Although there are as many as 60 different groups of people living in Vietnam, the majority of the population is the Viet people. Of the 78 million people living in the country, 85 percent are what we refer to as Vietnamese.
They live primarily in the lowlands of Vietnam. Three-quarters of the population of Vietnam live in rural villages. A vast majority of the citizens are rice farmers, and live in the lowlands where there is fertile, easily irrigated soil. Where the ancestors of the Viet people came from is not completely known. They were probably farmers that moved gradually into the northern part of Vietnam from China, and slowly moved south, pushing other native people like the Champa out or up into the mountains as they migrated along the coast.
One of the larger minority groups in Vietnam are the Chinese. They immigrated to the lowlands of Vietnam during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Before the war between North and South Vietnam, they were involved in foreign and rice trade, and remained somewhat independent from the Vietnamese people. Later, however; new laws and regulations forced most to abandon their ways of life, and many fled the country.
Two other minorities living in the lowlands include the Cham and the Khmer. The Cham are descendants of the Champa kingdom that existed along the central coast for thousands of years. Now there are only about 50,000 of their people left living as fishermen and farmers in scattered villages along the coast. The Khmer, of Cambodian decent, live and have lived for a long time in the swampy Mekong Delta, south of Ho Chi Minh City. They are more numerous than the Cham people.
The other residents of Vietnam live in the mountainous regions of the country. They, as a group, are commonly called the Montagnards. In the northern mountains, along the Chinese border, live tribes that have migrated there in the last several centuries. Some of the more common of these include the Tai, Nung, Meo, Yao, Muong, and the Tay. The Tay are by far the most numerous of the northern people. To the south, in the central highlands, are the Rhade and the Jarai peoples. They are descendants of nomads who came to the central coast in the third or second millennia BC, and have since been pushed up into the highlands. Now they live mainly by slash and burn agriculture. For centuries, the mountain people lived in isolation and were suspicious of lowlanders. They maintained only limited communication and trade with the Vietnamese.
In the last fifty or so years, the Vietnamese have tried both peacefully and forcefully to integrate them into their society, and they have found themselves in the middle of several wars. Now the Vietnamese government is implementing programs to improve and develop communities, bring lowland Vietnamese people into the mountains, and educate the children of these Montagnards, while still allowing them to maintain their heritage.
Vietnam is the 13th most populous country in the world. Their official language, Vietnamese is spoken throughout the country, but dialects vary between the north, south, and center. English is common in larger cities and is taught in schools, and French is also spoken in various parts of the country. Vietnam has an 88 percent literacy rate. Their national script is called Quoc Ngu. It was introduced by European colonists, and utilizes the Roman alphabet (the alphabet used for English).
The Vietnamese people and the many minority groups living with them have created a unique culture and form of society. They have held onto their heritage and pride throughout countless struggles and wars, and are still striving to integrate and unite all parts and people of their incredible country.