Who Are the Cham?

There is little written history of the Cham. What we do know comes mainly from Chinese written history and from splendid religious artwork the empire created in its prime.

The Cham are of Indonesian descent, and records of their civilization go as far back as the 2nd century A.D. in Tuong Lam, along the central coast of Vietnam, when the Cham fought Chinese incursion. The Cham declared a new land, dubbed the Lin Yi by the Chinese, which extended from Quang Binh to present-day Danang Province. The center of the civilization for most of its existence was in what the Cham called Indrapura, or Tra Kieu, near present-day Danang.

The Cham belong to the Malayo-Polynesian language family, same as Hawaiian islanders and the Maori people near New Zealand and Australia. Traditionally, Cham lived by rice farming; fishing; and trading pepper, cinnamon bark, ivory, and wood with neighboring nations, using Hoi An as a base. Hinduism was their dominant religion, with Buddhist influences and an infusion of Islam starting in the 14th century.

In the middle of the 10th century, internal warfare, as well as battles against both the Khmer to the south and the ethnic Vietnamese, or Dai Viet, to the north, began to erode the Cham kingdom. By the mid-15th century, Cham territories had been almost entirely absorbed into Vietnam. By the early 1800s, there was no longer a separate Cham nation.

Today the Cham are still a distinct ethnic group in Vietnam, and despite years of pressure to assimilate, Cham culture and traditions survive. Cham people have their own language, with a written text derived from Sanskrit, and many of their traditions remain, in ancient Hinduism or in Islam, to which many have converted.

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