The Western Cham of Vietnam
The precise origin of the Cham is unknown, but they are the survivors of the Champa kingdom, which flourished from A. D. 2 until A.D. 1471. When the Vietnamese invaded their kingdom, most aristocrats fled to Cambodia; whereas, the poor peasants remained in Vietnam. Evidence still remains of this once flourishing civilization—grandiose temples and sanctuaries, irrigation systems, woven cloth, sculpture, and jewelry.
The Western Cham are a mixture of Cham and Malay, with whom they traded during the time of their powerful kingdom. Their language, Cham, belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian linguistic family. Many Cham also speak Vietnamese, Khmer, and/or Malayan.
What Are Their Lives Like?
Since the downfall of the Champa Kingdom, the Cham have changed from a prosperous seafaring power to a small agrarian culture. Several rivers dissect the region inhabited by the Cham, and canals provide irrigation and transportation. In the delta area, extensive drainage projects have converted the marshy ground into cultivated land, where several varieties of rice are grown. To supplement their agricultural earnings, the Cham engage in small commerce, such as buying rice from neighbors and transporting it to Saigon by boat. Corn, tobacco, and hand-woven cloth are also sold. Some Cham are involved in making carts or in beekeeping.
The Cham live clustered in groups on the banks of rivers or canals and along the two roads that connect Cambodia with southern Vietnam and lead into the city of Saigon. Some occasionally build whole villages on huge anchored rafts. Their villages are adjacent to the Khmer people, though they seldom intermarry; and they live in better harmony with the Malay, often sharing villages.
Houses are constructed with straw-covered mud walls and have three rooms and a common corridor. Clothes belonging to their ancestors are placed in a basket and hung from the ceiling in the center room. No decorations adorn the house.
Before merging with the national community of Vietnam, Cham society had once been a feudal and matrilineal (lineage traced through the female) society. Under the impact of orthodox Islam, the Cham have become more patrilineal (lineage traced through the male), but traces of matrilinealism still exist. Today, the role of Cham women in clans and families is prominent only in the cult of ancestors; yet the women still bear the major responsibility for housework, childrearing, and agricultural activities.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Each village has its own mosque where children are educated with the Koran.
What Are Their Needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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