The Chams – Squeezed out of history?

Anthropologist David Lempert talks about the statelessness of Chams in Southern Vietnam and Cambodia, and argues how the Cham should be reconnected with their heritage.

A Cham opponent facing defeat by a Khmer warrior, depicted on the walls of the Bayon.
A Cham opponent facing defeat by a Khmer warrior, depicted on the walls of the Bayon.

A homeland for the Chams
Phnom Penh Post, 10 October 2008

It was the Cham who taught the Vietnamese improved rice-farming and silk-production techniques. It was the Cham who may have taught the Khmer gold work, given the Cham-influenced words in Khmer related to gold work. It was the Cham who designed many of the boats of the region and who developed the most significant ports. Though still not clear in Khmer history, archaeologists speculate that it may have been the Cham who jointly gave birth to the Oc Eo – Phu Nan civilisation, who may have supported and even partly founded the Angkorian Empire of Jayavarman II in the ninth century, and who may have played a significant role in the ruling classes of Angkor. Yet, while the Vietnamese are thriving and the Khmer have a state, it is the Cham who are losing their history and their numbers.

Last year I designed a proposal for a Vietnamese-Cham reconciliation site – a joint heritage and culture museum, to be run with the Cham. I’m happy to share that proposal with others and to offer it as a basis for a similar site in Cambodia.

There are four different sites in Cambodia where such a Khmer-Cham reconciliation site and heritage and culture museum would make sense because of the shared history and shared Hindu-Buddhist cultural past: Banteay Preah Nokor and sites around the Kulen mountains (in both sites there are ninth century towers that suggest Cham influence), and Sambour Prei Kuk as the earlier site, that may have Cham influence. The fourth one is the area around Udong, the old Khmer capital.

Further readings about the Chams:
Cham Muslims of the Mekong Delta: Place and Mobility in the Cosmopolitan Periphery (Southeast Asia Publications Series)
– Temples of Champa in Vietnam =: Thap Cham Viet Nam
Cham Sculpture of the Tourane Museum Danang Vietnam
Cham ruins: Journey in search of an ancient civilization
– Indian Sculpture Masterpieces of Indian, Khmer and Cham Art
Cham Art
Understanding the Cham identity in mainland Southeast Asia: contending views.: An article from: SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia
From Ancient Cham to Modern Dialects: Two Thousand Years of Language Contact and Change : With an Appendix of Chamic Reconstructions and Loanwords (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications)
The Art of Champa (Temporis)
The Champa Kingdom; The History of an Extinct Vietnamese Culture
Proceedings of the Seminar on Champa
Early Cultures of Mainland Southeast Asia
Early Civilizations of Southeast Asia (Archaeology of Southeast Asia)

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

2 thoughts on “The Chams – Squeezed out of history?”

  1. Oy, well let’s just say I really disagree with this guy’s use (misuse) of archaeology in his argument. And despite the earnestness of his overall argument I have two anthropologist friends (who speak Khmer and Cham-I think the author above speaks neither) and have worked extensively in the Cham community in Cambodia who disagree with many points in his article. They are working on a letter to the editor– hopefully to be published in the Phnom Penh Post in the near future. Perhaps I’ll address his misuse of archaeology in an upcoming post but for now I’ll leave it at this.

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