Cham people

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This article is about the Cham people of Asia. For the former ethnic Albanian minority of northern Greece, see Cham Albanians.
Urang Campa
Danses Cham.jpg
Cham dance performance at one of their temples in Nha Trang, Vietnam
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Cambodia 217,000[1]
 Vietnam 162,000[2]
 Malaysia 10,000
 China 5,000
 Thailand 4,000
 United States 3,000
 France 1,000
 Laos 800[3]
Cham, Malay, Khmer, Mandarin Chinese, Tsat, Vietnamese, French
Predominantly Sunni Muslim (Cambodia), Hinduism (Vietnam), Buddhism (Thailand) and Shi'a Muslim (China)[4]
Related ethnic groups
Jarai, Rade, Acehnese, Malay and other Austronesian peoples of Southeast Asia.

The Cham people, or Campa people (Cham: Urang Campa,[5] Vietnamese: người Chăm or người Chàm, Khmer: ជនជាតិចាម) are an ethnic group in Southeast Asia. They are concentrated between the Kampong Cham Province in Cambodia and central Vietnam's Phan Rang-Thap Cham, Phan Thiết, Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang areas. Approximately 4,000 Chams also live in Thailand; many of whom have moved south to the Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala, and Songkhla Provinces for work. Cham form the core of the Muslim communities in both Cambodia and Vietnam.[6]

Cham are remnants of the Kingdom of Champa (seventh to 18th centuries). They are closely related to other Austronesian peoples and speak Cham, a Malayo-Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family (Aceh–Chamic subgroup). This is in contrast to most of the neighboring peoples who speak Austroasiatic languages.


Historical extent of the Kingdom of Champa (in green) around 1100 CE
Depiction of fighting Cham naval soldier against the Khmer, stone relief at the Bayon

The ancestors of the Cham probably migrated from the island of Borneo.[7] Records of the Champa kingdom go as far back as second century AD. At its height in the 9th century, the kingdom controlled the lands between what is now modern Huế, to the northern reaches of the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. Its prosperity came from maritime trade in sandalwood and slaves and probably included piracy.

Cham tradition claims that the founder of the Cham state was Lady Po Nagar. She originated from a peasant family in the mountains of Dai An, Khanh Hoa province. Spirits assisted her when she sailed on a drift piece of sandalwood to China, where she married an heir to the royal family with whom she had two children, and then became Queen of Champa.[8]

Traditionally the kingdom of Champa was an Indianized kingdom but the people started to convert to Islam from the 11th century (see below). This can be seen in the architecture of the Cham temples, which shares similarities with the one of the Angkor Temples. Al-Dimashqi (1325) states, "the country of Champa... is inhabited by Muslims and idolaters. The Muslim religion came there during the time of Caliph Uthman... and Ali, many Muslims who were expelled by the Umayyads and by Hajjaj, fled there."

The Daoyi Zhilüe documents Chinese merchants who went to Cham ports in Champa and married Cham women, to whom they regularly returned after trading voyages.[9] A Chinese merchant from Quanzhou, Wang Yuanmao, traded extensively with Champa and married a Cham princess.[10]

In the 12th century AD, the Cham fought a series of wars with the Angkorian Khmer to the west. In 1177, the Cham and their allies launched an attack from the lake Tonlé Sap and managed to sack the Khmer capital. In 1181, however, they were defeated by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII.

Between the rise of the Khmer Empire around 800 and Vietnam's territorial push to the south, the Champa kingdom began to shrink. In the 1471 Vietnamese invasion of Champa, it suffered a serious defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese, in which 120,000 people were either captured or killed, and the kingdom was reduced to a small enclave near Nha Trang. Between 1607 and 1676, one of the Champa kings converted to Islam, and during this period Islam became a dominant feature of Cham society.

The Cham were matrilineal and inheritance passed through the mother.[11] Due to this, the Vietnamese in 1499 enacted a law banning marriage between Cham women and all Vietnamese males, regardless of class.[12][13][14][15][16] The Vietnamese also issued instructions in the capital to kill all Chams within the vicinity.[17]

When the Ming dynasty in China fell, several thousand Chinese refugees fled south and extensively settled on Cham lands and in Cambodia.[18] Most of these Chinese were young males, and they took Cham women as wives. Their children identified more with Chinese culture. This migration occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries.[19]

Religious history and change[edit]

Champa was perhaps the earliest locale on mainland Southeast Asia to be settled by the Muslim merchants from the Persian Gulf area of the Middle East, as early as the 11th century. This was largely due to geography: on the delta of Mekong River, Champa is on the direct sea route from the Indian Ocean into the South China Sea and China. The port of Champa/Phanrang (northeast of modern Saigon) had been the headquarters of the Muslim merchants and their Southeast Asian Muslim allies for centuries when the port city was selected as the capital of the Cham kings in 1471. By 1670s, the bulk of the population and the Cham royalty itself was Muslim.

The Muslims from Champa were streaming upriver into Cambodia from the Mekong delta, looking for trade, influence and better security than was found under the Vietnamese suzerainty at Phonrang. By 1642, a new king of Cambodia, Cau Bana Cand Ramadhipati, had taken the throne, who found the Muslims the only powerful and organized group he could count on for effective support. The following year, he converted to Islam and took the throne name of Sultan Ibrahim. He then proceeded to set up a Muslim sultanate in Cambodia on the Malay model, becoming the only Shi’ite monarch of Southeast Asia. He then “commanded the nobility to follow his example, and made much fuss about mass public conversion of the elite. “[Sultan Ibrahim] said to the ministers, mandarins and royal servants of all service groups, “You must all enter the religion of Allah. Anyone who refuses to enter must leave the royal service.” Fearful of royal authority, the dignitaries and all the mandarins agreed to all embrace the religion of Mahomet....The ministers, the mandarins, and all the royal servants all participated, without exception, in the ritual of cutting the foreskin.... When the king returned to the august royal palace, he ordered, “The king and the members of the royal family must wear a long tunic and always insert a kris in it.” ((Chroniques royales du Cambodge (de 1594 à 1677), trans. Mark Phoeum (Paris: l’Ecole Française d’Extreme-Orient, 1981), 190))

Advent of the Vietnamese period[edit]

Further expansion by the Vietnamese in 1720 resulted in the total annexation of the Champa kingdom and dissolution by the 19th century Vietnamese king, Minh Mạng. In response, the last Champa Muslim king, Pô Chien, gathered his people in the hinterland and fled south to Cambodia, while those along the coast migrated to Trengganu (Malaysia). A small group fled northward to the Chinese island of Hainan where they are known today as the Utsuls. Their refuge in Cambodia where the king and his people settled, still bears the name of Kompong Cham (literally Cham landing); others scattered in communities across the Mekong Basin. Those who remained in the Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Phan Rí, and Phan Thiết provinces of central Vietnam were absorbed into the Vietnamese polity.

Flag of the FLC – Front de Libération du Champa, which was active during the Vietnam War

In the 1960s various movements emerged calling for the creation of a separate Cham state in Vietnam. The Liberation Front of Champa (FLC – Le Front pour la Libération de Cham) and the Front de Libération des Hauts plateaux dominated. The latter group sought greater alliance with other hilltribe minorities.

Initially known as "Front des Petits Peuples" from 1946 to 1960, the group later took the designation "Front de Libération des Hauts plateaux" and joined, with the FLC, the "Front unifié pour la Libération des Races opprimées" (FULRO) at some point in the 1960s. Since the late 1970s, there is no serious Cham secessionist movement or political activity in Vietnam or Cambodia.

The Cham community suffered a major blow during the Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge targeted ethnic minorities like Chinese, Thai, Lao and Cham people, with the Chinese suffering the biggest death toll of over 200,000 among ethnic minorities, followed by the Cham, and then the Thai. The Khmer suffered the biggest death toll overall. Around 100,000 of a 250,000 Cham population died.[20]

21st century[edit]

Young E De people, members of the mountain Chamic
Map of the distribution of the Cham in southeast Asia today

The majority of Cham in Vietnam (also known as the Eastern Cham) are Hindu, while their Cambodian counterparts are largely Muslim.[21][22] A small number of the Eastern Cham also follow Islam and to a lesser degree Mahayana Buddhism. A number emigrated to France in the late 1960s during the Vietnamese civil war.

The majority (88%) of Chams who reside in Cambodia are Muslim,[6] as are the Utsuls of Hainan. The isolation of Cham Muslims in central Vietnam resulted in an increased syncretism with Buddhism until recent restoration of contacts with other global Muslim communities in Vietnamese cities, but Islam is now seeing a renaissance, with new mosques being built.[citation needed]

Malaysia has some Cham immigrants and the link between the Chams and the Malaysian state of Kelantan is an old one. The Malaysian constitution recognizes the Cham rights to Malaysian citizenship and their Bumiputra status, and the Cham communities in Malaysia and along the Mekong River in Vietnam continue to have strong interactions.

Around 98,971 Cham are estimated to live in Vietnam.[23]

The Acehnese people of Aceh province in Sumatra, Indonesia are the descendants of Cham refugees who fled after defeat against the Vietnamese in the 15th century.[5][24]

Following an article by journalist Adam Bray, Vietnamese government fears that evidence of Champa's influence over the disputed area in the South China Sea would bring attention to human rights violations towards ethnic minorities in Vietnam. He refers to the uprising of montagnards in the 2001 and 2004 uprisings although they didn't involve any Cham people. lead to the issue of Cham autonomy being brought into the dispute, since the Vietnamese conquered Cham people in a war in 1832, and the Vietnamese continue to destroy evidence of Cham culture and artifacts left behind, plundering or building on top of Cham temples, building farms over them, banning Cham religious practices, and omitting references to the destroyed Cham capital of Song Luy in the 1832 invasion in history books and tourist guides. The situation of Cham compared to ethnic Vietnamese is substandard, lacking water and electricity and living in houses made out of mud.[25]

Cham Muslims in Cambodia

The Cham in Vietnam are recognized by the government as one of 54 ethnic groups. Both Hindu and Muslim Chams have experienced religious and ethnic persecution and restrictions on their faith under the current Vietnamese government, with the Vietnamese state confisticating Cham property and forbidding Cham from observing their religious beliefs. Hindu temples were turned into tourist sites against the wishes of the Cham Hindus. In 2010 and 2013 several incidents occurred in Thành Tín and Phươc Nhơn villages where Cham were murdered by Vietnamese. In 2012, Vietnamese police in Chau Giang village stormed into a Cham Mosque, stole the electric generator, and also raped Cham girls.[26] Cham Muslims in the Mekong Delta have also been economically marginalized and pushed into poverty by Vietnamese policies, with ethnic Vietnamese Kinh settling on majority Cham land with state support, and in the pre-Doi Moi period, religious practices of minorities were targeted for elimination by the Vietnamese government.[27]


The Cham shielded and always observed their girls attentively, placing great importance on their virginity. A Cham saying said "As well leave a man alone with a girl, as an elephant in a field of sugarcane."[28]

The Cham Muslims viewed the karoeh ceremony[clarification needed] for girls as very significant. It takes place when the girl is aged fifteen, if it has not taken place, the girl cannot marry since she is "tabung", after the ceremony is done the girl can marry. Circumcision to the Cham was less significant than karoeh.[29]


The temples at Mỹ Sơn are one of the holiest of Cham sites
The Cham decorated their temples with stone reliefs depicting their gods, such as Garuda fighting the Nāga (12th-13th century CE)

The first recorded religion of the Champa was a form of Shaivite Hinduism, brought by sea from India. Hinduism was the predominant religion among the Cham people until sixteenth century. Numerous Hindu temples dedicated to Lord Shiva were constructed in the middle part of present day Vietnam. The jewel of such temple is My Son. It is often compared with other historical temple complexes in Southeast Asia, such as Borobudur of Java in Indonesia, Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Bagan of Myanmar and Ayutthaya of Thailand. As of 1999, Mỹ Sơn has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

As Muslim merchants of Arab ("ta'shi") and of Persian ("po'si") origin stopped along the Vietnam coast en route to China, Islam began to influence the civilization. The exact date that Islam came to Champa is unknown, but grave markers dating to the 11th century have been found. It is generally assumed that Islam came to Indochina much after its arrival in China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), and that Arab traders in the region came into direct contact only with the Chams, and not others.

A syncretic form of Islam that blends indigenous practices of matriarchy, ancestor veneration and Brahmanism is practiced by the Cham Bani, who predominantly live in Vietnam's Binh Thuan and Ninh Thuận Provinces.[30] The Cham Bani worship in thang magik, the main communal setting for rituals.[30] They also celebrate the month of Ramuwan (Ramadan), during which ancestors are called to return home for veneration, and the acar (priests) stay at the thang magik for one month and adhere to a vegetarian diet.[30]

However, a small band of Chams, who called themselves Kaum Jumaat, follow a localised adaptation of Islamic theology, according to which they pray only on Fridays and celebrate Ramadan for only three days. However, some members of this group have joined the larger Muslim Cham community in their practices of Islam in recent years. One of the factors for this change is the influence by members of their family who have gone abroad to study Islam.

The presence of Hindu culture is still alive today. The approximately 60,000 Cham Hindus do not have a strict caste system, although previously they may have been divided between the Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste[31] and the Brahmin caste, the latter of which would have represented a small minority of the population.[32] Hindu temples are known as Bimong in Cham language, but are commonly referred to as "Tháp" (Temple tower in Vietnamese) by the Cham. The priests are divided into three levels, where the highest rank are known as Po Adhia or Po Sá, followed by Po Tapáh and the junior priests Po Paséh. In Ninh Thuan Province, where many of the Cham in Vietnam reside, Cham Balamon (Hindu Cham) number 44,000 while Cham Bani (Muslim Cham) number close to 31,000. Out of the 34 Cham villages in Ninh Thuan, 23 are Balamon Hindu, while 11 are Bani or Muslim.[33] In Binh Thuan province, Balamon number close to 25,000 and Bani Cham around 10,000. There are 4 pure Cham villages and 9 mixed villages in Binh Thuan Province.[34]


  • Chế Bồng Nga, the last strong king of Champa
  • Che Linh, singer
  • Amu Nhan expert on Cham music
  • Inrasara (Mr Phu Tram), poet & author
  • Dang Nang Tho, sculptor and director of Cham Cultural Center, Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan Province

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Joshua Project. "Cham, Western in Cambodia". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  2. ^ the 2009 Vietnam Population and Housing Census: Completed Results 2009 Census, Hà Nội, 6-2010. Table 5, page 134
  3. ^ Joshua Project. "Cham, Western in Laos". Joshua Project. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  4. ^ 《回辉话》郑贻青, Dec 1997, page 6
  5. ^ a b Andaya, Leonard Y. (2008). Leaves of the same tree: trade and ethnicity in the Straits of Melaka. University of Hawaii Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-8248-3189-9. 
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ Anne-Valérie Schweyer Le Viêtnam ancien (Les Belles Lettres, 2005) p.6
  8. ^ Oscar Chapuis (1995). A history of Vietnam: from Hong Bang to Tu Duc. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 39. ISBN 0-313-29622-7. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  9. ^ Derek Heng (2009). Sino-Malay Trade and Diplomacy from the Tenth Through the Fourteenth Century. Ohio University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-89680-271-X. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  10. ^ Robert S. Wicks (1992). Money, markets, and trade in early Southeast Asia: the development of indigenous monetary systems to AD 1400. SEAP Publications. p. 215. ISBN 0-87727-710-9. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  11. ^ M. B. Hooker, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (2002). Law and the Chinese in Southeast Asia. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 75. ISBN 981-230-125-9. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  12. ^ Ben Kiernan (2009). Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur. Yale University Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-300-14425-3. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  13. ^ Văn Tài Tạ (1988). The Vietnamese tradition of human rights. Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California. p. 137. ISBN 1-55729-002-4. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  14. ^ Barbara Watson Andaya (2006). The flaming womb: repositioning women in early modern Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press. p. 82. ISBN 0-8248-2955-7. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  15. ^ Yale University, Southeast Asia Studies (1985). The Vietnam forum, Issues 5-7. Council on Southeast Asia Studies at Yale University. p. 28. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  16. ^ Teresa A. Meade, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks (2006). A companion to gender history. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 332. ISBN 1-4051-4960-4. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  17. ^ Victor B. Lieberman (2003). Strange parallels: Southeast Asia in global context, c 800-1830, Volume 1 (illustrated ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 381. ISBN 0-521-80496-5. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  18. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc (2003). The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 8. Encyclopaedia Britannica. p. 669. ISBN 0-85229-961-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  19. ^ Barbara Watson Andaya (2006). The flaming womb: repositioning women in early modern Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-8248-2955-7. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  20. ^ The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective - Google Boeken. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  21. ^ "Cham - Introduction, Location, Language, Folklore, Religion, Major holidays, Rites of passage, Relationships, Living conditions". Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  22. ^ The Garland handbook of Southeast Asian music By Terry E. Miller, Sean Williams. p. 326
  23. ^ Philip Taylor (2007). Cham Muslims of the Mekong Delta: place and mobility in the cosmopolitan periphery. NUS Press. p. 59. ISBN 9971-69-361-5. Retrieved 2011-01-09. 
  24. ^ Reid, Anthony (2006). Verandah of violence: the background to the Aceh problem. NUS Press. p. 8. ISBN 978-9971-69-331-2. 
  25. ^ Bray, Adam (June 16, 2014). "The Cham: Descendants of Ancient Rulers of South China Sea Watch Maritime Dispute From Sidelines". National Geographic News (National Geographic). Archived from the original on 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  26. ^ "Mission to Vietnam Advocacy Day (Vietnamese-American Meet up 2013) in the U.S. Capitol. A UPR report By IOC-Campa". 2013-09-14. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  27. ^ Taylor, Philip (December 2006). "Economy in Motion: Cham Muslim Traders in the Mekong Delta". The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology (The Australian National University) 7 (3): 238. doi:10.1080/14442210600965174. ISSN 1444-2213. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  28. ^ (the University of Michigan)Alan Houghton Brodrick (1942). Little China: the Annamese lands. Oxford university press. p. 264. Retrieved 28 November 2011. The Cham women have a high reputation for chastity, and, at any rate, they are closely watched and guarded. 'As well leave a man alone with a girl,' runs their proverb, 'as an elephant in a field of sugarcane.' There are, indeed, traces of matriarchate in the Cham customs, and women play an important part in their religious life. At her first menstruation a Cham girl goes into the 
  29. ^ (the University of Michigan)Henri Parmentier; Paul Mus; Etienne Aymonier (2001). Cham sculpture of the Tourane Museum, Da Nang, Vietnam: religious ceremonies and superstitions of Champa. White Lotus Press. p. 52. ISBN 974-7534-70-3. Retrieved 28 November 2011. A much more important ceremony than circumcision is celebrated by these Muslim Cham when their daughters reach the age of about fifteen. It is called karoeh ( closing, closure). Until her karoeh has taken place, a girl is tabung, and cannot think of marriage or its equivalent. 
  30. ^ a b c Yoshimoto, Yasuko (December 2012). "A Study of the Hồi giáo Religion in Vietnam: With a Reference to Islamic Religious Practices of Cham Bani". Southeast Asian Studies (Kyoto: Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University) 1 (3). 
  31. ^ India's interaction with Southeast Asia, Volume 1, Part 3 By Govind Chandra Pande, Project of History of Indian Science, Philosophy, and Culture, Centre for Studies in Civilizations (Delhi, India) p.231,252
  32. ^ "Vietnam". 2002-10-22. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  33. ^ Interview with High Priest or Po Adhia of Ninh Thuan province and his assistant, 23 December 2011
  34. ^ Interview with priest or Po Guru near Ma Lam town, and the director of Binh Thuan Cham Cultural Center, Bac Binh district, 22 December 2011

Further reading[edit]

  • Antoine Cabaton (1901). Nouvelles recherches sur les Chams. Volume 2 of Publications de l'École française d'Extrême-Orient. E. Leroux. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  • Étienne Aymonier (1891). Les Tchames et leurs religions. E. Leroux. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  • Taylor, Philip (2007) Cham Muslims of the Mekong Delta: Place and Mobility in the Cosmopolitan Periphery, Singapore: University of Singapore Press.
  • Dổ Hải Minh (1965) "Dân Tộc Chàm Lược sử" Saigon.
  • Hourani, George F. (1979) "Arab Seafaring" Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  • Tarling, Nicholas (1992) "The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia" vol.1 Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Salim, Maryam. (2005) "The Laws of Kedah, 220 Hijrah" A text translation from jawi script to rumi script Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Malaysia.

External links[edit]