Construction of Cham Identity in Cambodia

Yekti Maunati and Betti Rosita Sari

Professor of Research at Research Center for Regional Resources – the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Researcher at Research Center for Regional Resources – the Indonesian Institute of Sciences,

[ Abstract ]

chamsCham identities which are socially constructed and multilayered, display their markers in a variety of elements, including homeland attachment to the former Kingdom of Champa, religion, language and cultural traditions, to mention a few. However, unlike other contemporary diasporic experience which binds the homeland and the host country, the Cham diaspora in Cambodia has a unique pattern as it seems to have no voice in the political and economic spheres in Vietnam, its homeland. The relations between the Cham in Cambodia and Vietnam seem to be limited to cultural heritages such as Cham musical traditions, traditional clothing, and the architectural heritage. Many Cham people have established networks outside Cambodia with areas of the Muslim world, like Malaysia, Indonesia, southern Thailand and the Middle Eastern countries. Pursuing education or training in Islam as well as working in those countries

especially Malaysia has become a way for the Cham to widen their networks and increase their knowledge of particularly, Islam. Returning to Cambodia, these people become religious teachers or ustadz (Islamic teachers in the pondok [Islamic boarding school]). This has developed slowly, side by side with the formation of their identity as Cham Muslims. Among certain Cham, the absence of an ancient cultural heritage as an identity marker has been replaced by the Islamic culture as the important element of identity. However, being Cham is not a single identity, it is fluid and contested. Many scholars argue that the Cham in Cambodia constitute three groups: the Cham Chvea, Cham, and Cham Bani (Cham Jahed). The so-called Cham Jahed has a unique practice of Islam. Unlike other Cham who pray five times a day, Cham Jahed people pray, once a week, on Fridays. They also have a different ritual for the wedding ceremony which they regard as the authentic tradition of the Cham. Indeed, they consider themselves pure descendants of the Cham in Vietnam; retaining Cham traditions and tending to maintain their relationship with their fellow Cham in Central Vietnam. In terms of language, another marker of identity, the Cham and the Cham Jahed share the same language, but Cham Jahed preserve the written Cham script more often than the Cham. Besides, the Cham Jahed teaches the language to the young generation intensively. This paper, based on fieldwork in Cambodia in 2010 and 2011 will focus on the process of the formation of the Cham identity, especially of those called Cham and Cham Jahed. Keywords: Cham identity, homeland, cultural tradition, religion, language, Diaspora, Cambodia

Read full paper here: Cham identity in Cambodia

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