Cham Text & Language

Linguists have classified Cham as a member of the Malayo-Polynisian family spoken by several ethnic groups lived along the coast of East sea and the Malay Archipelago. As they come from one linguistic family, the Cham language is related to, among many others in the Pacific, the languages of the Western Indonesian archipelago which includes the languages of Malaysia, Kalimantan, Sumatra, Java and Bali. The written Cham is based on the Sanskrit alphabets. As early as the 2rd century AD, inscription of Sanskrit texts were found on the steles as they were used to record royal chronicle and important historical events. This epigraphic practice ceased in 1471 with the downfall of Champa. About the mid-16th century, a modern form of Cham emerged and gradually replaced the classical (old Cham) language which heavily used Sanskrit and Arabic vocabularies . Modern Cham became more popular in the 17th through the 19th century as a number of manuscripts and texts of history, religion, folklore and legends, poetry and epics were written in the new language.

According to Cham legends, the Champa kingdom was controlled by two clans: the areca clan or male clan, called Pinang in the Cham language belonging to the mountain line of descent (Atuw Cek) that controlled the northern region; and the Coconut clan or female clan, called Li-u in the Chăm language belonging to the sea line of descent (Atuw Tasik) that controlled the southern region (Maspero 2002:23; Tran Kỳ Phuong 2006:6).

The people of the Champa kingdom belonged to two language family groups: the Austronesian (including Cham, J'rai, Ch'ru, Rahde and Raglai) and the Austroasiatic (including K'tu, Bru, K'ho, H're, Sedang, Bana, Mnong, Stieng, Mạ, etc.) (Darma 1999:2). The Cham maintained an Austronesian language spoken from at least the fourth century CE (Thurgood 1999:3-4). The most prominent ethnicity is the Cham who today still remain many annual rituals at the tower temples in Southern Central Vietnam. They are also known as Chiem, Chiem Thanh, Hời or Prum who is identified as the indigenous inhabitants and has the oldest settlements in this region.

Many researchers or Vietnamese people misunderstood while they use the term Cham to assign to the Champa people. In fact, this term was completely forgotten in the ethnic language of the Highlands, and never appeared in any inscription or in any ancient text of the Champa kingdom. It is often used to refer to the Champa people. In particular, Orang Champa (orang = person, individual), but Orang Cham does not mean the Cham people. Over the past century, the use of the word "Cham" was swallowing sound (apocope) from "Champa" to refer to a race of people living for a long time in the Champa coast. This term has gradually become a common. Thus people continue to use the word "Cham" with the meaning of a general characteristic to refer what belongs Champa, do not necessarily belong to the Cham people today (Lafont 2011: 27-49).

After thousands of years of under historical changes, the Cham residence no longer concentrated in the central coastal region. They are widely distributed throughout the southern Vietnam and other countries, such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Hainan (China) and the United States. In Vietnam, the Cham has 61,729 populations in 2009 (BVS, 2009). Based on the residence, the nature of religious and cultural nuanced regions, the Cham in Vietnam is divided into three major communities including the Cham H'roi; the Cham Panduranga, and the Cham in the South Vietnam. Cham H'roi community includes the Cham people living scattered from Binh Dinh to Khanh Hoa Province. They derived from the ancient Champa is a part of Cham community. The Cham Panduranga living in Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan Provinces is the biggest residence accounting for 67.60% of the Cham people in Vietnam (BVS, 2009). Their religions are Muslim Brahmans, and Bani. Another Cham community is Cham in Southern Vietnam. They have the same ethnic origin with Cham H'roi and Cham Panduranga, but due to the war, many Cham escaped to Cambodia, Thailand, and Malaysia in the previous centuries. In the late eighteenth century, a part of the Cham in Cambodia returned to Vietnam and was residence in An Giang and Tay Ninh Provinces. The following year, a small part of the Cham people moved to live in other provinces in the South Vietnam. All of them are orthodox Muslim (Phan Xuan Bien, Phan An, 1991).