Cham women performing a traditional dance in Nha Trang, Vietnam
|Regions with significant populations|
|Cham, Vietnamese, Khmer|
|Predominantly Sunni Islam (Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Southern Vietnam and Hainan, China), Hinduism (Central Vietnam), Buddhism and Animism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Other Austronesian peoples|
(especially Jarai, Rade, Acehnese)
The Chams or Cham people (Cham: Urang Campa, Vietnamese: người Chăm or người Chàm, Khmer: ជនជាតិចាម) are an ethnic group of Austronesian origin in Southeast Asia. Their contemporary population is concentrated between the Kampong Cham Province in Cambodia and Phan Rang–Tháp Chàm, Phan Thiết, Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang Province in Southern Vietnam. Including the diaspora, their total is about 400,000. An additional 4,000 Chams live in Bangkok, Thailand, who had migrated during Rama I's reign. Recent immigrants to Thailand are mainly students and workers, who preferably seek work and education in the southern Islamic Pattani, Narathiwat, Yala and Songkhla provinces. A large Cham diaspora also established in Malaysia following the turbulence during the Pol Pot regime, where they were quickly assimilated with the local Malay population. Cham people represent the core of the Muslim communities in both Cambodia and Vietnam.
From the 2nd to the mid-15th century the Chams populated Champa, a contiguous territory of independent principalities in central and southern Vietnam. They spoke the Cham language, a Malayo-Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family. Chams and Malays are the only sizable Austronesian peoples that had settled in Iron Age mainland Southeast Asia among the more ancient Austroasiatic inhabitants.
Austronesian origin, patterns and chronology of migration remain debated and it is assumed, that the Cham people arrived in peninsular Southeast Asia via Borneo. Mainland Southeast Asia had been populated on land routes by members of the Austroasiatic language family, such as the Mon people and the Khmer people around 5,000 years ago. The Cham were accomplished Austronesian seafarers, that from 4,000 years BP populated and soon dominated maritime Southeast Asia. Earliest known records of Cham presence in Indochina date back to the second century CE. Population centers around the river outlets along the coast controlled the import/export of continental Southeast Asia, therefore maritime trade was the essence of a prosperous economy. The size of Champa during its heyday in the 9th and 10th century was not substantially larger than during its formative period.
Cham folklore includes the creation of a myth in which the founder of the first Cham polity was a certain Lady Po Nagar. Coming from a humble peasant origin somewhere in the Dai An Mountains, Khánh Hòa Province, spirits assisted her as she traveled to China on a floating log of sandalwood where she married a man of royalty and had two children. She eventually returned to Champa "did many good deeds in helping the sick and the poor" and "a temple was erected in her honor".
The Champa principalities underwent like countless other political entities of Southeast Asia the process of Indianisation, who since the early common era as a result of centuries of socio-economic interaction adopted and introduced cultural and institutional elements of pre-Islamic India. From the 8th century onward trade and shipping of India came to be increasingly controlled by Muslims from such regions as Gujarat. Islamic ideas became a part of the vast tide of exchange, treading the same path as Hinduism and Buddhism centuries before. Cham people picked up these ideas by 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".
The Daoyi Zhilüe records that at Cham ports, Cham women were often married to Chinese merchants, who frequently came back to them after trading voyages. A Chinese merchant from Quanzhou, Wang Yuanmao, traded extensively with Champa and married a Cham princess.
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.
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. At a disadvantage against Vietnam's army of 300,000 troops, the Chams 100,000 were no match. In the Cham–Vietnamese War (1471), Champa suffered serious defeats 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. Champa was no longer a threat to Vietnam, and some were even enslaved by their victors.
Islam first arrived in Champa around the ninth century, however it didn't become significant among the Cham people until after the eleventh century.
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. Between 1607 and 1676, one of the Champa kings converted to Islam and it became a dominant feature of Cham society. The Chams also adopted the Jawi alphabet.
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. Chams Princess tomb can be found in Trowulan, the site of the capital of the Majapahit Empire. 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). 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. 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.
The Cham were matrilineal and inheritance passed through the mother. Because of this, in 1499 the Vietnamese enacted a law banning marriage between Cham women and Vietnamese men, regardless of class.(Tạ 1988, p. 137) The Vietnamese also issued instructions in the capital to kill all Chams within the vicinity. More attacks by the Vietnamese continued and in 1693 the Champa Kingdom's territory was integrated as part of Vietnamese territory.
When the Ming dynasty in China fell, several thousand Chinese refugees fled south and extensively settled on Cham lands and in Cambodia. 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.
During the Vietnam War, a sizeable number of Chams migrated to Peninsular Malaysia, where they were granted sanctuary by the Malaysian government out of sympathy for fellow Muslim brothers; most of them have now assimilated with Malay cultures.
Chams participated in defeating the Spanish invasion of Cambodia.
Cham who migrated to Sulu were Orang Dampuan. Champa and Sulu engaged 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. The Buranun were then subjected to retaliatory slaughter by the Orang Dampuan. Harmonious commerce between Sulu and the Orang Dampuan was later restored. The Yakans were descendants of the Taguima-based Orang Dampuan who came to Sulu from Champa. Sulu received civilization in its Indic form from the Orang Dampuan.
The trade in Vietnamese ceramics was damaged due to the plummet in trade by Cham merchants after the 1471 Vietnamese invasion of Champa. 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.
Further expansion by the Vietnamese in 1720 resulted in the total annexation of the Champa kingdom and dissolution by the 19th century Vietnamese Emperor, 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.
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, declaring a Jihad against the Vietnamese. 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.
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 hill tribe 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, though the Cham suffered the largest death toll in proportion to their population. Around 100,000 to 500,000 Cham out of a total Cham population of 250,000 to 650,000 died in the genocide.
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. The Cham activist organisation "International Office of Champa" republished Bray's article on their website Cham Today.
The Cham in Vietnam are officially recognised by the Vietnamese government as one of 54 ethnic groups. However, according to the Cham advocacy 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. 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.
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 Cambodia to prop up the puppet government and Vietnamese officials pretending to be Khmer continuing to direct the government as their puppet. The Cham activist organisation "International Office of Champa" republished Hassan's article on their website Cham Today.
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.
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."
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. 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. It is not practiced, only symbolic and performed with a toy wooden knife.
Important festivals include Kate, celebrated mainly by the Cham of central Vietnam. The festival venerates ancient Cham royalty gods. Among Cham Muslims, Ramadan, El Fitri, and the Hajj are important celebrations. However, the Cham (regardless of faith) all have a very rich tradition of dance, arts, music, costumes, poetry, and more.
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. The Champa temples provide a wealth of information about Cham history, art, and construction techniques, through analysis and interpretation of architecture, styles, and inscriptions.
The Cham language is part of the Malayo-Polynesian linguistic family. Cham is very rich with many loan words and terminology influenced by many other languages it came into contact with. Most Cham speak the language though many also speak the dominant language of the nation they reside in like Vietnamese, Khmer, Malay and others. Some Cham can also speak and write Arabic.
While historically complicated, the modern Chams of Cambodia and Vietnam have had friendly relationships with the Khmer and Vietnamese majority. Despite ethnic and religious differences, the majority people of Cambodia and Vietnam have accepted the Cham as closer to them then other minorities, and friendly attitude of both Cambodians and Vietnamese toward the Chams, as there has no record of harassment against Muslims from locals. However, between government and people, it is difficult to categorize. According from Cham human right activists, the Vietnamese regime, the fears of historical influence has evolved into a series of state-sponsored discrimination against Chams, especially toward the Muslims one, comparing to less provocative and more state-friendly Hindu community. Meanwhile, due to Vietnam's growing relations with Muslim states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt, the development of Islam is also witnessed with limited support from the regime, as the Vietnamese government distrusts the Cham Muslims.
"Relations between the Hanoi government and ethnic minorities are sensitive. In 2001 and 2004 massive human rights protests by hill tribes resulted in deaths and mass imprisonments. For some time after that, the Central Highlands were sealed off to foreigners."
In addition, the Vietnamese state regularly deploys police force and spies watching the Cham Muslims, though it doesn't practice using concentration camps like its Chinese counterparts. Vietnam also forbids a number of Islamic jurists from preaching Islam to the Cham community and segregates the Cham Muslims from obtaining possible employments.
The Vietnamese Muslim Association is the official association representing Muslim interests, including the Chams, in the country. The Cambodian Islamic Association is the official representation of Cambodian Muslims of Cham ethnicity. The Hindus are also represented from various Cham and Indian organizations across both countries.
Cham Hindus are noted for integration with larger Indian communities in both nations. Cham Muslims, on the other hand, is unique in the world for being some of the few Muslim communities to have no one joined the Al-Qaeda or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, mostly among Vietnamese Chams. The community in fact, has never been interested on joining other foreign terrorist groups, despite rising Islamic terrorism in Southeast Asia. While recent Islamic extremist attacks in the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar are on the rise, witnessed with the Battle of Marawi, Surabaya bombings and the Rohingya crisis, there has been no record of Cham Muslims participating in Islamic militancy in support for Al-Qaeda or Daesh.
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, including In the famous Indonesian Action Movie: Merantau, The Raid: Redemption, and The Raid 2.
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 the 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; however, the religion first arrived around the ninth century. 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. Islam began making headway among the Chams beginning in the eleventh century. The version of Islam practiced by the Vietmamese Cham is often called Bani which contains many pre-islamic beliefs and rituals like magic, spirit worship, and propitiation of the souls of former kings. Cambodian Muslim Cham practice Sunni Islam though it has many indigenous, magical and Buddhist elements to it. 
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. The Cham Bani worship in thang magik, the main communal setting for rituals. 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.
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, called Balamon Cham or Balamon Hindu, do not have a strict caste system, although previously they may have been divided between the Nagavamshi Kshatriya  and the Brahmin castes, the latter of which would have represented a small minority of the population. 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. In Binh Thuan province, Balamon number close to 25,000 and Bani Cham around 10,000. There are four pure Cham villages and nine mixed villages in Bình Thuận Province. The Hinduism practiced by these Cham also has many elements of indigneous beliefs like the inclusion of Po Inu Nagar, a mother goddess figure.
The majority of Chams in Vietnam (also known as the Eastern Chams) are Hindu mostly live in Central Vietnam, while Southern Vietnam's Chams and their Cambodian counterparts are largely Muslim. A smaller number of the Eastern Cham also follow Mahayana Buddhism. A number emigrated to France in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War.
|Admixture analysis of the two populations from southern Vietnam.|
|Admixed populations||Parental populations|
|MSEA1 (n = 890)||WISEA2 (n = 983)|
|Cham (n = 59)||0.62405¶
0.629437 ± 0.256634†
0.370563 ± 0.256634
|Vietnamese (n = 70)||0.842972
0.839953 ± 0.56035
0.160047 ± 0.56035
¶ admixture coefficient;
† bootstrap average and standard deviation of the admixture coefficient were obtained by bootstrap with 1000 replications.
1 MSEA: Mainland Southeast Asia
2 WISEA: western island Southeast Asia
|Source: Table 2, Page 7, He Jun-dong et al. (2012)|
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
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.
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