Champa Kingdom – A country forgotten by time

Located in the current central Viet Nam, Champa used to be a prestigious kingdom encompassing the area from Quang Binh Province (where Phong Nha Cave is located) to roughly the southern border of Binh Thuan Province (where Mui Ne is located).
At the peak of the Champa Empire, from around the 6th to the 15th centuries, its various kingdoms, presided over by regional royal families, also included sizable portions of eastern Cambodia and Laos. From the National Heritage of My Son, to the popular ancient port of Hoi An, to the gulf of Mui Ne, each area is today a very popular tourist spot. However, its history and tourist brochures normally neglect to mention their centuries-old Cham Root.
Phan Rang – or known as Panduranga for Cham people, is the heart of the last state of Champa Kingdom before being annexed by the Viet Kingdom in the year 1832. For this reason, the breath of Cham culture, heritage and religion is still ever-presented in the current Phan Rang city and Ninh Thuan Province.

Indochina Map at around 1100AD, Champa is indicated as yellow

Here are 5 things you may want to know more about Champa people:

  1. Cham people are master seafarer

In contrast with Viet people who used to stay away from the coast to avoid the rage of typhoon and flood, Champa Kingdom possessed a more peaceful coastline, allowing them to excel in fishing, trading and naval power. Their ancestral root is traced to Borneo island (current Malaysia), so in this way all Cham people are already seafarer before they were born

Depiction of a naval battle between Champa Kingdom & Khmer Kingdom

  1. Hinduism & Islam are their two religions

Through the centuries, Cham culture and society were influenced by forces emanating from Cambodia, China, Java and India amongst others. Constant wars with Khmer (Cambodia) Kingdom and land acquisition led to the infusion of Indian culture and Hinduism into Cham society. In the later years, Arab maritime trade brings the influence of Islamic culture and religion into Champa land. For this reason, Cham Hinduism temple and Islam mosque still exist within their territory.

A local Muslim mosque in Ninh Thuan Province, Viet Nam

  1. Cham people have an amazing architecture

The architecture of Champa Kingdom is, at one point, comparable of it of Khmer Kingdom. Unlike the Khmer of Angkor, who for the most part employed a grey sandstone to construct their religious buildings, the Cham built their temples from reddish bricks. Cham architecture can still be observed in the My Son sanctuary, or Ponagar Temple in Nha Trang, and Poklong Garai in Phan Rang, to name a few. The technique that Cham architecture employ to bind the red bricks is still debatable in various sources and up till now, there is no exact answer to it.

Poklong Garai Temple, Phan Rang – built from red bricks

  1. Cham people are matriarchal

Champa people have a traditionally matriarchal society, which worships a female goddess and expects the youngest daughter to inherit family assets. Cham matriarchy is still visible in their common inheritance rule, in their festival, and in their famed craft of pottery making and handmade weaving. For the pottery making and handmade weaving, the important techniques are performed only by women and taught from mother to daughter. However, according to researcher Le Duy Hai, while Cham women is the ruler of their family, the Cham men have a strong role in community decisions. This is reflected by the fact that the chief of the matriarchal clan is a male, not a female.

Pottery making of Cham people

  1. Cham culture is still ever-present and preserved in Phan Rang

While the story of Cham people could be most heard during a traveler’s visit of My Son sanctuary, or Ponagar Temple in Nha Trang, very few of Cham people still live in those areas. Today, the population of the Cham and the legacy of their culture is most transparent in the area of Phan Rang – Thap Cham City and Ninh Thuan Province. It is visible in their handmade pottery and weaving. It is visible in their various and radiant festivals. Last but not least, it is also the local Government’s priority to preserve the Cham distinctive culture and people.

Kate Festival – the most important festival of Cham people