Muong - Orientation

Identification. In the last few decades, the word "Muong" has received recognition as the name for this ethnic collectivity, but it is not an autonym. Until the early twentieth century, the Vietnamese used to call all the forest/hill dwellers "Mi" or "Moi" (the savage). The French too used the same derogatory term, "les Mois," and only much later did the French refer to them as "Montagnards" (mountaineers). Now they are designated as ethnic minorities. The Vietnamese term "Muong" initially had no ethnic connotation. It simply referred to any neighboring area inhabited by non-Vietnamese, especially the Muong and the Thai, under the traditional authority of an aristocratic family. The Muong, on the other hand, called themselves "Mol," meaning "man." Through dialectal variations in different regions, "Mol" is also pronounced "Moal" or "Moai."

Location. The Muong inhabit a continuous stretch of about 300 kilometers of land from north to south, from Yen Bai Province to Nghe An Province, without passing through the territory of any other ethnic group. This territorial contiguity has contributed to the extraordinary cohesion and persistence of the Muong culture. In fact, there is very little variation in the material and spiritual life of the Muong in different regions. The Muong regard Hoa Binh Province in the north of Vietnam as the cradle of their culture. The Muong habitat is essentially mountainous, enclosing narrow valleys. The forest cover has been largely decimated. Most of their settlements are located at the foot of the limestone or earthen hillocks in narrow valleys. Usually there are Thai settlements to the west of theirs, and Vietnamese settlements to the east. This midland location has been a source of Muong economic and cultural strength for ages.

Demography. In 1960 the Muong numbered 415,658, and by the mid-1980s they had reached a population of nearly 500,000. They are one of the largest ethnic minorities in the Indochinese region, and the second-largest in Vietnam.

Linguistic Affiliation. Their language belongs to the Mon-Khmer Group of Austroasiatic languages. As yet there is no script, despite concerted efforts in the last few years.

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