The first settlers
In his book of literary works about the southern land in the 17th century when the first Vietnamese settlers arrived, Le Quy Don wrote: �From the Can Gio Estuary, the Soai Rap, Tieu (Small) and Dai (Grand) estuaries ...
up (the rivers)�, the land of Saigon remained deserted, covered by dense forests and marshes. A few groups of ethnic tribes such as the Khmer, the
Stieng, and the Ma were dwelling sparsely on high ground. The Vietnamese settlers were migrants from the North and the Central provinces. The majority of them were poor peasants ruined by the war between feudal clans, others were soldiers and officers ordered by feudal governments to garrison in the South, and some were runaway convicts.
They all crossed the sea in small boats and from the Can Gio Estuary they sailed up the Saigon River to land in the area of today�s Saigon. The first migrants settled on high ground by the river to cultivate the land as the area had plenty of fresh water and good weather conditions. Gradually the settlers moved outward to reclaim cultivable land from forests, marshes and plains. They built homes and hamlets, gardens and rice fields.
History books mentioned Mo Xoai, probably an area of today�s Ba Ria, as the first settlement of those Vietnamese migrants. Here the land is quite high and near watercourses, rivers and the sea, which was favorable for providing them with a living.
From Mo Xoai, these immigrants quickly expanded their settlement, claimed virgin land in parts that are Dong Nai Province and Ho Chi Minh City. The natural conditions in these areas did not differ from those of Mo
Xoai, and the watercourses were propitious to navigation, which encouraged the settlers to move even further. By the middle of the 17th century, Vietnamese migrants were reportedly settling in the area that makes up today�s Phnom Penh.
In the Vietnamese settlers facing the wildness of the old
Saigon-Gia Dinh area, a land generous but mysterious and giving rise to plenty of mishaps, felt hesitant. This is reflected by the following folk poem:
We are here in a strange place;
We fear a bird chirping and tremble at a fish wobbling
Those pioneers, energetic and strong-willed, remained in the land of Saigon, to begin a new life. By the time the first emissaries of the Nguyen Lord arrived to tour and inspect the new land, the first generations of settlers already had a stable life, cultivating their productive fields and gardens. Current history books wrote that some 10,000 people inhabited the Saigon area in the middle of the 17th century.
Among the early Saigon settlers were a sizable number of Chinese migrants. They originated from China�s southern coastal regions, running away from the miseries of their war-torn country. In 1679 there occurred a great migration of 3,000 persons in 50 warships headed by two generals under the defunct Ming Dynasty: Duong Ngan Dich and Tran Thuong
Xuyen. A large part of these emigrants settled in and cultivated the land in the South�s eastern region, Bien Hoa and Saigon. The city of Cholon was built with the contribution from these ethnic Chinese groups as they were being integrated into the ethnic communities of Vietnam.