WE HAVE EATEN THE FOREST: The Story of a Montagnard Village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam by Georges Condominas
Kirkus Star

WE HAVE EATEN THE FOREST: The Story of a Montagnard Village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam

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Anthropological research conducted nearly 30 years ago in Vietnam: fascinating observations of the Mnong Gar, the Men of the Forest, a Montagnard tribe that was, by 1962, largely decimated by Diem's patriotism. During one agricultural cycle, November 1948 to December 1949, Condominas observed this tribe of slash-and-burn semi-nomads with its complex barter system, rice diet, frequent recourse to animal sacrifice, and peculiar fondness for European clothes. Despite a sinister reputation they were proud and open, with strong family ties and deep attachment to their territory: the title refers to the cyclical practice of clearing the land, planting and harvesting crops--eating the forest--before moving on. Condominas is an excellent reporter, documenting not just the ritual procedures and numerous contingencies but also the momentary confusions and fights that interrupt them. Several of the villagers are especially memorable: Baap Can, ranking holy man and big buffalo sacrificer; his brother Truu, a dazzling storyteller, canton chief, and Can's adversary; Aang-of-the-Drooping-Eyelid, caught for incest and adultery but providentially spared each time; KrÖng-the-Stutterer, a popular bachelor suffering from dysphasia who compensated by developing extraordinary skills. Ignominiously, Diem trampled on their way of life, first forbidding them to use their language and observe traditional practices, then routing them from their valley and transplanting them to Special Forces camps. And although the US Department of Commerce took the responsibility, the CIA, in an equally reprehensible move, translated Condominas' 1957 French edition and distributed it to the Green Berets--as Condominas charged in a 1972 speech to the AAAS in Montreal. He was outraged, not at the piracy but at the egregious perversion of his work; not surprisingly, as of 1974, the Mnong Gar long destroyed, the US government still refused to own up. This is a vital, textured portrait of a vanquished people--you can hear the bamboo shingles crackle from the heat.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1977
Publisher: Hill & Wang/Farrar, Straus & Giroux