The Cham Ethnic Group

The Cham numbers just under 100,000 and speaks a language that is part of the Malyo-Polynesian family of languages. The group lives on the central coast of Vietnam and through time was strongly influenced by the Indian culture; some people were Brahmanist, a smaller number Bani (old Islamist). The Cham was independent as Cham Pa until the 17th Century. Tourists on holiday in Vietnam and interested in the history of the region should do some research into the Champa Kingdom.

Wet rice cultivation is the main activity. Experienced farmers and gardeners, rice is grown ‘’wet’’ on the plains with ‘’dry rice’’ grown on hillsides. Inevitably the coastal location means fishing is important and local skills include textile weaving, including silk, and pottery. The Cham have been traders for centuries with foreign nations.

Boat building has been passed down through time with fishing taking place both at sea and on rivers. Other transportation includes heavy carts pulled by buffalo and baskets worn on the back.

Rice is the core of the diet with fish, meat or bulb vegetables. There is homemade rice wine and locals enjoy chewing betel nuts. You can try them during your travel in Vietnam but they will discolour your teeth over time.

The one-piece sarong is worn by both men and women, with a shirt or blouse, mostly white. Long-sleeved blouses are now only worn by elderly women.

Houses are built on the ground with a set order of rooms; sitting room, parent’s bedroom, other bedrooms, kitchen and warehouse. There will be a nuptial room for the youngest daughter because on marriage the groom moves in with the bride’s family. The female has some power in the family, less so in Cham Muslim families. Children take the family name of the mother. When a death occurs, the Brahmans cremate the dead whereas others will bury bodies in the same place as their mothers.

When a new house is planned, certain religious rites must be performed, praying to the god of the land and asking permission to cut down any trees and then a ceremony accepting trees to the building site.

There is a structure in society; the ordinary people, aristocracy and priests. Social barriers exist to prevent intermarriage or indeed some contact in the same village or communal eating from a single tray.

Those related to agricultural are especially important to the community; planting and the emergence of shoots. In the 10th lunar month, Bon Kate is the most important one in the calendar. One of the highlights of any Vietnam travelpackage is attending a festival.

The Cham has had the written word for a very long time. There are a number of old manuscripts written in script that is based upon Sanskrit though it was only the upper classes and the priesthood that used it.
Art & Play
Drums have a strong place in Cham music. There is also a clarinet and the ancient songs and music influenced other people outside the immediate region. The children enjoy flying kites, hide and seek and mock fighting.