The Champa Kingdom: Cham Culture
A Cham woman preparing for the Kate Festival at Thap Po Shanu
The Cham people are descendants of the once great kingdom of Champa. Their present-day population of approximately 100,000 is centered around the city of Phan Rang, near the North Eastern border of Binh Thuan province. Cambodia has the largest concentration of Cham; with a population between 500 thousand and 1 million people.
The Cham people are a matriarchal society, in which women inherit all property. Many Vietnamese believe Cham women posess magical powers and can bewitch men to mary them and give over their property. The Cham speak a unique language and write in a form of sanskrit. They are also known for a bizarre ritual of digging up their dead relatives on the one-year anniversary of their death. Then they hold a large feast, at the end of which they burn the bones and re-bury the remains. The practice is thought to bring good luck and fortune.
The Cham are most known for their beautiful textiles and patterns. They make clothing, shawls, blankets, wallets and many other items; for sale throughout Vietnam. They also make lesser-known but distinctive ceramics and carvings. They have a rich and highly developed culture, with a strong history of art, music and dancing. The Cham people have many elaborate festivals, including the Mbang Kate Festival which was highlighted in the recent Binh Thuan Tourism Festival.
The population of Cham within Mui Ne and the city of Phan Thiet is actually small, though there are many people living in other villages throughout the province. They are best represented in Mui Ne at the Forest Restaurant, where most of the staff are ethnically Cham, and come originally from Phan Rang. At the forest Restaurant you can see fine examples of Cham clothing and textiles, weaving demonstrations, dancing and other cultural examples from the Cham and other minorities.
The first known religion of the Champa was a form of Shaivite Hinduism, brought from India. As Arab merchants stopped along the Vietnamese coast en route to China, Islam began to infiltrate the civilization, and Hinduism became associated with the upper-classes.
There are now two distinct religious communities. Muslim or Cham Bani constitute about 80-85% of the Cham, and Hindu or Balamon constitutes about 15-20%. In both Cambodia and Vietnam, they form the core of the Muslim communities. Like many religions in the region however, there is a mixing of beliefs within the communities. Non-Cham Vietnamese often worship ancestors or buddha at Cham holy sites, and Cham people adopt local superstitions and pantheistic religious beliefs from the surrounding communities. There are strong influences of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam in their culture and religion.
The Cham people are renowned for great hospitality, generosity and kindness. They are friendly and welcoming to travelers and strangers.