Viet-Nam: The First Five Years: An International Symposium

By Richard W. Lindholm | Go to book overview

XI. The Tribesmen

FREDERIC WICKERT56

THE WORLD has heard about the 3,000 primitive tribesmen who, willingly or not, co-operate with the Communists in the highly dramatized struggle that has been going on for so long in the jungles of Malaya. But there has been almost no publicity regarding a tribal problem of far greater magnitude, that of the 500,000 to 700,000 tribesmen of Free Viet-Nam. Also little known are the problems of hundreds of thousands of tribesmen to the north of Free Viet-Nam. Some of these live in Laos and Cambodia, or to the west of Thailand, Burma, and India, while others reside in Red Viet-Nam and even in China itself.

The mountain tribesmen in Free Viet-Nam, along with the Chinese, the large numbers of Cambodians in the Mekong delta, and the near million refugees from the north (perhaps 150,000 of these are Nung tribesmen, fierce fighters from the Viet-Nam-China border) have created problems for the new government of Free Viet-Nam.

The Vietnamese tend to look on the mountain tribesmen as inferior, uncivilized, lazy, and wastefully occupying much good land. They usually refer to a tribesman as moi, which means savage. At the same time, the Vietnamese, accustomed to the crowded, flat rice lands and to cities, tend to be a little afraid of the tribesmen and regard the thinly populated mountainous country where they live as inhospitable.

On the other hand, the tribesmen consider the Vietnamese as a force that may lead to their eventual extermination. The Vietnamese are settling on their lands, with the best lands going first, and the tribesmen see themselves starved to death. They feel that the Vietnamese are letting diseases, such as smallpox, kill them off. Too, they feel that the Vietnamese are trying to force them to give up their culture.

The Communists are another group involved in the Vietnamese tribesmen problem. The tribesmen's country merges into that of fellow tribesmen who live north of the 17th parallel, in Red Viet-Nam. There are only paths through the otherwise trackless jungle and mountains where the 17th parallel runs, although some roads are being built. Communist infiltrators could, and have, come down these paths to spread propaganda among the frustrated tribesmen. It has long been conceded that one obvious route of attack on Free Viet-Nam would be through these jungles.

No doubt the Communists estimate that the tribesmen, if not enthusi-

____________________
56
Professor of Psychology, Michigan State University. Historical references have come from French sources, particularly Bulletin de la Societé des Études Indochinoises. Other information comes from the personal experiences of the author and his colleagues in the Michigan State University Group and other American organizations in Free Viet-Nam.

-126-

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