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Vietnam Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Vietnam is a major nation in Southeast Asia, and it's actually home to a greater amount of diversity than you may think. In this lesson, we'll talk about the ethnic groups of Vietnam, and see what this has meant for the nation.

Vietnam

Most Americans have heard of Vietnam. We fought a war there once, it wasn't very popular, we lost, and now Vietnamese restaurants are popping up all over American cities. They're really good, too. But how much do we really know about the people who live in Vietnam? There's more to Vietnam than meets the eye, or if you'd rather keep talking about food, than meets the palate.

Vietnam
Vietnam

The Viet People

The majority of people in Vietnam belong to the same ethnic group. These people are the Viet, also called the Kinh. Considering that we're talking about a nation called Vietnam, it's not too surprising that that Viet people are the majority ethnicity. Approximately 87% of Vietnam's total population identify as Viet. For the most part, the Viet people live along the three parts of Vietnam where their ancestors have lived for millennia. The Red River delta, Mekong delta, and central coastal delta are all regions with rich soils and an abundance of marine resources. These areas are where the first settled societies in Vietnam appeared thousands of years ago, and this is where the Viet people mostly live to this day. Considering this, it's not too surprising that fishing is a major industry and form of subsistence for many Viet people. The Viet also inhabit the nation's major urban centers, many along these same rivers, which are fully industrialized and integrated into the global economy.

Most people in major cities, like Hanoi, are Viet
Viet people

Minority Ethnic Groups

So, if 87% of people in Vietnam identify as Viet, what about the other 13%? Well, believe it or not, Vietnam is actually home to 54 distinct ethnic groups. How's that for a substantial amount of diversity? How did Vietnam become so diverse? Well, outside of the river deltas, Vietnam is very mountainous. Since prehistoric times, small societies settled in various mountain valleys. While societies along the rivers could interact frequently and develop a shared identity, each of these mountain societies remained pretty isolated thanks to the terrain, and they all maintained a unique identity of their own. To this day, most of the ethnic populations in Vietnam live in these same mountain communities.

Considering that Vietnam is a pretty populous nation, 13% of the total population still adds up to around 8 million people. That's only slightly less than the population of New York City, so we're talking about a pretty sizeable number. The largest ethnic groups are the Tay, Thai, Muong, Hoa, Khmer, and Nung. Each of these populations contains about 1 million people. Some ethnic groups, however, are much smaller; the Brau, Roman, and Odu people only have populations of a few hundred each.

Ethnic groups in Vietnam by population
chart of ethnic groups

Considering that even all together, these ethnic minorities are, well, a minority, they've actually worked hard to band together for mutual support. There is something of a consolidated ethnic minority identity amongst these 53 non-Viet groups, and there is historical precedent for this. Ever since the Viet kingdoms started really expanding in roughly the first century, these mountainous people have found strength in unity and cooperation. To this day, coalitions and alliances exist to help develop modern farming techniques and improved quality of life for ethnic minorities.

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