Economically dependent upon shifting cultivation and supplementary trade in forest products and local handicrafts, Degar people live in scattered settlements, having been forced to leave their lands in the highlands of Vietnam. Montagnards, as the French used to call them, are mostly Roman Catholic, as a result of early French missionary activity in the mid-19th century when France established colonial authority over Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, collectively called Indochina. The Montagnards have always considered the newcomers, both colonial officials and Vietnamese merchants, as unwelcome intruders. Even though the number of French colonials and planters in the highlands increased, the presence of ethnic Vietnamese remained minimal throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The situation changed when the defeat of the French in 1954 led to the division of Vietnam and the Highlands became part of the American supported South Vietnam. Central Highlands became a strategically important region where Americans developed military camps and recruited Montagnards to fight the communist forces. The fall of Saigon in 1973 ended the American participation in the Vietnamese war. Since then the Montagnards have suffered political, economic and religious discrimination, often seeking refuge in roman chatolic churches.

The reportage “Montagnards: sons of the mountains” is part of a wider project called “Invisible people” by Luca Catalano Gonzaga. This project, carried out by Witness Image and financially supported by Nando and Elsa Peretti Foundation, gathers photo reportage on men, women and children whose lives have been forgotten amidst old and new forms of poverty and exploitation.