualizing Southern Vietnamese History from the 15th to 18th Centuries: Competition along the Coasts from Guangdong to Cambodia (A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (History) in The University of Michigan). p. 5. 
  3. ^ Oscar Salemink (2003). The Ethnography of Vietnam's Central Highlanders: A Historical Contextualization, 1850-1990. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 155–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2579-9. 
  4. ^ "Conclusions". Montagnard Human Rights Organization (MHRO). 2010. 
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ Frances FitzGerald (30 May 2009). Fire in the Lake. Little, Brown. pp. 190–. ISBN 978-0-316-07464-3. 
  8. ^ Oscar Salemink (2003). The Ethnography of Vietnam's Central Highlanders: A Historical Contextualization, 1850-1990. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 151–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2579-9. 
  9. ^ John Jacob Nutter (2000). The CIA's Black Ops: Covert Action, Foreign Policy, and Democracy. Prometheus Books, Publishers. pp. 160–. ISBN 978-1-61592-397-7. 
  10. ^ Graham A. Cosmas. MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Escalation, 1962-1967. Government Printing Office. pp. 145–. ISBN 978-0-16-072367-4. 
  11. ^ Graham A. Cosmas. MACV: The Joint Command in the Years of Escalation, 1962-1967. Government Printing Office. pp. 146–. ISBN 978-0-16-072367-4. 
  12. ^ John Hellmann (13 August 2013). American Myth and the Legacy of Vietnam. Columbia University Press. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-231-51538-2. 
  13. ^ Spencer C. Tucker (20 May 2011). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War, The: A Political, Social, and Military History: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 182–. ISBN 978-1-85109-961-0. 
  14. ^ Oscar Salemink (2003). The Ethnography of Vietnam's Central Highlanders: A Historical Contextualization, 1850-1990. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 28–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2579-9. 
  15. ^ Oscar Salemink (2003). The Ethnography of Vietnam's Central Highlanders: A Historical Contextualization, 1850-1990. University of Hawaii Press. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-0-8248-2579-9. 
  16. ^ Jim Sullivan; James Sullivan (2006). Vietnam. National Geographic Society. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-0-7922-6203-9. 
  17. ^ James Sullivan (2010). National Geographic Traveler Vietnam. National Geographic. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-1-4262-0522-4. 
  18. ^ Haha Lung (2006). Lost Fighting Arts of Vietnam. Citadel. pp. 7–. ISBN 978-0-8065-2760-4. 
  19. ^ Lawrence H. Climo, M.D. (20 December 2013). The Patient Was Vietcong: An American Doctor in the Vietnamese Health Service, 1966-1967. McFarland. pp. 227–. ISBN 978-0-7864-7899-6. 
  20. ^ Lawrence H. Climo, M.D. (20 December 2013). The Patient Was Vietcong: An American Doctor in the Vietnamese Health Service, 1966-1967. McFarland. pp. 228–. ISBN 978-0-7864-7899-6. 
  21. ^ David W. P. Elliott (31 December 2002). The Vietnamese War: Revolution and Social Change in the Mekong Delta, 1930-1975. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 1504–. ISBN 978-0-7656-0602-0. 
  22. ^ James B. Minahan (30 August 2012). Ethnic Groups of South Asia and the Pacific: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 269–. ISBN 978-1-59884-660-7. 
  23. ^ McElwee, Pamela (2008). "7 Becoming Socialist or Becoming Kinh? Government Policies for Ethnic Minorities in the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam". In Duncan, Christopher R. Civilizing the Margins: Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities. Singapore: NUS Press. p. 182. ISBN 978-9971-69-418-0. 
  24. ^ McElwee, Pamela (2008). ""Blood Relatives" or Uneasy Neighbors? Kinh Migrant and Ethnic Minority Interactions in the Trường Sơn Mountains". Journal of Vietnamese Studies (Regents of the University of California) 3 (3): 81–82. doi:10.1525/vs.2008.3.3.81. ISSN 1559-372X. Retrieved 17 August 2015. 
  25. ^ George Dooley (18 December 2007). Battle for the Central Highlands: A Special Forces Story. Random House Publishing Group. pp. 255–. ISBN 978-0-307-41463-2. 
  26. ^ Christopher R. Duncan (2008). Civilizing the Margins: Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities. NUS Press. pp. 193–. ISBN 978-9971-69-418-0. 
  27. ^ Don Bendell (2 October 2007). Criminal Investigation Detachment #3: Bamboo Battleground. Penguin Publishing Group. pp. 23–. ISBN 978-0-425-21631-6. 
  28. ^ Bray, Adam (June 16, 2014). "The Cham: Descendants of Ancient Rulers of South China Sea Watch Maritime Dispute From Sidelines". National Geographic News (National Geographic). Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  29. ^ Bray, Adam. "The Cham: Descendants of Ancient Rulers of South China Sea Watch Maritime Dispute From Sidelines". IOC-Champa. Archived from the original on 26 Jun 15.  Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  30. ^ Thayer, Nate (25 September 1992). "Lighting the darkness: FULRO's jungle Christians". The Phnom Penh Post. 
  31. ^ General Statistics Office (1996): Population Data of Sparsely Populated Areas in Vietnam. Statistical Publishing House, Hanoi
  32. ^ a b c d calculations based on General Statistics Office (2009): Socio-economical Statistical Data of 63 Provinces and Cities. Statistical Publishing House, Hanoi
  33. ^ McElwee, Pamela 2008: Becoming Socialist or Becoming Kinh? Government Policies for Ethnic Minorities in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. in Duncan, Christopher (ed.): Civilizing the Margins - Southeast Asian Government Policies for the Development of Minorities. NUS Press, Singapore
  34. ^ General Statistics Office (2009): Socio-economic Statistical Data of 63 Provinces and Cities, Vietnam. Statistical Publishing House, Hanoi

Coordinates: 13°45′N 108°15′E / 13.750°N 108.250°E / 13.750; 108.250