|Cham dance performance at one of their temples in Nha Trang, Vietnam|
|Regions with significant populations|
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The Cham people (Vietnamese: người Chăm or người Chàm, Cham: Urang Campa) 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.
Cham are remnants of the Kingdom of Champa (7th 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 the neighboring Vietnamese people who speak the Vietnamese language, which is an Austroasiatic language.
The ancestors of the Cham probably migrated from the island of Borneo. Records of the Champa kingdom go as far back as 2nd 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 Khanh Hoa province, in a peasant family in the mountains of Dai An. 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 2 children with, and then became Queen of Champa.
Al-Dimashqi (1325) states that "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 Zhilue documents Chinese merchants who went to Cham ports in Champa, married Cham women, to whom they regularly returned to after trading voyages. A Chinese merchant from Quanzhou, Wang Yuanmao, traded extensively with Champa, and married a Cham princess.
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. Due to this, the Vietnamese in 1499 enacted a law banning marriage between Cham women and all Vietnamese males, regardless of class. The Vietnamese also issued instructions in the capital to kill all Chams within the vicinity.
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.
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 bear the name of Kompong Cham (literally Cham landing); others scattered in communities across the Mekong Basin. Those who remained the Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Phan Rí, and Phan Thiết provinces of central Vietnam were absorbed into the Vietnamese polity.
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. During the mass killings by the government, a disproportionate number of Chams were killed compared with ethnic Khmers. Ysa Osman, a researcher at the Documentation Center of Cambodia concludes, "Perhaps as many as 500,000 died. They were considered the Khmer Rouge's No. 1 enemy. The plan was to exterminate them all" because "they stood out. They worshipped their own God. Their diet was different. Their names and language were different. They lived by different rules. The Khmer Rouge wanted everyone to be equal, and when the Chams practiced Islam they did not appear to be equal. So they were punished."
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 viewed the karoeh ceremony 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.
The majority of Cham in Vietnam (also known as the Eastern Cham) are Hindu, while their Cambodian counterparts are largely Muslim. 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, 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. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, the Chams of that country suffered serious purges with as much as half of their population exterminated. They suffered a higher rate of loss than any other ethnic group; with most of their leaders executed, only 21 out of 113 (19%) Imams surviving and perhaps only 15% of Cambodia’s mosques surviving.
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.
The first recorded religion of the Champa was a form of Shaivite Hinduism, brought by sea from India. As Arab merchants 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. This might explain why only the Chams have been traditionally identified with Islam in Indochina.
Most Chams, especially in Cambodia, follow Islam and uphold its pillars including praying five times a day, fasting in Ramadan and performing hajj to Mecca. For many years, representatives from Cambodia have taken part in the annual International Quran Reciters Competition in Kuala Lumpur. The Cham Muslim community in Cambodia runs religious schools and is headed by a Mufti.
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. 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 presently do not have a strict caste system, although previously they may have been divided into Nagavamshi Kshatriya caste, with a considerable minority being Brahmins. 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. 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.
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