The Cham people in Cambodia and Vietnam descend from refugees of the Kingdom of Champa, which once ruled much of Vietnam between Gao Ha in the north and Bien Hao in the south. A people of Malayo-Polynesian stock, the Cham developed under both Hindu and Muslim influence in their early history. The imprint of these two civilizations, although altered by local tradition and superstition, is still evident in the customs, mores, and religious practices of the Cham. Cham adherents of Hinduism and of Islam call themselves Cham Kaphir and Cham Bani respectively. The Vietnamese have historically considered the Cham culturally inferior, backward, and lazy. The Cham themselves prefer to remain separate from the Vietnamese; they strongly believe that only through isolation can they retain their cultural identity.
The Chams (also known as the Cham, Chiem Thanh, and Hroi in Vietnam) are a Malay people and the remnants of the ancient kingdom of Champa, which ruled southern Vietnam and Cambodia for more than 1000 years. They speak a Malay-Polynesian (Austronesian) language, similar to Indonesian, with Khmer, Vietnamese, Sanskrit, Indonesian and Arabic influences. They live primarily in south-central Vietnam and the Tonle Sap and Chau Doc areas of Cambodia.
For centuries a race of warriors and pirates, the Cham defended their vast and prosperous Kingdom of Champa from numerous invasions. However, in 1471, the empire finally collapsed before Vietnamese invaders. Only the grandiose temples and sanctuaries, irrigation systems, sculpture, woven cloth, and jewelry remain as evidence of this once great civilization. The descendants of the once powerful Cham are scattered along the eastern coast of the Republic of Vietnam and near the Cambodian border. These people now eke out a living as artisans, farmers, and fishermen. The Cham live in small village settlements, grouped according to matrilineal kinship ties. Their language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family and is related to the Rhade, Jarai, and Raglai tongues. The Cham have traditionally been very religious and perform daily rituals to appease animistic spirits while also practicing Islam and Hinduism.
The Cham have traditionally been farmers, fishermen and hunters. They grow wet and dry rice, cotton, maize, tobacco, castor-oil plants, manioc, peanuts, ferns, and vegetables. They developed their own method of slash-and-burn agriculture called ray cultivation. They have traditionally fished with nets and hunted with beaters, dogs and traps and raised buffalo, goats, dogs, poultry and ducks They also harvest timber from mangroves and forests for profit. In Cambodia they work primarily as lumberjacks, cattle herders and fishermen.
In Sanskrit, Champa is the name of a bush and of a flower. The descendants of the peoples of the Kingdom of Champa are still known as the Cham, though the Vietnamese refer to this group as the Nguoi Champa. The Cham have also been called, together with the Montagnard tribes, the "People of Thuan Thanh," a name derived from the second character of Binh Thuan and the second character of Chien Thanh (the capital of the Kingdom of Champa). The French and Americans refer to these people as Cham, Tchame, and Tiame. Other spellings of the name are: Kiam, Thiame, Tjame, and Tsiam.4 In the mountainous areas of Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, and Binh Thuan, the Cham are also referred to as the Ha. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s ]
There are about 400,000 Cham: with 217,000 in Cambodia; 162,000 in Vietnam; 10,000 in Malaysia; 5000 in China; 4,000 in Thailand; 3,000 in the United States; 1,000 in France; and 800 in Laos. The Cham are darker than Vietnamese, and wear sarongs and colorful head dresses. They only make up about 0.2 percent of the population of Vietnam and 1 percent of the population of Cambodia. There were 132,873 of them in Vietnam in 1999 according to the census taken that year. They are extremely poor. [Source: mostly Wikipedia]
See Separate Article on Cham Religion
Location of the Cham
Po Dharma divides the Cambodian Cham into two groups—the orthodox and the traditional--based on their religious practices. The orthodox group, which makes up about one-third of the total number of Cham in the country, were located mainly in the Phnom Penh-Odongk area and in the provinces of Takev and Kampot. The traditional Cham were scattered throughout the midsection of the country in the provinces of Batdambang, Kampong Thum, Kampong Cham, and Pouthisat. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]
In Vietnam the Cham live in Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces. They also live in An Giang, Tay Ninh, Dong Nai provinces, and Ho Chi Minh City. Cham villages are scattered throughout two principal areas in the Republic of Vietnam: along the Cambodian border in Tay Ninh and Chau Doc Provinces and in the central lowlands along the eastern slope of the Annamite mountain chain in the provinces extending from Quang Ngai to Binh Tuy. The greatest number seem to be situated around Phan Thiol and Phan Ri in Binh Thuan Province and near Phan Rang in Ninh Thuan Province. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The territory of the Cham in Vietnam covers the two major areas - the central coastal area and the delta area. The Cham inhabit a strip along the coast of the Republic of Vietnam from Quang Ngai Province in the north to Binh Tuy Province in the south. They are also found in the delta provinces of Chau Doc and Tay Ninh on the Cambodian border. The coastal regions of Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh, and Phu Yen are characterized by low sand dunes, alluvial deposits, and lagoons. In general, the relief does not exceed 600 feet, but in some areas the coast almost disappears, where mountain spurs reach shoreward and separate the lowlands. The fertile lowland plains produce two crops of rice annually (in April and September). Several fast-moving rivers - the Thu Bon, the Kim Son, and the Ba - drain eastward into the South China Sea. **
The delta area inhabited by the Cham - Chau Doc and Tay Ninh Provinces - is to the west of Saigon along the Cambodian border. Extensive drainage projects have converted the marshy ground into intensively cultivated land. During the dry season early maturing or floating varieties of rice are grown. The eastern portions of the area are marked by small farms, whereas the outlying newly drained lands are characterized by larger farms. Several rivers dissect the delta regions settled by the Cham, principally the Hau Giang (Bassac) River, which flows through Chau Doc and the Vam Co Dong River, which traverses Tay Ninh. Canals provide irrigation and transportation for small craft. **
The Cham live in proximity to a number of ethnic groups in addition to the Vietnamese. In Quang Ngai Province, the Cham have the Hre tribe to the west, the Cua to the northwest, and the M'nong to the southwest. The Cham in Binh Dinh Province live primarily in the south, adjacent to the Bahnar in the west and the Hroi in the south. In Khanh Hoa Province, the Cham have settled along the northeast border near the Rhade to the west and northwest and the Hroi to the north. In Phu Yen Province, the Cham inhabit the southern districts of Son Hoa and Dong Xuan with the Jarai to the southwest and the Rhade to the west. The Cham in Ninh Thuan reside in the eastern portion of the province, near Phan Rang, and have the Churu and Raglai as neighbors to the northwest. In Binh Thuan Province, the Cham are located near Phan Ri, Hoa Da, and Phan Thiet with the Koho to the south and the west, the Churu to the northwest, and the Raglai to the north and northwest. The Cham in Long Khanh live in the south central area of the province around Xuan Loc, with the Koho to the north. In Binh Tuy Province, the Cham inhabit the region around the town of Tahn Linh and along the coast above Ham Tan in proximity to the Koho and the Chrau in the west. The Cham in Tay Ninh and Chau Doc Provinces are located near the provincial capitals and are surrounded by Malays and Khmers. **
Origins and History of the Cham
The Cham are believed to have originated in Java, where they absorbed a number of Hindu and Indian influences. In the A.D. 2nd century, they established the kingdom of Champa near present-day Danang and dominated present-day central Vietnam, particularly the coastal areas, and to a lesser extent southern Vietnam. The precise origin of the Cham is unknown, but the similarity of customs and linguistic affinities indicates that they emigrated from the Malayan-Indonesian Archipelago sometime during the Stone Age. By the time Hindu traders reached the Indochinese Peninsula (Annam) in the beginning of the Christian era, many of the Cham had intermarried with various tribal groups of Indonesian origin already inhabiting the area.
Early Cham history is divided into two major periods. The first, from the 2nd to the 10th centuries, was characterized by fighting between the Cham and Chinese. The second, from the 10th to 15th centuries, was characterized by fighting between the Cham and Annamese (Vietnamese). Champa endured until 1471 when it was defeated by the Annamese emperor Thanh Ton. The Cham story of the past is confined to the legends of the fabulous adventures ascribed to their kings. Many of these monarchs have been deified over the ages.
The Chams were known for their seafaring skills, agricultural inventiveness and religious monuments and temples. They commanded pirate vessels that traveled in the South China Sea and fought with the Khmers to the west and the Vietnamese and Chinese to the north. During times of peace Vietnamese rulers married off their daughters to Cham rulers.
The Cham civilization was centered in My Son (40 miles from Da Nang). Established in the 4th century by King Bhadravaman and occupied until the 13th century, it is not as impressive as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Pagan in Burma, but it contained a number of monumental stone structures and temples, some of which contained bas-reliefs of elephants and birds and Malay-Polynesian-style boat roofs. They also built numerous orange brick and sandstones towers across the Vietnamese countryside.
The Chams were skilled musicians and traders. They spoke a language similar Indonesian and decorated their temples with Indonesian-style motifs. India also had a strong influence on Cham culture and political organization. The Chams adopted Hinduism around the A.D. 5th century, used Sanskrit in important rituals and incorporated Hindu symbols and styles in their art and architecture.
Early History of the Cham
The existence of the Cham enclave, known by the Chinese as Lin Yi or "savage forest," was first recorded in the latter part of the A.D. second century. The Chinese annals date the founding of the Cham kingdom in A.D. 192. In the third century the Cham moved north from Binh Thuan Province, pillaging and seizing territory from the Han dynasty. They also drove some of the tribal peoples, known now as the Montagnards, into the hills from the coastal areas. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
In the 12th century, the Cham established hegemony over most of the Darlac Plateau. During this period of hegemony, the Cham organized the Jarai, Rhade, and Churu tribes, established administrative divisions where total anarchy had previously prevailed, and taught the tribesmen agricultural techniques. The Cham recruited the Montagnard tribesmen as auxiliaries for their armies and collected taxes from them. From the outset of their expansion, the Hindu Cham clashed with the Chinese and the sinicized Annamese or ethnic Vietnamese. Protracted border wars between the Chinese and the Cham continued for several centuries, interrupted periodically by Chinese-Vietnamese disputes. **
In its grandest period, the Champa Kingdom extended from Saigon to Canton and perhaps west to Siam. It was divided into a number of provinces corresponding to the natural configurations of the coastal plains. Pushed southward by the Chinese, the Kingdom maintained itself between 10-20 degrees latitude and 103-107 degrees longitude. After evacuating Hue, the first Cham capital, and Tra Kieu, the second capital, during the Chinese advance, Cham power apparently stabilized around the fortress of Cha Bon, the last stronghold of the Cham kings. **
Decline of the Cham Kingdom
During Chinese-Vietnamese conflicts, the Cham sided first with one, then the other, finally helping the Vietnamese free themselves of Chinese rule in the 10th century. Once liberated, the Vietnamese devoted their attention to fighting the Cham. They clashed so relentlessly that only extermination of one group or the other could solve the conflict. Further weakened by a series of wars with the Chinese and Khmer, the Cham finally succumbed to the Vietnamese in 1471. The conquerors seized the most fertile coastal lands for their settlements, and the Cham survivors of the massacre in 1471 fled into the woods and hill country or were absorbed by the Vietnamese army and settled in military colonies. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
After the defeat by the Annamese in 1471 the Chams failed in their attempt to break away from Annamese dominance. Cham culture declined and the Cham kingdom was pushed into a small enclave, which included Saigon, in the south, which remained part of the Kingdom of Champa until 1698. As the Cham kingdom declined there was an exodus of Cham nobleman and commoners to Cambodia. The Cham hung on as a shadow of their former self. At the turn of the 20th century their numbers had dropped so low they were in danger of extinction. The last Champa queen was 90 in 1997. She had no daughter, which means that in a matriarchal society her line has died out.
Their geographic location has greatly influenced Cham development since the downfall of their Kingdom of Champa. Driven back from the sea and the fertile areas of the coastal plains, the Cham have changed from a prosperous seafaring power to a small agrarian culture. Principalities related to ancient clan names formed small political units bounded by the mountain spurs that divide the Cham territories. Internal rivalries prevented reunification of the Cham which in turn made impossible a united defense against common enemies. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
Equally significant are the social relationships that evolved between the Cham and other ethnic and tribal groups. The proximity of the Cham and the Vietnamese has resulted in some exchange of customs, though the extent of the interchange is unclear. Many authorities contend that the Cham remain socially distant from the Vietnamese. Other authorities believe that since the Cham-Vietnamese wars there has been considerable contact between the two groups including some intermarriage and that Vietnamese influence is strong among the Cham. **
Significant Historical Events of the Cham
A.D. 192: Probable founding of Champa Kingdom. 220-230: First mention of Champa (Lin-Yi) in Chinese annals. 3d Century: Vietnamese reach Col des Nuages. 248: Cham push northward to Gate of Annam and site of Hue. 4th-5th Century: Series of wars result in Chinese conquest of coastal areas and Tonkin Delta, and eviction of Cham. 8th Century: Period of invasions and pillages by pirates, armies from Java. Center of Champa moved to Panduranga (Phan Rang) and Kauthara (Nhatrang). [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
10th Century: Cham abandon region of Hue. 982: Vietnamese independence from China. 1040-1044: Vietnamese invasions - land and sea - of Champa. 1150: Beginning of Cham hegemony over plateau of Darlac. 1190: Cambodian invasions of Champa. 1217-1218: Cambodians and Cham unite against Vietnamese. 1220: Withdrawal of Cambodians from Champa. 1242: New Vietnamese invasions. 1282: Mongol occupation of Champa. 1312: Champa becomes feudal state of Vietnam until 1326. 1371: Cham invasions of Red River valley and pillage of Hanoi.
1350-1400: Frequent clashes between Cham and Vietnamese. 1471: Vietnamese capture of Vijaya, last Champa stronghold. Massacres - 30,000 Cham taken into captivity. Withdrawal of Cham kings to the southern area of Cap Varella. 1509: Massacre of hundreds of Cham by Li-Oai-Muc. 1579-1735: Residence of Cham princes at Panduranga (Phan Rang). 1650: Seizure of Prince Po Rome: Vietnamese conquest of Phu Yen and Nhatrang. 1698: Dong Nai region falls under Vietnamese domination. 1735-1822: Conversion of titled princes to simple mandarins. Vietnamese invasion of Binh Thuan, seizure of coastal Cham territory, Mekong Delta, fisheries, fertile land. 1757: Vietnamese seizure and domination of Chau Doc. 1822: Cham administrative authority limited to chiefs of villages and cantons.
The history of the Cham as a distinct culture ends early in the 19th century. For the past century and a half, the Cham have been trying to retain their own language, customs, and mores in the face of almost continual adversity. In recent years they have been opting between extinction and assimilation by the ethnic Vietnamese.
History of the Cham in Vietnam After the Fall of the Champa Kingdom
Relations between the Cham and the Montagnard tribes were war-like until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, when the Cham fled to the mountains to seek refuge among the tribal peoples. It is believed that many Montagnards are descendants of these Cham, who inter-married with the tribespeople. Harmonious relations apparently now exist between the Cham and neighboring Montagnard tribes, with the single exception of relations with the Bahnar.23 Commercial exchanges and almost daily contacts between the groups result in the exchange of tools, utensils, customs, superstitions, and religious beliefs. Some Montagnards even attend Cham religious ceremonies. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The Cham consider the tribesmen as their inferiors, but amicable relations exist nonetheless, for the Montagnards realize they are indebted to the Cham.24 According to one source the Cham, despite their own fall from power, maintain supremacy over the tribesmen. The Montagnards accept this arrangement in good faith as logical and natural.25 If the Cham still have such a strong influence upon the tribal peoples, they may be of strategic importance in winning the support of these groups. **
History of the Cham in Cambodia After the Fall of the Champa Kingdom
The Cham people in Cambodia descend from refugees of the kingdom of Champa, which once ruled much of Vietnam between Cao Ha in the north and Bien Hoa in the south. In 1471 Champa was conquered by the Vietnamese, and many Cham fled to Cambodia. Cham scholar Po Dharma points out that the Cham have lived in Cambodia since at least 1456. They settled along the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers and in Batdambang, Pouthisat, Takev, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Kampong Thum, and Kampong Chhnang provinces. At some time before the seventeenth century, the Cambodian Cham and some of those in adjacent Vietnam converted to Islam, probably as a result of contacts with their Malay kin who had embraced that religion centuries earlier. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987 *]
The Cham in Cambodia have lived in villages adjacent to the Khmer people. Though the culture of the Khmer is basically Buddhist, they have been influenced by Hindu culture. The Khmer consider the Muslim Cham mercenary, false, and violent, but very brave. The Cham and Khmer seldom intermarry.
Friendly relations prevailed between the Cham and the Khmer for centuries even though, because of the Cham religion, little intermarriage occurred. Under the Khmer Republic of 1970 to 1975, one of the elite military units was made up of members of the Cham and other ethnic minorities. The Khmer Rouge tried, without much success, to recruit the Cham during the struggle with the Khmer Republic. The Cham were singled out for particularly brutal repression under the Khmer Rouge regime, and large numbers were killed. *
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." [Source: Wikipedia]
The Vietnam-backed PRK actively courted the Cham, and in 1987 a Cham was a member of the party Central Committee and minister of agriculture.
Cham belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Cham is described as having a Malay base but is distinguished from Malay by numerous grammatical differences. Polysyllabic and nontonal, it sound rough and guttural to the unaccustomed ear. There is no slurring; harsh sounds succeed each other. The multitude of aspirations and guttural syllables render it difficult for Westerners to learn. Several of the Montagnard tribes are linguistically related to the Cham. The dialects of the Rhade and of the Jarai have been strongly influenced by Cham, but whether they are fundamentally of the same stock is not clear. The Raglai and the Churu, on the other hand, speak a language almost identical with Cham. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
Many of the Cham Bani, or Muslim Cham, centered in Tay Ninh and Chau Doc speak Khmer, Vietnamese, and Malayan, in addition to Cham. Most of the Cham Kaphir or Hindu Cham, speak only their own tongue. A few Cham are able to read the written Vietnamese quoc ngu, or romanized Vietnamese. Written Cham, somewhat similar to Sanskrit, has been preserved to a small extent. The Cham cannot read the ancient language; other than shamans, few can read modern Cham documents. Cham is written from left to right, and the alphabet differs according to region and the influence of the dominant population. In Cambodia and probably Tay Ninh and Chau Doc, the alphabet comprises 4 vowels, 2 diphthongs and 29 consonants. In the rest of the Republic of Vietnam, the Cham alphabet has five short vowels, five long vowels, and four diphthongs. In addition to the letters, certain signs are used in conjunction with the vowels to influence their pronunciation. Cham numerals appear to be scarcely altered letters of the alphabet with the exception of 4, which seems to be a vocalic sign, and 0, the Indian o. Cham is extremely difficult to read as the letters follow uninterruptedly without separation of words. Capital letters are also absent, as are syllabic divisions within words. The similarity of form between different letters and the overlapping of sentences render reading even more laborious. **
According to U.S. Army sources in the 1960s: "Although descendants of a warlike people, the Cham today are individually extremely timid. As a group, however, the Cham exhibit great courage. In 1950, in the face of Viet Minh aggression, the Cham united solidly to fight the Communists. The villages of these pacific and mild-tempered people are described as the embodiment of peace itself, with few brawls or quarrels. The Cham have likable dispositions, but lack energy and initiative. When unwilling to build their own houses, they hire Vietnamese to construct them. Rivalry is not an important factor among the Cham; they make little effort to compete with the Vietnamese to improve their living standards. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
"The Cham have an easygoing philosophy, seldom worrying about economic problems, and often abandoning themselves to almost total unconstraint. If an object appeals to them, they pay any price for it, frequently borrowing and then repaying the debt at great personal expense. State and court laws go unheeded, as the Cham obey only those laws conforming to the mores and customs of their own people. **
"The arrival of an outsider causes the women to run and hide, but the men receive him politely. They will offer him a room or bring him flowers and fruit, but their inestimable pride prevents them from performing any act which might place them in a servile position. In the past their relationships with outsiders with administrative authority were often hypocritical and insincere. Since their history abounds with incidents of foreign exploitation, persecution, and oppression, the Cham were suspicious of strangers, especially when their women were concerned. Cham women, with their reputation for chastity, are closely guarded; if an outsider attempted any intimacies, he risked death, even if the woman had invited his advances. **
"Extreme honesty in word and deed characterizes Cham dealings with one another: swindling, stealing, and lying are unknown among them. Precious paddy reserves suspended in baskets from trees to avoid danger of fire, insect, or rodent remain unmolested; great respect is given all objects belonging to another Cham.20 Verbal agreements in social and business dealings are likewise respected. The Cham place great importance on oaths, especially when taken next to a wharf; they believe that to break one's word incurs punishment by the gods. **
"The Cham tend to be spiteful when they feel they have been unfairly treated. If they appear not to show their hatred, they are only waiting a chance for revenge. Family feuds will, therefore, drag on for generations. If the father does not succeed in avenging himself in his lifetime, his son replaces him in the task until a definitive settlement is reached. Nevertheless, they are just as disposed to forget all if a sworn enemy will come asking forgiveness. **
"Conservative, superstitious, and obstinate, the Cham resist progress; every action must be sanctioned by ancestral practice. Imitation is restricted to what happens to please them and does not conflict with superstitions or religious beliefs. These prejudices explain why, despite centuries of contact with civilizing tendencies, the Cham have remained basically unchanged. Contact with city dwellers has effected only minor changes in the Cham way of life, but even these have not been uniform; some, for example, have learned to eat with utensils, but the majority still use their fingers and drink water directly from streams. This resistance to change, together with their sedentary nature and fond attachment to their environment, also keep the Cham from seeking more fertile land at a distance, even though the resources of their own area may have been depleted. Respect is based on prestige in the Cham society. Village chiefs, elderly men (regardless of social position), religious leaders, and shamans are held in the highest esteem." **
Cham Society and Gender Roles
Cham society is matriarchal with matrilineal descent. Matriarchy still exists in Cham society as daughters carry the family name of their mothers. A woman's family marries the groom for their daughter. There is some trace of an earlier clan system. The Cham used both a matrilineal clan system and patrilineal system for choosing queens and kings. Inheritance of property is through the female line.
The clan system of the Cham predated the arrival of Hindu influence. Kin groupings were distinguished by clan names and individual totems or symbols. According to legend, two clans struggled for supremacy: the coconut-tree clan, which ruled the state of Panduranga (Phan Rang), and the areca-nut clan, north of Panduranga. These clans were purportedly matrilineal except in the case of the royal family, where according to Hindu tradition, succession was reckoned by the male line. The current clan structure of the Cham is unclear. One authority claims there are three clans: the Ca-Giong, the Da-Vach, and the orthodox Cham. Although differences in dialect have been reported, the mores and customs of all these Cham are practically identical. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
Both men and women share many labor-related activities with women in charge of the domestic chores, textile making and child rearing and grain preparation. Land can be both owned by the village or individuals. Females inherit the family property. The youngest daughter, however, must care for her aging parents.
Vested with domestic authority, the women choose their husbands, initiate marriage proceedings, distribute property to their daughters (and sometimes sons), determine the religion of their children, and name their daughters. The men, who occupy a distinctly inferior position, name sons and take care of village duties. The women do the housework, care for the children, cook, weave, winnow and pound the grain, husk the paddy, carry the heavy burdens, and, at the end of the day, fetch the water for the entire village. As priestesses and female deities, they play an important role in religious ceremonies. **
Cham Marriage and Divorce
Couples have a fair amount of freedom in choosing their marriage partners. Newlyweds generally live with the bride’s parents. Polygynous marriages are permitted as long as the first wife agrees. Divorce is also allowed and usually initiated by the wife.
The parents of the girl usually make the marriage overtures to the boy. A Cham marriage involves little ceremony. Among the Muslim Cham, the girl's parents ask the groom if he accepts their daughter in marriage, and he is expected to answer yes. The imam acts as a witness. This simple ceremony is followed by a feast. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]
Cham marriage customs and mores are complex, often differing according to religion (Hindu or Muslim) or region. A girl is permitted considerable freedom of choice in marriage, for in a mixed marriage the religion of the children is determined by the mother.6 At marriageable age, a girl is free to choose a husband. The girl's parents do this by calling on the boy's family and bringing two cakes and some betel. If the boy tastes these, he accepts betrothal, and the couple are engaged. Among the Cham Kaphir (Hindu ), marriage takes place without civil or religious ritual. When the date of the marriage is set, the boy simply goes to live with the girl's family. A simple feast is given by both families, and the boy presents the girl with a gold or silver ring as a symbol of the marriage. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
More complicated customs are observed by the Cham Bani (Muslim): the marriage must be consummated several months before the ceremony takes place. The children of these unions are frequently old enough to participate in the official celebration of the nuptials. On the appointed evening, the couple, dressed in white unhemmed garments, walk hand in hand along mats extending from their dwelling to the ceremonial hut. (It is important that the couple's feet should not touch the ground.) The priests, surrounded by the families, recite prayers. The girl's parents tell the young man that they give him their daughter; offering his hand, the young man says he accepts. Kneeling before the priests, the young man prostrates himself three times. The young girl also prostrates herself three times and then returns home alone. The priests ask the young man what gifts he brings to his future spouse. He must give a silver ring and may give additional gifts, such as bracelets, buffaloes, and carts. The priests bless the ring which two witnesses then take to the young girl. If the girl accepts the ring, it is placed on her finger and the young man is told of his good fortune. The bride's parents give the groom a gift, as do the groom's parents. The guests offer the couple gifts, and a great feast terminates the ceremony. **
Polygamy, although acceptable among the Cham Bani, is rare, as the expense is prohibitive. The wealthier Cham Bani permit themselves this luxury, but only with the permission of the first wife, who is responsible for requesting a second wife. When polyandry exists, the husbands take turns cohabiting with the wife who has chosen them. **
Adultery is rare among the Cham. According to tradition adultery is punishable by death; in practice, the penalty is less severe. Although both the man and woman are physically punished, only the woman must pay a fine for the crime. The guilty woman must pay a fine of two pigs, one for her husband and one for the village. For adultery committed with a relative, the fine is increased to two buffaloes, one for the village and one for a ceremony, and a pig for the husband. The guilty woman must then kill a white hen next to a stream and swear that she will not again commit adultery. In addition, public punishment is administered by villagers who first beat the guilty persons with canes, then force them to eat like pigs from a trough. Then the punished ones leave by way of the forest and return to normal life. **
Divorce among the Cham is frequent and easily accomplished. Women generally initiate divorce proceedings, as it is their right to discard their husbands at will. Divorced women keep the house and two-thirds of the property. When a couple are no longer compatible and mutually agree on divorce, they meet with the spiritual head of the village who publicly questions them on their reasons for divorce. The interrogation is concluded with the order that the couple return their wedding gifts to each other. Then, in the presence of the two families concerned, the couple take an oath to separate. At this point, objects exchanged before the marriage are returned to their rightful owners. The termination of the ceremony is marked by the traditional feast. **
Cham Children and Puberty Rites
Childbirth, called the "accouchement by the fire" by the Cham, involves few preparations. In each village, the midwife assists the mother and lights the traditional bedside fire, which must burn until the 7th day, when the woman is allowed to leave her bed. A candle must also burn continuously to ward off evil spirits. On the 7th day, the midwife extinguishes the fire and plants an iron stake amid the ashes: she then carries the cinders to the nearest crossroads, deposits them with a prayer, and places a betel leaf on the heap. According to Cham superstition, evil spirits, tormented souls, and ghosts frequent crossroads and must be appeased through offerings at particular times. A feast is then offered to the gods and the midwife receives several small gifts. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The Cham wait until a child is 6 months old before naming him. They give the child an ugly or unpleasant name, hoping to make the child unattractive to the evil spirits. A sickly child may be given the name of a disease in order to keep away the spirit responsible for that particular disease. These names apply until the age of 12 when the evil spirits lose their influence. The Cham adore their children and spare no pains to keep them amused and happy. To please the benevolent spirits, the mother smears the child's face with a yellow substance of flour and saffron to simulate the skin coloring traditionally associated with these deities. After a bad dream, the mother tries to conceal her child from the evil spirits by covering him with soot. The Cham exhibit their affection for one another with a snort behind the ear on the back of the neck. The children are particularly fond of this and burst into shouts of laughter whenever their mothers do this. **
Among the Cham Bani (Muslim), the passage of a girl from infancy to puberty (the marriageable age) is marked by a 2-day ceremony called the Karoh (closure or closing) and is under the supervision of the High Priest or Ong Gru. This symbolic ceremony is usually performed when a girl is 15 and has completed her development. The timing is based on the belief that the moon, a feminine deity, reaches perfection on the 15th day. A girl is not free to marry until this ceremony has been completed. **
Two huts are constructed for Karoh ceremony: one serves as a dormitory for the girls whose initiation is to be recognized; the other hut houses the spectators. At daybreak, the girls, adorned in their finest robes and crowned with a mitre, proceed as a group to the High Priest. He places a grain of salt on the lips of each girl, offers a cup of pure water, and, if she is chaste, cuts a piece of hair from her forehead. If she has been violated, the High Priest takes the lock from the back of her neck. To symbolize withdrawal from the world, the girls return to their hut while the priests participate in a feast. About midday the girls reappear wearing their hair in a chignon to indicate the attainment of marriageable age. The ceremony concludes with gifts for the girls and a feast for all the participants. **
The counterpart of this ceremony among Cham Bani boys is called the "Entry to Religion" and occurs during the boy's 15th year. The purely symbolical act consists of simulated circumcision in which the priest pretends to perform the act with a wooden knife. Then the boy is given a religious surname (Ali, Ibrahim, etc.) which he may use in addition to his secular name. Reaching the marriageable age, however, does not justify sexual promiscuity. Premarital sexual relations are strictly prohibited. The Cham keep close watch over their women, for as their saying goes, "You might as well leave an elephant among the sugarcane, as leave a man alone with a girl." **
Cham Customs and Etiquette
The Cham attach great importance to the teaching and observance of rules of etiquette. Especially rigid are rules affecting the relations between people of different age and rank. A young man shows respect for an older man by addressing him as Uncle or Grandfather; an inferior addresses his superior as Elder Brother. In greeting a person of superior rank, a young man shows deference by arranging his girdle or crossing the cloth which serves as the equivalent of trousers. If the young man is carrying an umbrella, he will hold it forward toward the person he wishes to honor; then conversation can take place. Throughout the conversation, the young man must avoid swinging his arms, a sign of disrespect; to prevent this, the well-bred Cham clasps his hands together. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The education of a Cham woman is considered complete when she has learned the rudiments of etiquette. For example, she will know that she must never show pleasure in public by laughing. She may, on the other hand, yawn when bored, a sign of good breeding. A woman seeking a favor of a notable must follow a complex procedure requiring great forethought and preparation. She removes the turban from her hair, wraps it about her like a shawl, falls to her knees, and prostrates her self three times at full length on the ground before the notable. **
In the past, an outsider was greeted with immediate hostility, at least by the women, who fled from sight and remained hidden until the visitor proved harmless. Occasionally, months passed before the women resumed their activities in sight of the stranger. The men would receive a stranger politely, offer him a room, and bring him flowers and fruit; however, their pride prevented them from performing any act which might have placed them in a servile position. The Cham would not, for example, pick up an object dropped by the visitor. **
Murder by poison was not uncommon in Cham areas. Outsiders passing through Cham regions were warned against this danger. If an outsider violated any local customs, particularly any regarding women, he risked poisoning. As some of the poisons worked very slowly, the person frequently thought he had contracted some disease. The Cham are experts in concocting stupefying drugs and narcotics and can poison the air of a room by blowing noxious vapors through hollow tubes inserted in the walls.
Cham Drugs, Food Eating and Drinking Customs
At mealtime, the Cham women spread a mat on the ground and on it place trays containing small bowls of food. The family gathers around the mat, either squatting on their heels or sitting on round pieces of wood. The meals are prepared on a green wood fire, smell strongly of smoke, and consist of rice base with grilled or boiled corn, herb soups, eggplant, squash, cucumber, tree or shrub leaves, fruit flowers, and dried fish. The Cham eat with their fingers or with wooden sticks and Chinese porcelain spoons. They approach the meal with great respect; etiquette forbids an individual to leave the meal before everyone has finished eating. A breach of this rule is called "the removal of the queen," and is considered extremely serious; this violation not only incurs a fine, but is believed to bring ill fortune to the wrongdoer and his companions. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The Cham have a multiplicity of food taboos, which they observe with varying degrees of rigidity. The Cham Bani, as Muslims, are technically forbidden to eat pork and drink alcohol, but, in practice, the restrictions on the latter have been relaxed. The Cham Kaphir do not eat beef. The caste-associated taboos of the Hindu s are particularly complex as they relate to the religious practitioners. Failure of the priests to observe these taboos is believed to shorten their lives. **
The Cham do not drink while eating but only after the termination of the meal. Daily beverages consist of water or very hot, weak tea. During ceremonies, the precious jars of rice alcohol are opened, but even then the Cham remain sober and rarely become raucous. Rice alcohol is made by placing a handful of steamed, dried rice, together with a vegetable leaven, into an earthen jar, which the owner then secretly buries in the ground. The longer the jars remain closed, the greater the fermentation of the alcohol; later water is added to the mixture as it is imbibed. A bent bamboo straw is used to suck the liquor from the jars. The person being honored drinks first, then the villagers, and finally the women and children. **
Although freely available, opium is generally prohibitively expensive for the Cham. Tobacco is extremely popular and is both chewed and smoked. The tobacco is rolled into a very thin cigarette and smoked in an engraved copper pipe with a tiny bowl and a long stem, or in a short pipe of hand-carved wood or bamboo.18 The Cham also chew betel quids made by lightly coating a leaf of pepper betel with lye and rolling it around a piece of areca nut. **
The Cham breed buffaloes, chickens, ducks, goats, dogs, and, occasionally, horses. In deference to one another's religious scruples, the Hindu s raise few pigs, and the Muslims raise no cattle. Chickens, goats, and buffaloes are raised for sacrificial purposes. Buffaloes are also essential to the Cham economy, serving as work animals to plow the fields and draw carts. Animals are kept in small corrals within the family compound or beneath the house if it is built on pilings. **
Cham Villages and Life
Both Muslim and Hindu Cham typically live in villages inhabited only by other Cham; the villages may be along the shores of water courses, or they may be inland. The Cham refer to the former as play krong (river villages) and to the latter as play ngok (upper villages). The inhabitants of the river villages engage in fishing, in raising rice, and in growing vegetables, especially onions. They trade fish to local Khmer for rice. The women in these villages earn money by weaving. The Cham who live inland support themselves by various means, depending on the village. Some villages specialize in metal working; others raise fruit trees or vegetables. The Cham also often serve as butchers of cattle for their Khmer Buddhist neighbors and are, in some areas, regarded as skillful water buffalo breeders. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]
Cham villages are made up of several hamlets governed by a mayor and five to 15 elected officials, who are responsible for providing security, collecting taxes and distributed funds. Social control is exerted through a mix of clan customs and national laws
There are several types of settlements in the various Cham territories. The Cham along the Cambodian border live clustered in groups on the banks of rivers or canals, often separated by Vietnamese and Khmer villages. In this region, they occasionally build whole villages on huge anchored rafts. Other settlements comprise low thatched huts scattered about a compound bounded by a palisade. These huts are situated atop sand dunes or cleared areas, for trees and shrubs are believed to exert a harmful or poisonous influence. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
Cham and Houses
The Cham generally live on poverty-stricken villages in dilapidated houses made from split bamboo and supported by pilings above the ground to prevent flooding. The characteristics of the Cham dwelling, whether on pilings or flat on the ground, depend on the regional climate and terrain. Where flooding is a regular occurrence in the rainy season and invasion of termites, scorpions, ants, and snakes are frequent in the dry season, the house on pilings offers obvious advantages. The Cham in the upper regions of Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh Provinces live in such above-the-ground dwellings, whereas those of Phan Rang, Nha Trang, and Phan Thiet Provinces dwell in houses on the ground. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The traditional Cham house, called the thangyo, closely resembles the Rhade house and measures about 20 feet in length, 10 feet in width, and 6 1/2 feet in height (at the center or highest point). Placed on large rocks, flat on the ground or on pilings, the house is constructed with straw-covered mud walls and comprises three rooms and a common corridor. One compartment serves as the parents' and boys' room and at times as the funeral chamber for the family dead. The center room is occupied by the girls and future brides. Clothes belonging to the ancestors are placed in a basket and hung from the ceiling in this room. The third cubicle serves as the granary. Rich men's houses are composed of three groups of buildings: the thang yo, the thang mu-yau (secondary house) attached to the first, parallel and in front of it, and the thang gar, to the left and perpendicular to the two preceding houses. **
In the more well-to-do houses,31 ceilings are made of plaited fibers lined with a layer of mud to conceal the framework. There is no space between the mud walls. The roofing consists of parallel wooden laths running from the peak to the base of the roof. These are tied together by stems of split bamboo to fix the thatching in place. The floor is made of crushed bamboo. No decoration adorns the house. A lean-to houses the family's tools, and behind the house is the well. A buffalo stable, or corral, made of pickets sunk into the ground and tied together by interlacing branches, is near the house. **
Typically there are few possessions, and rooms, if there are any, are reached by a hallway that runs outside the house. Ducks are often kept under the houses. The Cham make many of they the things the use. Their low beds are made of wood with cotton, wood and/or matting for bedding. Tools include spoons made from coconut shells, mortars used for pounding rice, ashtrays used for flashlight, pots, bowls, chopsticks, baskets and a few iron tools. They make and possess little furniture.
Cham dress is distinctive. The main item of clothing for both sexes is a sarong-like garment called a batik, which is worn knotted at the waist. Men wear shirts over the batik, and women wear close-fitting blouses that are open at the throat and have tight sleeves. The characteristic headdress is a turban or scarf. [Source: Library of Congress]
Garments for both men and women consist of a sarong topped by a tunic. The sarong is a band of cotton fabric, usually white or blue and white with a red border, and is generally fastened by a knot on the right side just beneath the armpit. The sarong for Cham men is customarily adorned with an elegant fringe border. Loose-fitting around the legs, the sarong allows considerable freedom of movement. The sarong also serves as a shawl and at times as a turban. Cham women tenaciously maintain that the sarong is traditionally related to their race; they believe that to abandon one's native dress is to throw off "one's past, one's tradition, one's last bit of courage and force." Cham men, however, are slowly abandoning the sarong in favor of wide-bottomed trousers. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The Cham man's tunic, usually black or deep violet silk, resembles that of Vietnamese men. Some men wear a colorful belt at the waist. The tunic for women is of deep green cotton or silk and reaches to the calf of the leg. The tunic fits so snugly that movement is severely limited and for this reason Cham women wear the tunic only in cold weather or for special occasions. The women wear only the sarong while doing household chores or while in their own village. The headdress for Cham men is a black or green turban or a plain scarf wound around the head. Cham women wear a fabric band wound around the head, with the ends allowed to fall around either side of the face. The least movement of the head causes the headdress to unwind, so that it drapes indifferently around the waist and is tied in place with no concern for aesthetic appearance. Nearly everyone goes barefoot in Cham villages, even on feast days. Occasionally mandarins and lesser notables wear clogs or babouches. **
Both men and women are extremely fond of jewelry and own as much as they can afford. Women's jewelry consists of the following: necklaces of strings of glass beads which hang to the waist; earrings of precious metals in the shape of nails, braids of black thread, or disks of black wood 2 centimeters wide encrusted with pieces of metal; anklets, plain or carved, in precious metals, copper, or shell: rings of gold, alternating with thin bands of red cornelian, worn on the thumbs as well as on the other fingers. All Cham men like rings; those who live near cities have, in addition, plaited watch chains from which they hang their trinkets, betel-cutting scissors, or elephant hairs mounted on silver, and amulets. Both men and women use silver needles of every size suitable for every purpose from holding the hair and cleaning the teeth to piercing coconuts. Children wear few garments; when they are not nude, they wear snug little jackets which reach their navels and leave the rest of the body uncovered. Children are, however, covered with innumerable bracelets, necklaces, anklets, earrings, and amulets. **
Cham Music, Dance and Culture
Chams enjoy singing songs, hymns and play instrumental music played with rudimentary instruments. Their literature includes folk tales, hymns, prayers and lists of gods. Music provides the major source of Cham entertainment and is the art form most readily embodying Cham impressions and reveries. Individually, the Cham, old and young, lie on their backs for hours staring into space and humming to themselves. As children, they learn to sing with a group and to play musical instruments. Music plays an important role in Cham festivals and rituals. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
In addition to music, chess is very popular among the Cham. Cham children are initiated into its complexities at a tender age. The board, with 64 squares, is identical to the occidental version. Similarly, the point of the game is to check the opposing king; however, generals replace the castles; canoes, the bishops; and fish, the pawns. Children of a less serious nature enjoy games, races, and competitions. **
Rija is a term used by the Cham to designate numerous festivals related to agriculture and clans (for instance, Rija Prong, Rija Nagar or Rija Yaup, etc.). Rija festivals provide the perfect opportunity to focus on the traditional music of the Cham. Typical musical instruments include the baranung (one -sided drum), kinang (pair of drums), saranai (Cham oboe), and kanhi (two-stringed bow instrument with a tortoise shell resonator). In addition to ritual melodies, saranai tunes, and the over 50 kinang beats that accompany dances, participants can enjoy vai chai tunes characterised by a robust rhythm and an attractive performance. It brings an interesting contribution to the abundant treasure of labor-related songs of the Vietnamese. [Source: Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism ~]
Cham dances include the fan dance, with young women creating an image of a blooming flower; the drum dance, with white-pajama-clad drummers and tambourine players beating their chests and doing somersaults; and the pottery dance, performed by women with flowers in their hair at a beach. In their most erotic and sensual dances, women in skimpy halter tops golden necklaces and metal headdresses, gyrate and sway from a kneeling position to a standing position and snake in between by men in loin clothes.
The Cham kingdom produced lovely brick buildings and temples with prong-top towers, fluted columns with lotus head-pedal bases, and Hindu-influenced bas reliefs depicting smiling elephants, dancing lions, Hindu gods such as Shiba, Ganesh and Garuda, and rows of topless women
Cham sculpture art sandstone friezes, sculptures, statues and bas-reliefs have been collected from Cham kingdom sites such as Tra Kieu, Dong Duong and My Son. They including images of Hindu deities, legendary heros, Buddhist images, sea monsters, mythical lions, smiling elephants, prancing apsaras, proud Shivas and lots lingams—huge phalluses of stone devoted to Shiva."
See Places, Champa Culture, Art
According to U.S. Army sources in the 1960s: "Conditions of sanitation and personal hygiene among the Cham are poor. Cham adults are relatively healthy. They suffer from few of the diseases, such as dysentery, anemia, and gangrene, which prostrate outsiders in their area. A European who personally doctored the Cham early in this century stated that the Cham were good patients; they took all medicines without complaint. Suicide seldom occurs among the Cham, as they exhibit few desires which are not easily satisfied. The few Cham who do commit suicide do so with opium mixed with vinegar. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
Illness is treated by Cham herbalists familiar with medicinal properties of certain native vegetable and animal products. Remedies used to cure diseases and minor ailments include camphor, used as an anesthetic; wax-covered pills containing a mixture of sandalwood; and the bark of mangostan and eaglewood for antidotes to cholera. Human bile, once rubbed on the skin to make a warrior and his elephant invincible, has been replaced by goat bile used as an emetic. The same results are obtained by putting a rag soaked in evil-smelling substances into the patient's mouth. **
Cham Political Organization, Leadership and Legal System
Since the Vietnamese conquest in 1471, the sociopolitical organization of the Cham has lost all semblance of national character and is but a reflection of the organization of their conquerors. Each village or noc, comprising several hamlets, is governed by a Gia-lang or "village patriarch," and a corps of notables elected by the people. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The patriarch bears the major responsibility for the enforcement of customs and mores, the judging of offenders, and the celebration of rituals. He alone is exempt from taxes. The position of Gia-lang is hereditary if the village survives; that is, if it remains in the same place. When a child succeeds his father as patriarch and is too young to judge matters properly, the village notables may assist him, but his decision is final. During ritual ceremonies the patriarch holds the incense burner before the altar, a sign assuring his power. Abdication of the patriarch may be impelled when the village moves to another location due to famine, accidental death, or change of ray. If the change proves beneficial, he who suggested the move becomes the new village patriarch. **
The number of village notables varies from 5 to 15, depending on the wealth of the population. They are personally responsible for insuring the public safety, watching over the management of the communal land, and assuring the collection of taxes. The notables enjoy no special privileges, but are subject to the same obligations as other villagers. A number of villages (8 to 12) are organized into a canton, administered by a chief elected from among the notables. The chief of the canton serves as intermediary between the village notables and the Quan or district administration, the largest local administrative unit. **
Among the Cham, justice is rendered at a level relative to the gravity of the crime. Minor disagreements are settled by the parties involved. Petty offenses are traditionally judged by the village notables. Plaintiffs may choose appeal to the district or Quan level if they are dissatisfied with judgment of the village notables. In theory, more serious crimes must be submitted by the village and canton authorities to the Quan notables, who hand down judgment in accordance with the Vietnamese legal code. The district chief, in turn, is supposed to transmit all judgments he has rendered to the provincial authorities for review. In practice, however, the village chiefs and notables may still settle these graver crimes as they once did. Formerly, they would place the guilty person in a sort of pillory, order him caned an appropriate number of times, humiliate him by having a cross shaved on his head, and expel him from the local region. **
The main economic activity of the Cham is rice farming in submerged fields. Pottery making and cotton cloth weaving are two other sideline occupations. Hunting and fishing play minor roles in the Cham economy. The Cham trap game with nets and by using beaters and dogs, rather than by hunting with guns, lances, and crossbows, as do some of their neighbors. During the dry season, they burn whole hillsides to find the turtles and certain types of rats which are considered delicacies. Once bold navigators, the Cham today rarely own fishing boats. They fish by placing nets behind leafy dams, and the meager catch resulting from this inefficient method must be supplemented by dry fish bought from the Vietnamese. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The suspicious nature of the Cham people generally prevents them from taking jobs with fixed salaries, as they fear they will be cheated. They will not work as household servants, coolies in factories, carters, gardeners, rickshaw pullers, interpreters, postal employees, orderlies, or accountants. They generally prefer to earn their living by farming and hunting or in occupations where they have little contact with other people, such as wood cutting and collecting. **
The few Cham handcrafts are primarily related to weaving and cartmaking. Formerly weavers of fine brocades, decorative silks, and rice cloth, Cham women now make a sturdy, warm, lightweight cloth for turbans, sarongs, and scarfs. Europeans are particularly fond of this cloth and buy it frequently. Cartmaking is the one artisan industry in which the Cham excel. Cham carts have a forked-beam framework held in place by two transverse bars. The enormous wheels enclosed within the framework are each attached to a separate axle, all of which meet beneath the cart in a rattan binding; this arrangement frees the wheels from turning parallel to one another. The originality of the cart is in the independence of the wheels and the framework, which prevents the load from tipping over. When a rut is too deep, the wheel off the ground ceases to turn, the framework drags along the edges of the road and the vehicle is transformed into a sled. The carts are the only reliable means of transport in areas where only buffaloes can pass through the mud during the rainy season. **
The Cham also engage in a number of small industries. Beekeeping produces wax for medicinal capsules and for the candles essential to most ceremonies. Resin torches are manufactured and sold to the Vietnamese. Medicines, whose formulas are jealously guarded and transmitted from generation to generation, are made from animal and vegetable products and are sold to neighboring groups as well as among the Cham. Poisons and narcotics are concocted from toxic vegetable substances readily available in the region and are sold in the open market. **
The Cham trade regularly with their neighbors. They exchange salt, copper wire, tobacco, and dried fish for the spices, cereal, chickens, and fruits of the Montagnard tribes. At one time, the Cham served as intermediary merchants between the Montagnards and the Vietnamese, but it is uncertain if this trade relationship still prevails. The Cham and Vietnamese also engage in trade; the Cham exchange resin torches and carts for the dried fish and betel of the Vietnamese. The Cham in Chau Doc Province supplement their agricultural earnings with profits from small commerce. They buy paddy from their neighbors and transport it to Saigon by boat along with corn, tobacco, and handwoven cloth. They also peddle their wares from village to village two or three times a month. **
In the Cham family, women own the property - the house and most of the animals - and pass it on to their daughters or to their sons when there are no daughters. The Cham of Chau Doc and Tay Ninh Provinces own the land on which their houses are situated. Under the French, rich Cham bought up the land and allotted it to their people, and some even invested in neighboring village land. In other Cham areas, communal property, owned by the village, is divided and distributed to the villagers, who pay rent for the right to cultivate it. **
The Cham economy is primarily agricultural. The chief activity is the cultivation of rice either in irrigated fields or in dry upland fields called rays. The irrigated fields are generally restricted to rice cultivation, while secondary crops of corn, tobacco, castor beans, cassava, peanuts, and vegetables - in addition to upland rice - are grown in the rays. The Cham usually employ a gravity irrigation system. The water flows along canals leading from the local streams to the individual ricefields and is directed by dams of stones, mud, and leaves. Where the ricefields are elevated above the stream, a system called norias is employed, whereby the water is raised in buckets attached to a continuous chain turned by the water current. [Source: "Selected Groups in the Republic of Vietnam: The Cham", Special Operations Research Office (SORO) of The American University, 1960s **]
The upland rays, or dry fields, are cultivated by the slash-and-burn method. This primitive, destructive type of cultivation consists of cutting all brush and trees and then setting fire to the area in order to clear it for planting. These fields are neither harrowed nor irrigated. The rich humus topped with the layer of ashes produces fine crops for a few years. When the soil nutrients are depleted in a given ray, the Cham abandon it and move to another area where the destructive slash-and-burn process is repeated. **
Cham agricultural methods are exceedingly primitive. Sowing, transplanting, and harvesting are done by hand, and cultivation is carried out with buffaloes attached to a simple wooden plow. Threshing is achieved by forcing a pair of yoked buffaloes to walk around and around on the stalks to separate the grain from the chaff. After the grain is winnowed by the old women of the village, it is placed in a mortar or a hollow tree trunk and is beaten by two women wielding heavy batons. The crops are continually menaced by droughts, floods, and hungry wild beasts. To guard against the latter, a watchman sits in a hut erected on pilings in the midst of the ricefields and scares the animals away by beating a drum, blowing on a conch shell, or simply shouting. **
The Cham women bear the major responsibility for agricultural activities. The men cut down the trees for the rays and harrow the ground for the irrigated field, but the women remove the brush, attend to the sowing, transplanting, harvesting, and the shelling and crushing of the grain. **
Text Sources: Encyclopedia of World Cultures, East and Southeast Asia edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, 1993); New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014