Language & Culture

Lexicons or comparative vocabularies were amongst the earliest studies of language completed by Cham scholars in Southeast Asia. Cham scholars used Akhar Thrah script to write on manuscripts made of Chinese paper, goat skin or other materials. CAM 198 appears to be an important manuscript in the collections of Cham manuscripts in Paris, France. It is likely that this manuscript was copied to the EFEO-Kuala Lumpur in the 1990s. However, the CD backup of selected literature in this collection held at Berkeley University does not appear to contain this manuscript. Po Dharma’s cataloguing project on Cham manuscripts suggests that the copyist or author of these piece was a [Po] Gru Su – likely an Awal priest. Portion of the Cham-Malay lexicon can be dated to the twentieth year of the reign of the Vietnamese Nguyễn emperor Minh Mệnh (1839). This was thirteen years before the first 81 word Malay – Cham vocabulary list by John Crawford and A. Morice in their 1852 A Grammar of the Malay Language (Po Dharma 1981: 40).3 Given the prevalence of ‘Cham-Malay’ vocabulary in Cham Rija ritual ceremonies that have been a mainstay of communal life from the seventeenth century (or earlier) to the present, we can suggest that this manuscript had a role in these ceremonies (Sakaya 2012).

In addition to CAM 198 there are at least five manuscripts, likely dating to between the nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries – all of which are language studies composed in Akhar Thrah script and demonstrate attempts to master other local languages. Three of these manuscripts: CAM 127, 131 and 133 are Koho-Churu lexicons. The Churu owe their origins to a creolization of Cham, Raglai, Rhade and potentially other Chamic groups. The Churu also were the ruling class of the last Champa negara kingdom of Panduranga (now: Ninh Thuận, Bình Thuận and Biên Hòa) for much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Two of these manuscripts (CAM 131 and CAM 133) suggest that they were composed in the region of Đa Lạt and so they can be dated to the twentieth century. The other two manuscripts are a Chu-Ma lexicon (C: ‘Cuw-Mak’; CAM 135) and a Cham-Khmer lexicon (C: ‘Kir’/’Kur’; CAM 137). (LaFont, Po Dharma & Nara Vija 1977: 87-89).

A final example of language studies can be found on Cham manuscript CM 39 from the library of the Asiatic Society in Paris, France. The manuscript appears to have been penned by a Cham who bore the title ‘Prah Balat’ – a provincial assistant to the Oknha regents of the Khmer Royalty. Nicholas Weber (2011) dated this manuscript in reference to events that occurred between 1862 and 1867. The reference to the thun nasak inâ garai or ‘year of the dragon’ suggests that some portions were completed in 1868 (LaFont, Po Dharma & Nara Vija 1977: 190-195). A complete reading and translation of the manuscript could be used to determine more about these events. We hypothesized that if we knew whether or not the manuscript was completed in the year of thun nasak inâ garai jim this could confirm certain details, since the Cham calendar is commonly combined with the ‘Jawi’ or Bani-Cham lunar calendar as a method of more accurate dating. Unfortunately, Po Dharma (2014) countered that he never found this.

system in the Cham Royal Chronicles held in the Paris collections.4 However, Sakaya (personal comm.: 4/4/2014) suggested this may have been used for some turn of the century manuscripts, particularly if they included content of a religious nature. Regardless, Akhar Thrah script was still the dominant mode of written communication among the Cham well into the colonial period.

Cham Islam Wedding

It’s wedding season for Cambodia’s Muslims. Living alongside with their Khmer counterparts, Chams in Cambodia have their own customs and traditions of marriage—though with a little less celebration. Unlike traditional Khmer wedding celebrations, in which sounds of wedding songs and musical instruments can be heard from the bride’s house, a Cham celebration contains no songs or music. The reason is that Islamic law does not allow any romantic music, though the law allows sounds of Islamic prayers or reading of its holy book, the Koran, during the special occasion.

The Chams, descendants of the lost Champa empire in today’s Vietnam, are followers of Islam. The majority of them, estimated to be 500,000 in Cambodia, live along the Tonle Sap and the Mekong rivers.

The period following the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is the most popular. A Cham wedding is generally observed for one and a half days. On the first day, two or three meals are served for guests who have been invited to the village free of charge. The attendees may contribute some money, food or gifts to the host family, if they wish.

The one festivity during the wedding is called “Kupol,” in Cham. Kupol is the negotiation between the groom and the bride’s father of a dowry and the handover of the bride to the groom. After the regular noon prayer, the bride’s family decides on the time and venue for Kupol. The venue can be at the bride’s house, or at small mosques, “Musall” or large mosques, “masjid.” During Kupol, the bride’s father declares among relatives from both sides, religious teachers, or “tuon,” or an imam to witness the amount of money he has demanded from the groom before handing over the bride—symbolically, as the bride cannot be present—to the groom.

“We say [in Cham] that we agree to give the bride to the groom with the presence of tuon, and the groom must accept her as his lawful wife and must be responsible [for her life],”

The groom has to make sure he answers correctly a few questions asked by the Wali or imam. The questions are about Islamic principles and marriage laws of Islam. If the groom answers the first question incorrectly, he is offered another chance, until he can make the correct answer.

“Kopul is all about Cham marriage,”.

Finally, the bride’s family has to arrange a feast for villagers the following morning, to conclude the celebration.