Introduction / History The Western Cham can be found near the delta provinces of Chau Doc and Tay Ninh in southwestern Vietnam near the Cambodian border. Surrounded by the Malay and Khmer ethnic groups, they live near the provincial capitals.
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? Although they are descendants of a warlike people, the Cham today are very timid individually, but more courageous in a group. They are extremely honest in word and deed, to the extent that stealing and lying are almost unknown among them. Since every action must be sanctioned by ancestral practices, progress tends to be slow among the Cham. As a people they are fond of chess, jewelry, and music.
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? Unlike most of the peoples of the region, the Cham along the border of Cambodia are Muslims. The date that Islam was introduced is undetermined, but Malay influence is responsible for restoring and strengthening the Muslim practices of the Cham. Nonetheless, restrictions of Islam law, such as the prohibition to eat pork and drink alcohol, have been relaxed among the Cham.
Each village has its own mosque where children are educated with the Koran.
What are their needs? Despite the fall of the Champa Kingdom, the Cham still maintain supremacy over the mountain tribesmen. With such an influence, they are a key people to reach. Much prayer and intercession are necessary to see their hearts opened to the Gospel.
Prayer Points Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers to the Western Cham of Vietnam.
Ask the Holy Spirit to grant wisdom and favor to missions agencies focusing on the Cham.
Ask the Lord to raise up an army of intercessors who will pray for the Western Cham.
Pray that God will give the Cham believers boldness to share Christ with their own people.
Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Western Cham church to the glory of His name!