inevitably friction developed. Dissatisfaction among the Montagnards reached a point where in 1958 one of the principal tribes, the Rhade, organized a passive march in protest. Vietnamese officials countered by confiscating the tribesmen's crossbows and spears, an act that further alienated the Montagnards.
The indifference of the Vietnamese to the needs and feelings of the tribesmen grew directly out of their attitude toward the Montagnards, whom the Vietnamese had traditionally regarded as an inferior people, calling them "moi," or savages, and begrudging them their tribal lands. This attitude on the part of the Vietnamese plagued the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program from the beginning. Not until 1966 did the Vietnamese, in their desire to bring the tribes under government control, begin to refer to the Montagnards as Dong Bao Throng, "compatriots of the highlands." Even so, the animosity between Montagnards and Vietnamese continued to be a major problem.
The Montagnard Culture
The Montagnards constitute one of the largest minority groups in Vietnam. The term Montagnard, loosely used, like the word Indian, applies to more than a hundred tribes of primitive mountain people, numbering from 600,000 to a million and spread over all of Indochina. In South Vietnam there are some twenty-nine tribes, all told more than 200,000 people. Even within the same tribe, cultural patterns and linguistic characteristics can vary considerably from village to village. In spite of their dissimilarities, however, the Montagnards have many common features that distinguish them from the Vietnamese who inhabit the lowlands. The Montagnard tribal society is centered on the village and the people depend largely on slash-and-burn agriculture for their livelihood. Montagnards have in common an ingrained hostility toward the Vietnamese and a desire to be independent.
Throughout the course of the French Indochina War, the Viet Minh worked to win the Montagnards to their side. Living in the highlands, these mountain people had been long isolated by both geographic and economic conditions from the developed areas of Vietnam, and they occupied territory of strategic value to an insurgent movement. The French also enlisted and trained Montagnards as soldiers, and many fought on their side.
Since the Rhade (Rah-day) tribe is fairly representative of the Montagnards, a description of the way of life of the villagers will serve as a good example of the environment in which the Special Forces worked in Vietnam. The Rhade were, furthermore,