Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


The Cham People

The Malayo-Polynesian speaking peoples of Vietnam and Cambodia speak languages belonging to the Malayic group of Sundic languages. Sundic speaking peoples lived on the island of Borneo prior to their spreading to adjacent regions. From Borneo they sailed north to Vietnam, west to peninsular Malaysia and Sumatra, and south to Java and Bali. While Sundic speaking groups appear to have migrated to parts of Indonesia as early as 1500 BC, they do not seem to have arrived along the coast of Vietnam until some time around 600 BC. It is during the period 600 BC to 300 BC that Malayic groups, including the ancestors of the Malayo-Polynesian speaking peoples of Vietnam and Cambodia, migrated to eastern Sumatra, Peninsular Malaysia, and Vietnam. This migration took place at a time when the Tai Dong Son culture influenced the coastal areas of Borneo. The two events may well be related.

Malayic languages can be divided into three main groups (in addition to the Moken and Moklen who do not weave): Malayic-Dayak, Malayan, and Acehnese-Cham. Of these three groups, only those peoples speaking Chamic languages living in Vietnam and Cambodia are of interest here. Chamic speaking peoples are believed to have arrived on the coast of Vietnam from Borneo between 600 BC and 300 BC and are associated with the early Sa Huynh culture. Chamic speaking peoples came to occupy most of the coastal areas of central and southern Vietnam (see Howard 2004: 183-87; Howard 2005). The ancient Cham also settled further inland along the Mekong River as far as what is now southern Lao. Thus, a Cham king named Devanika is credited with founding a town near the Mekong River in Champasak during the second half of the AD 400s. The early Cham in southern Lao and Cambodia were later absorbed into the Khmer Empire, while the center of Cham habitation and political power was concentrated along the coast of central and southern Vietnam. Warfare within the Chamic population and the gradual Kinh (Vietnamese) conquest of the coastal regions resulted in the lowland Cham population being divided into three distinct groups and some Chamic groups moving into the adjacent highlands. The Cham groups include the Western Cham of Cambodia and the adjacent border region of southern Vietnam, the Eastern Cham live in the vicinity of Phan Rang, the Cham Haroi of Phu Yen and Binh Dinh provinces in central Vietnam. Western Cham people are descendants of Cham who moved into territory under Khmer rule in 1693 to escape the Kinh conquest. Some of these Cham subsequently returned to Vietnamese territory in the 19th century and settled in the vicinity of Chau Doc. The Cham Haroi moved into the highlands in the 1600s as the Kinh conquered the adjacent coastal territory. The Chamic speaking Jarai and Rade moved into the highlands after warfare with other Chamic groups some time between AD 1000 and 1300.