The Ethnic-Religious Minority of Cham in Cambodia: Reflections from an Ethno-Historical Account
34 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2020
Date Written: January 13, 2020
‘Cham’, as an ethnic identity group emerged under the Kingdom of Champa that was spread across parts of present day central Cambodia and southern Vietnam. With a loss of its sovereign identity due to centuries of historical invasions- marked with colonial conquests and civil unrests, most surviving members of the Cham community now reside in scattered provincial regions across Cambodia and Vietnam. The community’s presence in Cambodia, as an ethnic religious minority, saw itself becoming vulnerable to extreme acts of religious persecution and genocidal killings under the Khmer State both, before and during the Khmer Rouge.
This ethno-historical account seeks to focus on providing a brief history of the Cham presence in Cambodia; its cultural profile, the intra-identity classifications that the Cham identify with, and capture how do members within the Cham community perceive (and explain) their own identity, and the socio-cultural differences that define them. The study incorporates a narrative-based ethnographic approach- involving interpersonal oral conversations with members of the Cham community residing in Phnom Penh, that are documented in detail here.
Each narrative helps one understand the nature of complexities involved in the sub-cultural classification (and in the self-imagination) of those ‘categorized’ as Cham (or often called ‘Khmer Islam’). Long conversations with identified interviewees further allowed the interviewers (the authors) to expand the existing literature available on the ethnic minority’s cultural history and the intra-identity groups existing within it, which actually appear to be more entwined with one another as against the literary perception created (often seeing them as binaries to one another).
Based on our observations, we suggest that while the religious identity of Islam predominantly defines (and distinguishes) the Cham from the Khmer majority, still, a peek into their cultural (say, on religious ritual propriety) brings out a more hybrid relationship between the Cham and the Khmer culture, that merits a more intensive evaluation through primary observations.
Keywords: Ethnicity; Minority; Religion; Cultural Anthropology; Identity; Cham; Cambodia
JEL Classification: N00, N15, N95
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation