The Hill Tribes of Vietnam
“Vietnamese Hill Tribes” is sometimes used to describe the ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, most of which, live in the mountains.
Vietnam is home to 54 officially recognized ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group is the “Kinh” or “Viet”, ethnic group. The Kinh are what people typically consider “Vietnamese”. Though, all of the ethnic groups in Vietnam are Vietnamese.
The other 53 ethnic groups or “ethnic minority” groups mostly live in the mountains of Central and Northern Vietnam. (The exceptions to this are the Cham, Khmer, and Hoa ethnic groups.) Because of this they have been referred to as “Vietnam Hill Tribes”.
B’lôn, 90, from the Stieng ethnic group wears ivory earrings, a tradition once widespread in ethnic minority groups of Central Vietnam.
“Montagnards” was a word used by the French during the French Colonial era, to refer to the indigenous people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam and surrounding areas. Literally translated it means “Mountain Dweller” or “Mountain People”. It’s not a word that is commonly used in Vietnam today. The word “Montagnard” is however still used by indigenous people who have resettled in the US. The word “Degar” has also been used, mostly outside of Vietnam, to describe indigenous people of Central Vietnam, and is synonymous with “Montagnard”.
Brê & K’Lon from the Ma ethnic group in the Central Highlands (Montagnards).
Hill Tribes of Vietnam
When referring to the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam I will usually use “Ethnic Groups” and not “Hill Tribes”, or when referring to a specific person or group, use the name of the ethnic group. I’ve found that the names of the individual ethnic groups in Vietnam aren’t used enough, and instead, they are mostly referred to as ethnic people or ethnic minority people. I believe that using the specific names of the ethnic groups, when applicable, is the starting point to a greater understanding of them.
Nhiến, 80, & Là, 87, from the Pu Péo ethnic group. With 903 people, the Pu Péo are the 4th smallest ethnic group in Vietnam.
Ethnic Group Names
In Vietnam, ethnic minority people will refer to themselves as belonging to their specific ethnic group. Many times, if there is a local “sub-group” they will use that name. This became quite clear to me one day when Trinh and I were traveling around Kon Tum in Central Vietnam. When we asked a woman which ethnic group she was, her reply was “Mơ Nâm”. We stopped at another village about an hour and a half drive away. Two women we talked to referred to their ethnic group as “Ta Tri”. Both the Mo Nam and Ta Tri are classified as belonging to the Xo Dang Ethnic group.
The 54 Ethnic Groups of Vietnam
There are 54 officially recognized ethnic groups in Vietnam with hundreds of smaller subgroups. For a complete list of the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam click here.