Representatives of the Indigenous group Jarai discuss and identify the challenges that their community is facing during a dialogue among Indigenous Peoples group in Cambodia in January 2024 (Photo by Mark Saludes)


May 14 2024

JARAI people or Jarais, in Khmer: Charay (ចារ៉ាយ); in Vietnamese: Người Gia Rai, Gia Rai, or Gia-rai, are an Austronesian Indigenous people and ethnic group native to Ratanakiri Province in Cambodia and to the Gia Lai, Kon Tum and Đắk Lắk provinces in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.

The Jarai language is a member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. It is related to the Cham language of central Vietnam and Cambodia and the Malayo-Polynesian languages of Indonesia, Malaysia, Madagascar, The Philippines, and other Pacific Islands such as Hawaii and New Zealand.

There are approximately 332,558 Jarai speakers. They are the largest of the upland ethnic groups of the Central Highlands known as Degar or Montagnards and they make up 23 percent of the population of Ratanakiri Province in Cambodia.

Both groups, the Cambodian and Vietnamese Jarai, share the same traditions and keep a close relation of cultural interchange, but their language is influenced by their respectively Khmer and Vietnamese linguistic environment.

A few Khmer Jarai words are borrowed from Khmer and Lao. While trading conversations between Khmer Jarai and Vietnamese Jarai, there can be some perplexity among them. Vietnamese Jarai has a written form in Latin script, while there are some linguistic projects to develop a Khmer Jarai script.

The Jarai people recognize an individual as an aboriginal if they reside among us, embracing and practicing our customs, social structures, and sustainable ways that contribute to forest conservation.


Continue reading in