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This article is about the Cham people of Southeast Asia. For the former 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, Vietnamese, Khmer, Malay
Predominantly Sunni Islam (Cambodia, Malaysia), Hinduism (Vietnam), Buddhism (Thailand) and Shia Islam (China)[4]
Related ethnic groups
Jarai, Rade, Acehnese, Utsul, Ethnic Malays and other Austronesian peoples of Southeast Asia.

The Chams, or Cham 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 Phan Rang–Tháp Chàm, Phan Thiết, Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang Province in Central Vietnam. 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]

The Chams are remnants of the Champa polities (seventh to 18th centuries). They are closely related to other Austronesian peoples and speak Cham, a Malayo-Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family's Chamic subgroup. This is in contrast to most of the neighbouring 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 Champa go as far back as the second century. At its height in the ninth century, Champa 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, Khánh Hòa 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]

The kingdom of Champa was an Indianised kingdom, but its people started to convert from Hinduism to Islam in the 11th century. This can be seen in the architecture of Cham temples, which shares similarities with the one of the Angkor Temples. Ad-Dimashqi writes in 1325, "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".[citation needed]

The Daoyi Zhilüe records that at Cham ports, Cham women were married by Chinese merchants to whom they frequently came back to after trading voyages.[9][10][11] A Chinese merchant from Quanzhou, Wang Yuanmao, traded extensively with Champa and married a Cham princess.[12]

In the 12th century, the Cham fought a series of wars with the Khmer Empire 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.

Vietnamese invasion[edit]

Between the rise of the Khmer Empire around 800 and the Vietnamese people's territorial push south from Jiaozhi and, later, Đại Việt, Champa began to shrink. In the Cham–Vietnamese War (1471), Champa suffered 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 with many Chams fleeing to Cambodia.[13][14]

Encounter with Islam[edit]

A number of Cham also fled across the sea to Malay Peninsula and as early as the 15th century, a Cham colony was established in Malacca. The Chams encountered Sunni Islam there as the Malacca Sultanate was officially Muslim since 1414. The King of Champa then became an ally of the Johor Sultanate; in 1594, Champa sent its military forces to fight alongside Johor against the Portuguese occupation of Malacca.[14] Between 1607 and 1676, one of the Champa kings converted to Islam it became a dominant feature of Cham society. The Chams also adopted the Jawi alphabet.[15]

Historical records in Indonesia showed the influence of Queen Dwarawati, a Muslim Princess from the Kingdom of Champa (Chams), toward her husband, Kertawijaya, the Seventh King of Majapahit Empire, so that the royal family of the Majapahit Empire eventually converted to Islam, which finally lead to the conversion to Islam of the entire region.[16][17][18] Chams Princess tomb can be found in Trowulan, the site of the capital of the Majapahit Empire.[19] In Babad Tanah Jawi, it is said that the king of Brawijaya V has a wife named Dewi Anarawati (or Dewi Dwarawati), a Muslim daughter of the King of Champa (Chams).[16][17][18] Chams had trade and close cultural ties with the maritime kingdom of Srivijaya, and Majapahit then in the Malay Archipelago.

Another significant figure from Champa in the history of Islam in Indonesia is Raden Rakhmat (Prince Rahmat) who's also known as Sunan Ampel, one of Wali Sanga (Nine Saints), who spread Islam in Java. He is considered as a focal point of the Wali Sanga, because several of them were actually his descendants and/or his students. His father is Maulana Malik Ibrahim also known as Ibrahim as-Samarkandy ("Ibrahim Asmarakandi" to Javanese ears), and his mother is Dewi Candrawulan, a princess of Champa (Chams) who's also the sister of Queen Dwarawati. Sunan Ampel was born in Champa in 1401 CE. He came to Java in 1443 CE, in order to visit his aunt Queen Dwarawati, a princess of Champa who married to Kertawijaya (Brawijaya V), the King of Majapahit Empire.[16][17][18] Local legend says that he built the Great Mosque of Demak (Masjid Agung Demak) in 1479 CE, but other legends attribute that work to Sunan Kalijaga. Sunan Ampel died in Demak in 1481 CE, but is buried in Ampel Mosque at Surabaya, East Java.[20]

The Cham were matrilineal and inheritance passed through the mother.[21] Because of this, in 1499 the Vietnamese enacted a law banning marriage between Cham women and Vietnamese men, regardless of class.[22](Tạ 1988, p. 137)[23][24][25] The Vietnamese also issued instructions in the capital to kill all Chams within the vicinity.[26] More attacks by the Vietnamese was continued and in 1693 the Champa Kingdom territory was integrated as part of the Vietnamese territory.[27]

When the Ming dynasty in China fell, several thousand Chinese refugees fled south and extensively settled on Cham lands and in Cambodia.[28] 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.[29]

During the Vietnam War, a sizeable number of Chams migrated to Peninsular Malaysia in which they were granted sanctuary by the Malaysian government as sympathetic to fellow Muslim brothers; most of them have now assimilated with Malay cultures.[27]

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: 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 the 1670s, the bulk of the population and the Cham royalty itself was Muslim.

Chams participated in defeating the Spanish invasion of Cambodia.

The Muslims from Champa were streaming upriver into Cambodia looking for trade, influence and better security than was found under the Vietnamese suzerainty at Phanrang. By 1642, a new king of Cambodia, Cau Bana Cand Ramadhipati, had taken the throne, who found the Muslims the only powerful and organised 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. 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)) He launched the Cambodian–Dutch War to expel the Dutch. The Vietnamese Nguyen Lords toppled Ibrahim from power to restore Buddhist rule.

After Vietnam invaded and conquered Champa, Cambodia granted refuge to Cham Muslims escaping from Vietnamese conquest. [30]

Cham who migrated to Sulu were Orang Dampuan.[31] Champa and Sulu enaged in commerce with each other which resulted in merchant Chams settling in Sulu where they were known as Orang Dampuan from the 10th-13th centuries. The Orang Dampuan were slaughtered by envious native Sulu Buranuns due to the wealth of the Orang Dampuan.[32] The Buranun were then subjected to retaliatory slaughter by the Orang Dampuan. Harmonious commerce between Sulu and the Orang Dampuan was later restored.[33] The Yakans were descendants of the Taguima based Orang Dampuan who came to Sulu from Champa.[34] Sulu received civilization in its Indic form from the Orang Dampuan.[35]

The trade in Vietnamese ceramics was damaged due to the plummet in trade by Cham merchants after the 1471 Vietnamese invasion of Champa.[36] Vietnam's export of ceramics was also damaged by its internal civil war, the Portuguese and Spanish entry into the region and the Portuguese conquest of Malacca which caused an upset in the trading system, while the carracks ships in the Malacca to Macao trade run by the Portuguese docked at Brunei due to good relations between the Portuguese and Brunei after the Chinese permitted Macao to be leased to the Portuguese.[37]

Advent of the Vietnamese period[edit]

In the 1800s and 1700s Cambodian based Chams settled in Bangkok.[38][38]

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 and were 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. Cham provinces were seized by the Nguyen Lords.[39]

In 1832 the Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang annexed the last Champa Kingdom. This resulted in the Cham Muslim leader Katip Suma, who was educated in Kelantan to declare a Jihad against the Vietnamese.[40][41][42][43] The Vietnamese coercively fed lizard and pig meat to Cham Muslims and cow meat to Cham Hindus against their will to punish them and assimilate them to Vietnamese culture.[44]

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, Vietnamese 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 in the genocide.[45]

21st century[edit]

Young Muslim Cham girl in Châu Đốc
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.[46][47] 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 Vietnam War.

The majority (88%) of Chams who reside in Cambodia are Muslim,[6] as are the Utsul 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 recognises 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.[48]

The Muslim Acehnese people of Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, are the descendants of Cham refugees who fled after defeat by the Vietnamese polity in the 15th century.[5][49]

According to a National Geographic article published 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 and killings of ethnic minorities in Vietnam such as in the 2001 and 2004 uprisings, and 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 artefacts 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.[50] The Cham activist organisation "International Office of Champa" republished Bray's article on their website Cham Today.[51]

Cham Muslims in Cambodia
Chams villages in An Giang province (An Phú, Châu Phú, Châu Thành district, Tân Châu town).
Masjid in Da Phuoc village, An Phu district, An Giang province.

The Cham in Vietnam are officially recognised by the Vietnamese government as one of 54 ethnic groups. However, according to the Cham adovcacy group International Office of Champa (IOC-Champa) and Cham Muslim activist Khaleelah Porome, 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.[52] Cham Muslims in the Mekong Delta have also been economically marginalised, with ethnic Vietnamese settling on land previously owned by Cham people with state support.[53]

A Cambodian Cham Muslim dissident, Hassan A Kasem, a former military helicopter pilot who was both persecuted and imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge and fought against Vietnamese invasion, denounced Vietnam as trying to position itself as the saviour of Cambodia from Khmer Rouge rule and wrote that Vietnam has deceived the west into thinking of it as a "magnanimous liberator" when it invaded Cambodia and ousted the Khmer Rouge when in fact Vietnam used the war to benefit its own interests such subjecting Cambodian financial assets and national treasures to pillaging and theft, settling border disputes to its own advantage, trying to destroy Cambodian nationalist feeling against Vietnam, benefiting from the mostly Khmer on Khmer violence by the Khmer Rouge and setting up its own Communist puppet government to rule Cambodia, the Cambodia People's Party (CPP) with Vietnamese soldiers secretly remaining behind in Vietnam to prop up the puppet government and Vietnamese officials pretending to be Khmer continuing to direct the government as their puppet.[54] The Cham activist organisation "International Office of Champa" republished Hassan's article on their website Cham Today.[55]

The Cham Suleiman Idres Bin called for independence of Champa from Vietnam and advocated for international intervention similar as to how East Timor independence was implemented by the United Nations.[56]

The Cham Muslim human rights activist Musa Porome and his daughter Khaleelah Porome live in America and advocate for Cham rights against the Vietnamese government.

An attempt at Salafist expansion among the Cham in Vietnam has been halted by Vietnamese government controls, however, the loss of the Salafis among Chams has been to be benefit of Tablighi Jamaat.[57]


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."[58]

The Cham Muslims view the karoeh (also spelled Karoh) ceremony for girls as very significant. This symbolic ceremony marks the passage of a girl from infancy to puberty (the marriageable age), and usually takes place when the girl is aged fifteen and has completed her development.[59] 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.[60]

The Cham culture is diverse and rich because of the combination of indigenous cultural elements (plains culture, maritime culture, and mountain culture) and foreign cultural features (Indian cultures and religions such as Buddhism; early Han Chinese influences; Islam) (Phan Xuan Bien et al. 1991:376). The blend of indigenous and foreign elements in Cham culture is a result of ecological, social, and historical conditions. The influences of various Indian cultures produced similarities among many groups in Southeast Asia such as the Cham, who traded or communicated with polities on the Indian subcontinent. However, the indigenous elements also allow for cultural distinctions. As an example, Brahmanism became the Ahier religion, while other aspects of influence were changed, to adapt to local Ahier characteristics and environment. The blending of various cultures has produced its own unique form through the prolific production of sculptures and architecture only seen at the Champa temple tower sites.[citation needed] The Champa temples provide a wealth of information about Cham history, art, and construction techniques, through analysis and interpretation of architecture, styles, and inscriptions.[citation needed]

Martial Art[edit]

In the legend (tambo) of Minangkabau people (West Sumatra), there is a figure of a warrior who holds the title of Harimau Campo or "Tiger of Champa", in addition to other names. Harimau Campo along with Datuak Suri Dirajo (Padang Panjang), Kambiang Utan (Cambodia), Kuciang Siam (Siam or Thailand), and Anjiang Mualim (Gujarat) formulate the concept of Minangkabau Martial Art called Silek or Silat (Pencak Silat Minangkabau). Kambiang Utan, Kuciang Siam, and Anjiang Mualim are equally in status with Harimau Campo, they are immigrants from foreign lands to the Minangkabau region in former times. Until the present time, the name of Harimau Campo still touted in the sasaran silek (padepokan silat / silat training grounds) at Minangkabau as one of the bases of their martial arts movements,[61][62] including In the famous Indonesian Action Movie: Merantau, The Raid: Redemption, and The Raid 2.


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

The first recorded religion of the Champa was a form of Shaiva Hinduism, brought by sea from India. Hinduism was the predominant religion among the Cham people until sixteenth century. Numerous temples dedicated to Shiva were constructed in the central part of what is now Vietnam. The jewel of such temple is Mỹ Sơn. 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 recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

As Muslim merchants of Arab and of Persian origin stopped along the Vietnam coast en route to China, Islam began to influence the civilisation. 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 mainland Southeast Asia much later than its arrival in China during the Tang dynasty (618–907) and that Arab traders in the region came into direct contact only with the Cham and not others.

A syncretic form of Islam that blends indigenous practices of matriarchy, ancestor veneration and Hinduism is practised by the Cham Bani, who predominantly live in Vietnam's Bình Thuận and Ninh Thuận Provinces.[63] The Cham Bani worship in thang magik, the main communal setting for rituals.[63] 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.[63]

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 approximately 60,000 Cham Hindus do not have a strict caste system, although previously they may have been divided between the Nagavamshi Kshatriya [64] and the Brahmin castes, the latter of which would have represented a small minority of the population.[65] Hindu temples are known as Bimong in Cham language, but are commonly referred to as tháp "stupa", in Vietnamese. 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 Thuận, 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 Thuận, 23 are Balamon Hindu, while 11 are Bani or Muslim.[66] In Binh Thuan province, Balamon number close to 25,000 and Bani Cham around 10,000. There are four pure Cham villages and nin mixed villages in Bình Thuận Province.[67]

Notable Chams[edit]

See also[edit]


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  58. ^ (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 
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  60. ^ (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. 
  61. ^ Thesis: Seni Silat Melayu by Abd Rahman Ismail (USM 2005 matter 188)
  62. ^ Mid Jamal (1986). Filsafat dan Silsilah Aliran-Aliran Silat Minangkabau (Philosophy and Genealogy of Silat Minangkabau. CV. Tropic - Bukittinggi. Retrieved 17 January 2016. 
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  66. ^ Interview with High Priest or Po Adhia of Ninh Thuan province and his assistant, 23 December 2011
  67. ^ 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


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