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You are here:      Home Information Ethnic Minority
Total population: 500,000
Languages: Cham, Malay,Khmer, Vietnamese, Tamil
Religion: Predominantly Sunni Islam, Minority Hinduism and Buddhism
Related ethnic groups: Jarai, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian
The Cham people (Vietnamese: Cham: ) are an ethnic group in Southeast Asia. They are concentrated between Kampong Cham Province in Cambodia and central Vietnam's Phan Rang-Thap Cham, Phan Thiet, Ho Chi Minh City and An Giang areas. Approximately 4,000 Chams also live in Thailand; many of whom have moved south to 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 15th centuries). They are closely related to Malaysians (Acehnese) and speak Cham, a Malayo-Polynesian language of the Austronesian language family (Aceh-Chamic subgroup).

A section of the Kambysene hordes settled on north-west of India later came to be known as Kambojas and their province as Kamboja in ancient Indian traditions. A section of these Scythianised Kambojas is believed to have reached Tibetan plateau where they mixed with the locals; as a result some Tibetans are still called Kambojas.Through Tibet, they went further to Mekong valley where they were called Kambujas (Cambodians), now represented by the Chams, still a tall, fair, dolichocephalic people with non-mongoloid eyes, of the Mon-Khmers.

Records of the Champa kingdom go as far back as 2nd century AD China. At its height in the 9th century, the kingdom controlled the lands between Hue, in central Annam, to the Mekong Delta in Cochinchina. Its prosperity came from maritime trade in sandalwood and slaves and probably included piracy.

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 Tonle 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 diminish. In 1471 it suffered a massive defeat by 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 the Champa king converted to Islam, and during this period Islam became a dominant feature of Cham society. Further expansion by the Vietnamese in 1720 resulted in the annexation of the Champa kingdom and its persecution by the Vietnamese king, Minh Mang. As a consequence, the last Champa Muslim king, PChien, decided to gather his people (those on the mainland) and migrate south to Cambodia, while those along the coastline migrated to Trengganu (Malaysia). A tiny group fled northward to the Chinese island of Hainan where they are known today as the Utsuls. The area of Cambodia where the king and the mainlanders settled is still known as Kompong Cham, where they scattered in communities across the Mekong River. Not all the Champa Muslims migrated with the king. A few groups stayed behind in Nha Trang, Phan Rang, Phan Rand, and Phan Thiet provinces of central Vietnam.

In the 1960s there were various movements of uprising to free the Cham people and create their own state. The movements were the Liberation Front of Champa (FLC - Le Front pour la Liberation de Cham) and the Front de Liberation des Hauts plateaux. The latter seeked cooperation with other hilltribes. The initial name of the movement was called "Front des Petits Peuples" from 1946 to 1960. In 1960 the name was changed to "Front de Liberation des Hauts plateaux" and joined, together with the Liberation Front of Champa, the Front unifipour la Libation des Races opprimes (FULRO) at some point in the 1960s. Today there is no serious secessionist movement or political activity.

Cham people today
Cham dance performance at one of their temples in south VietnamThe Vietnamese Chams live mainly in coastal and Mekong Delta provinces. They have two distinct religious communities, Muslim or Cham Bani constitute about 80%, 85% of the Cham, and Hindu or Balamon (deriving from the word "Bruhman" and used both in Cham and in Vietnamese), who constitute about 15%‚-20% of the Cham. While they share a common language and history, there is no intermarriage between the groups. A small number of the Cham also follow Mahayana Buddhism. Many emigrated to France in the late 1960s after the civil war broke out in Saigon city.

In Cambodia, the Chams are 90% 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.

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.

The temples at ¡n are one of the most holiest of Cham sitesThe first 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, and Hinduism became associated with the upper classes.

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. Other Muslims, such as some Vietnamese, would have converted much later upon other contacts.

Notable Chams
Ch Bœng Nga, the last strong king of Champa
Che Linh, singer
Ahmad Tony, Extreme Scooter Rider


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