JavaScript is off. Please enable to view full site.

WWII Vietnamese immigrants to France revive rice cultivation in its breadbasket Camargue

Sunday, December 23, 2018, 17:39 GMT+7
WWII Vietnamese immigrants to France revive rice cultivation in its breadbasket Camargue
Vietnamese laborers plant rice in Camargue, southern France, during World War Two.

Vietnamese laborers brought to metropolitan France during the Second World War are acknowledged to resurrect rice cultivation in the European country’s breadbasket of Camargue – a recognition that brings a missing history page to the collective memory of Vietnamese and French people alike.

France’s southeastern wetland Camargue accounts for nearly one-third of domestic rice supplies but the rice production of this 1,500-square-kilometer region next to the Mediterranean Sea does not originate from traditional French farming practices.

It instead comes from the knowledge of people predominantly transported willy-nilly to France from Vietnam, a country under French colonial rule during the world war.

Rice growing in Camargue and the Rhône delta, which partly surrounds it, actually resumed during this epoch.

Camargue’s ‘white gold’

In the 16th and 19th centuries, Camargue farmers tried to grow rice but could harvest from the freshwater plant grains fit to be eaten by livestock and rice was also used to dry marshland and desalinate soil.

The region’s last rice paddies were wiped off its face on the eve of World War Two in 1939.

However, cultivating techniques in preparing the ground, planting rice and irrigation had been honed since the year 5,000 BC in present-day Southeast Asia, including Vietnam.

When 20,000 young rural Vietnamese men were brought, and in most cases forced, to France between 1941 and 1948, they applied the time-honored techniques on rice fields in Camargue.

With the methods, local farmers and plantation owners thrived, rice growing was revived, and the region was able to ward off a looming famine that might have otherwise played out in the 1941 food shortage.

This explained why residents called rice a type of ‘white gold’ with great benefits.

Oblivion and gratitude

The young immigrants were from families of more than two sons and went to France as a way to prevent the other members from going to prison by the colonial government.

At home they were called ‘lính thợ’ or ‘công binh’ (worker-soldier).

In France the men worked in dreadful conditions at military production factories or in Dordogne marshlands, Vaucluse forests and textile mills in the Rhône delta.

They also labored at salt pans and paddy fields in Camargue, where they were bitten by mosquitos and suffered from the scorching sun.

The Vietnamese immigrants were treated neither as soldiers nor civilians and the French government harnessed their labor for many years without adequately paying them.

The cover of Les lính thợ, immigrés de force by French journalist Pierre Daum.
The cover of Les lính thợ, immigrés de force by French journalist Pierre Daum.

Their contribution went unrecognized for a long time in French history until 2004, when Libération journalist Pierre Daum found a photo showing Vietnamese people planting rice in Camargue.

Daum then wrote books on the laborers, the latest work being comic book Les lính thợ, immigrés de force, which means Lính thợ - people of forced immigration, published in 2017.

In 2009, Hervé Schiavetti – mayor of France’s southern city of Arles, which includes a large part of Camargue – honored the Vietnamese immigrants in a ceremony attended by the last survivors of the migration.

In 2013, French director of Vietnamese descent Viet Le Lam unveiled his documentary Công binh – la longue nuit Indochinoise (Công binh – long night in Indochina), which had won awards at film festivals in France.

A memorial to Vietnamese workers in France during the Second War War is seen in Arles, southern France.
A memorial to Vietnamese workers in France during the Second War War is seen in Arles, southern France.

A memorial to the immigrants was erected in 2014 in Arles’ area of Salin-de-Giraud, with its words written in both French and Vietnamese expressing gratitude to the Vietnamese workers who were coerced into labor in France between 1939 and 1952.

In March this year, French pay television network TV5Monde broadcast stories about the immigrants from Indochina and included an interview with Tran Van Than, a 100-year-old Vietnamese in the migration.

Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the latest news about Vietnam!

Thai Xuan / Tuoi Tre News

Read more

Vietnam ladies’ dens for foreigners in the city

It’s a new disguised ‘variant’ of prostitution in Ho Chi Minh City, in which foreign males enter restaurants to meet and select girls to end their night at private homes or a rented house

5 years ago

A look inside male brothels

The service of male prostitutes, which is illegal in Vietnam, has increased with the rise of brothels and recent cases of arrests in Ho Chi Minh City

6 years ago
;

Photos

VIDEOS

Experience summer sand-boarding in Mui Ne

Sand-boarding, a popular activity amongst local children in the coastal tourism town of Mui Ne in south-central Vietnam, is attracting hundreds of tourists to the Red Sand Dunes

Young maple trees given better protection as Hanoi enters rainy season

The trees are currently growing well, with green leaves and healthy branches.

Hunting skinks for food in southern Vietnam

Skink meat is known to be soft, tasty, and highly nutritious.

Vietnamese-made app allows people to grow real veggies via smartphone

Nguyen Thi Duyen, a young engineer in Hanoi, developed the app and its related services to help busy people create their own veggie gardens.

Chinese tourists hit by Vietnamese over dine and dash

Four Chinese were reportedly injured, with one having a broken arm.

Latest news

Iran says U.S. sanctions on Khamenei mean end of diplomacy

The moves came after Iran shot down a U.S. drone last week and Trump called off a retaliatory air strike minutes before impact, which would have been the first time the United States had bombed Iran in decades of hostility between them