Center for Khmer Studies Library, Cambodia


A review of the Center for Khmer Studies Library (Siem Reap, Cambodia).

The Research Library of the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) in Siem Reap, Cambodia is among the nation’s top educational and research resources for foreigners and nationals alike. The research library is open M-F 8:00am-12noon and 1:30pm-5:30pm, as well as Saturday from 8am to 12noon. Since general information regarding the library is frequently published in the Center for Khmer Studies Newsletter, which is available on the center website (, this review is more concerned with some overlooked details of the collections at the research library. These details arose out of a seminar that was given to the CKS Junior Scholars program on: How to be a historian in Southeast Asia. This review addresses this question more broadly and in relation to the CKS collections with a special focus on maps that can be used to study the Vietnamese-Khmer borderlands and materials that can be used to study the role of the Cham minority population in this region, as well as establishing an understanding of certain trends in the field of Cham studies.

In the seminar: How to be a historian in Southeast Asia the Junior Scholars of the Center of Khmer Studies explored both the how and why of Southeast Asian history, detailing both the task of the historian as well as discussing what it means to work in Southeast Asia. The seminar noted that historea (Gr.: pursuit of knowledge) reflects across fields and disciplines, such that any field like Anthropology, Archeology, Health, Business, and others in Southeast Asia (and globally) has its own history. Moreover, a student must reflect upon its history in order to advance their chosen field of study. In engaging in this task, a student is frequently forced to address the problem of oral vs. written source material, an essential question for historians, though they may not realize it. For example, a lecture would be an oral source. A textbook would be written. The mediation between oral and historical sources has long been the subject of studies of Southeast Asian history, long before ASEAN was even a dream. Nevertheless, an incredibly humid climate that leaves paper destroyed within decades unless special measures are taken, combined with the destruction that followed the twentieth-century process of decolonization have left limited written records in Southeast Asia. Thus, there are also historical narratives that become part of national narratives in the region that explain this process. For the Philippines, this was the destruction of precious Filipino records in the wake of the Japanese invasions in the 1940s. In Vietnam, the American bombings of the 1960s are remembered not only for destroying historical written collections held in libraries, but also for destroying certain archeological sites (such as the Cham towers at My Son). In Cambodia, the narrative of the American bombings is compounded by the decades of civil war that followed the destruction of the regime of Democratic Kampuchia from 1975 to 1979. The devastating destruction of these regional conflicts also feature into the construction of ‘national historical mythos.’ In the case of the ‘big three’ (Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand) these nationalist-centered narratives have then been responsible for overwriting other lesser known narratives: such as the ‘lesser known states’: Laos, Burma, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia and Cambodia. However, by adapting interdisciplinary partnerships, historians begin to break free of these confines. By doing so it becomes possible to adapt new approaches, and discover that other fields approach similar problems. For example, archeologists and environmental scientists in Southeast Asia face similar problems dating materials and sites in Southeast Asia. This is because the standard dendrochronology – that is the measuring of tree rings to gather information about weather patterns and date archeological sites – is more difficult in Southeast Asia because one tree ring growth does not always match to one year, as would be the case in more temperate climate zones of northern Europe, North America or northern Asia [With thanks to Tanauchy Brauns for this discussion]. Nevertheless, historian Anthony Reid (1988, 1993) was able to work with climatologists and use dendrochronology from the island of Java in order to argue that the El Niño weather pattern likely had an effect on an early modern economic crisis in Southeast Asia.

While the use of climate studies and a deeper knowledge of environmental history would greatly improve the understanding of Southeast Asia as a region, the problem of historical sources remains potent. The classic example of this problem is seen through the primary source material of Cham manuscripts written in Akhar Thrah. First, these manuscripts were collected and systematically destroyed during at least three historical periods: the Minh Menh regime of the 1830s, the American-backed Ngo Dinh Diem regime of the 1950s and 1960s, and the Khmer Rouge (Democratic Kampuchia regime) of the 1970s. To compound the destruction of Cham manuscripts, the Cham people traditionally have only selectively copied manuscripts, rather than authoring them, and the dates of copying and the names of the copyists are not frequently recorded. So, how could one enhance the knowledge of these and similar sources? At the Center for Khmer studies, there are regular programs that focus on historical preservation and there are recent efforts to consider the integration of CKS resources with the “World Cat” search system, which would greatly improve the accessibility and ability to prepare for research trips to the center. Other attempts at digitization have been undertaken by the University of Social Sciences and Humanities Library in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam through implementing a computer search system and the National Archives in Cambodia. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the lack of sufficient governmental support for such institutions remains a barrier to improvement. This circumstance will likely continue to be a problem in the region in the future, although research centers like CKS always look for innovative solutions to address these problems. In this continued institutional development, the case of Cham manuscripts will continue to be important as these sources are exemplary of almost every theoretical problem that a historian could face.

To begin with, the very field of Cham studies is constructed upon the “national history” model, although almost all scholars in the field of Cham studies now reject the idea that there ever was a single “Kingdom of Champa.” Emerging models promote a ‘series of Cham polities,’ a ‘coalition of principalities,’ or ‘Cham civilization.’ At the same time, ‘the history of the Cham’ in the greater epoch of Southeast Asia generally ends with the ‘conquest of Champa.’ Hence, colleagues, professors and, yes, even the thoughts in the back of my mind remained skeptical about how much information one would be able to ascertain from centers like the Center of Khmer Studies research library. This is the nature of historea, one does not know, until one is at one site and examines. Hence, upon arrival at the research library of the Center for Khmer Studies at Siem Reap, one first might take note of the beautiful Champaka trees that are typical of Southeast Asian landscaping, or the deep dark wooden walls of the climate-controlled research library. Anyone might note these traits. However, for a historian of Southeast Asia, what stands out is the large collection of the famous journal: the Bulletin Ecole Francaise D’extreme Orient (or BEFEO for short). The BEFEO, which is one of the longest running journals in the study of ‘The far east’ is available online (1901-2003: As is quite common with digitalization, many of the digitized articles are unfortunately difficult to make out. Hence, to have physical copies of these articles is always a blessing. Furthermore, the BEFEO collections of Siem Reap, which do feature an admittedly large number of photocopied sections, have many original copies of the journal, dating back to the 1930s, which were produced in Southeast Asia, sent all the way to France and then brought back to Southeast Asia.

The BEFEO today is one of the world’s largest overseas research organizations with centers that stretch throughout Asia. The organization owes a special debt to the field of Cham studies as it was Cham archeology, combined with Angkorean culture that was particularly influential in inspiring early EFEO scholars such as E. Aymonier, L. Finot, A. Cabaton, P. Mus and many others. E. Aymonier for example, was not only governor of Cambodia, but also was under the impression that the Cham people could be particularly helpful to the French project of empire (according to a 1880s private letter). E. Aymonier also completed one of the most influential early studies of Cambodia: three volumes of more than 1,000 pages. But his true expertise was on the Cham. The consequences of this temporarily disproportionate interest in the Cham can be found in the pages of the BEFEO, which later trickled onto the pages of other journals available at Siem Reap in French, English and Khmer including the journal of the Societie Asiatique (Asiatic Society, France), the Journal of Asian Studies and the journal of the Center of Khmer Studies. There are also a large number of Khmer, French and English newspapers that have been collected onsite since the library opened in 2001 and a number of dissertations that have been deposited by scholars that have been affiliated with CKS, including, in the field of Cham Studies: works by William Southworth (2001) and Emiko Stock. However, many of these resources (with the exception of Khmer language materials) can be accessed elsewhere, and so this review continues by exploring two major resources that, in my past four years researching the Cham in Southeast Asia and the United States, I have not found anywhere else. The first of these collections is a series of maps that are held in the map room of the research library.

Maps of Southeast Asia, as a whole, or in parts, are heavily contentious, politicized source material. Thongchai Winichakul famously has argued for their role in the creation of a Thai national identity. Between Cambodia and Thailand, French colonial maps have been a critical piece of evidence levied in debates over a Buddhist world heritage site. At the Bavet border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia, on the Vietnamese side, in the exit hall where no photographs are allowed, a series of maps displayed reminds those about to leave Vietnam that the Paracel and the Spratley islands ‘are and have been’ Vietnamese. The placement of this display on the Khmer-Vietnamese border is telling. In the maps room at the Center for Khmer Studies research library I found another series of maps that are informative about the borderlands between Vietnam and Cambodia and the place of the Cham in these. While photographing these maps I noted that the collection is surprisingly diverse, though small, and covers regions across Asia from the 1940s through the 2000s. The staff of the Center told me that they are hoping to continue to improve the storage of these pieces. One idea that came to mind was that it would be great to have map collections like this laminated in large bound volumes that could be leafed through and more easily organized. Nevertheless, through this collection there are at least three maps (or series of maps) that are relevant to the understanding of the Khmer-Vietnamese borderlands and the Cham:

  1. A French Ethno-linguistic map of Indochina (1949)
  2. A French map of Phnom Penh (1950)
  3. Three Vietnamese/American maps of the Vietnamese border provinces of the Republic of South Vietnam (1971)

The French Ethno-linguistic Map of Indochina (1949) is particularly exemplary of the French rejection of the claims of the Vietnamese to independence led by Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese in 1945. Rather, the map demonstrates the continued efforts of the French to assert their empire of knowledge through drawing clearly distinguished boundaries between the peoples of Indochina, including three major groups and members of the “Chamic” language family. The first category is “the Cham,” which are generally noted as living in between what are now the Vietnamese cities of Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan province, and Phan Thiet, Binh Thuan Province, with stringent populations in Tay Ninh, An Giang/Chau Doc and Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. However, what is notable on the French Ethno-linguistic Map of Indochina (1949) is that there is also another “Cham” population that is noted as living along the sea, to the south of the ‘traditional’ southern boundary of Cham territory: the point of Mui Ke Ga, and to the north of Ham Tan. The origins and narrative of this Cham population may have been covered up by general assessments in the field of Cham studies that have sought to pattern the understanding of the Cham in line with a ‘nationally focused’ history emphasizing the ultimate unity of the Cham population originating in the ‘Kingdom of Champa.’ Hence, the Ham Tan-Mui Ke Ga community may have disappeared through this narrative. This map therefore opens up new questions about the relation of the Cham community in the 1940s to territory throughout Indochina and new questions for further research.

The second “Chamic” community that appears on the French Ethno-linguistic Map of Indochina (1949) relates directly to the Vietnamese-Khmer borderlands where there is a “Cham-Malay” population, which is not surprising at first, although E. Aymonier did take special efforts in Le Cambodge to distinguish between the Chams and Malays as clearly separated populations. Meanwhile, it appears that by 1949, at least for the An Giang, Chau Doc population, the French had adapted the designation of a mixed “Cham-Malay” community drawn from a designation used in the Khmer chronicles: cam-jvea (Phoeun, 1988). So, it appears that at least for this population the French adapted Khmer designations.

The third group of “Chamic” populations on this map are Austronesian highlanders: the Churu, Rhade, Jarai, Raglai and Koho, which by the period of the production of this map (1949) had entered nationalist discourses as “Peoples of Champa.” This narrative became increasingly popular from the 1950s to the 1960s. In order to help understand the broader dynamics of the Cham in the Khmer-Vietnamese borderlands, the comparative analysis of the Map of Phnom Penh (1950) and the series of maps of Vietnamese Border Provinces (3 maps: 1971) is helpful.

The Map of Phnom Penh (1950) appears in three copies (c. 3/3) from the Fonds Lammant Collection and was donated to the research library of the Center of Khmer Studies in Siem Reap on 07/01/2010. These three copies appear to have been from a November 1955 reprinting of the city map as indicated by the upper right-hand corner. This particular map was No. 20 in a series of “Maps of the routes of Indochina” that was published by the Geographic Service of Indochina in 1950 under the auspices of the Minister of Public Works and Transport at the National Geographic Institutes office at 136bis Rue de Grenelle, Paris VII. Map c. 1/3 has a corner that was badly chewed off by a cat and c. 3/3 has been badly damaged by humidity. As such c. 2/3 is in the best condition. South to north the map covers a region of 250 KM and east to west, a region of 225 KM, focusing not just on Phnom Penh, but roughly the ‘south-central’ region of Cambodia including the southern shores of the Tonle Sap at Pursat, Kampong Chhnan, Kampong Cham, Svay Rieng and the Vietnamese-Khmer border from Long Xuyen, northward to Châu Đốc, southwest to Tình Biên, west to Hà Tiên and Kampong. Of note on this particular map is that the region of the Cardamom Mountains west of Kampong Speu was produced with a completely different quality of mapping.  This suggests that while the Vietnamese-Khmer borderlands were well mapped as of 1950, the region of the Cardamom Mountains was not, likely contributing to part of the longstanding reputation of that particular region as a ‘frontier space’ and hinting at why the Cardamom Mountains is a popular ‘academic frontier’ today.

The series of three maps of border provinces in 1971 were produced by the National Geographic Directorate of the Republic of South Vietnam. No. 11 shows Châu Đốc at a 1:200,000 scale. No. 18 shows Kiên Giang. Map No. 20 shows Kiên Phong. These two maps in particular are important for comparative study. First, one notes that by 1971 there is less emphasis on the geography of the terrain, but more on political boundaries and population statistics. Second, it is clear by comparative analysis that the border between the Khmers and the Vietnamese shifted. By 1971, Vietnamese claims included the incorporation of Khánh An and Vĩnh Xương, which had been recognized as Khmer territory in 1950. Additional shifts occur in the recognition of Kâs (Khmer for ‘islets’). Kâs Antay and Kâs Po were renamed in Vietnamese (hôn = ‘islet’): Hôn An Tây and Hôn Trè Nam, respectively (Map No. 18). On Map No. 11, even though Phnom Ktô was labeled in Vietnamese (or rather ‘Cochinchinese’) in 1950, it retained its Khmer name. However, by 1971 this name had been Vietnamized to Núi Cô Tô. Finally, there are no major changes notable on Map No. 20, although two former rivers, the Sông Sởợng and the Sông Sở Hạ were re-designated as ‘canals’ or rạch, by 1971, informing us that the process of dredging the Mekong Delta that began during the colonial period continued between 1950 and 1971.

By comparison of the series of maps from 1950 to 1971 it is possible to suggest that the Vietnamese population of the Khmer-Vietnamese borderlands continued to expand and change the geography of the Mekong Delta over this twenty-year period. This is not a surprising conclusion; however, it does contest a rather simplistic, yet popular portrayal of Vietnamese expansion that argues that the Vietnamese finished their push into the delta in 1757. This discussion has recently been contested by the historian Shawn McHale, who has argued that rather than ending in 1757, Vietnamese expansion through the delta region has continued throughout the present. This argument is not only critical to the understanding of Cambodia and Vietnam as contemporary states, but also to the understanding of the history of the Cham population, which has been long equated to ‘the history of Champa.’ My aim is to further the fields of Cham and Southeast Asian studies by re-examining the notion of ‘the history of the Cham’ as an overarching topic [with 1651-1969 being the temporal focus of my dissertation research], while the ‘history of Champa’ ought to be reconsidered as a sub-topic within this larger field. In short, this is an inversion of existing popular and scholarly understanding of Champa and the Cham to: the Cham and Champa. To make this argument, it is important to point to one phenomenal find in the research library at the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. This find is a six-volume collection titled: Studies on Champa.

The most interesting aspect about the Studies on Champa collection is that the find is a metaphorical Cham manuscript. It is photocopied (perhaps even illegally reproduced) and rebound, presumably donated from a private collection. There is no editorial information, publication information or confirmed date of publication available. Yet, these six volumes hold, by some scholarly assessments, the most important studies done in the field of Cham Studies from the turn of the century through the mid-1990s. Thus, one could date the compilation of the volume to the 1990s. Online information for the volume is not available and I have not been able to find further information about the volumes. Many of the articles were originally published in the BEFEO, and hence could be found in BEFEO collections, others were published in other locations. For the purposes of the field of Cham Studies, the most important articles in this collection are: Durand (1903b), Leuba (1915), Majumdar (1932), A. Cabaton (1932), Sastri (1935), Coedes (1944), Moussay (1971), Manguin (1979), LaFont (1991), Trần Kỳ Phương (1987), Crystal (1991), Phan Xuan Bien (1993), Nguyễn Tan Dac (1994) and Boxer (1995[1950]) which bring to light the most important scholarly debates and points for consideration. For the purposes of reviewing this literature these are: 1) Points about origins and space 2) points about ‘the Cham religion’ 3) points about ‘Cham history’ and 4) the ‘new trends’ that were argued for by scholars in the 1990s.

Scholarly issues regarding Origins and Space

The record of the ‘first Cham’ polities is known under the name of Lín Yì. Early scholars such as G. Maspero and Stein relied heavily on these Chinese sources for the understanding of Cham history. However, others who are more ‘Cham oriented’ such as LaFont (1991) have noted the strong bias of Chinese sources, arguing that they view the Chams as the “barbarians beyond the frontier” (LaFont, 1991: 10 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). This is an important point to consider as it might not only reveal the biases of source materials, but also reminds about the importance of developing a wide range of sources. Geoff Wade has recently re-demonstrated the great wealth of historical value that can be obtained from Chinese sources. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is room for additional re-examinations of the epigraphic record, as are now being completed by contemporary studies of the EFEO.

The problem with not continuing to further the field of epigraphic studies is most revealed by the words of the accomplished archeologist, historian and general scholar Trần Kỳ Phương when he (perhaps accidently) made the assertion that: “There is no great difference between the ancient script [of the Chams] and present-day Cham script” (Trần Kỳ Phương, 1987: 3 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). This is hardly the case. In reality, a student who can read the contemporary Cham script cannot read Cham epigraphy; a special knowledge of the epigraphic script, which occurs in many different variants, must be gained. Furthermore, even the similarities of these variants to the contemporary script of Akhar Thrah are still actually closer in orthographic form to contemporary Khmer script than they are to Akhar Thrah. These details are also related to an important question about the origins of Cham script, standing as potentially one of the earliest forms of writing in Southeast Asia.

The origins of Cham script are just as much a matter of politics as they are a matter of scholarly debate. Many publications, particularly in Vietnam treat the early polity recorded in the Võ Cạnh inscription (II-IV century) as perhaps a Hindu, or perhaps a Buddhist polity headed by Sri Mara, that was a vassal of “Fou-Nan” (VN: Phú Nam). This interpretation was first asserted by Finot (1927) and then re-asserted by Coedes (1944). It is furthermore found in many Vietnamese, French and English publications, as well as popularly supported by my own casual conversations with a large number of students. In particular, one finds Fou-Nan as asserted by the Khmers as part of an irredentist influence nationalist assertion over what is now Vietnamese territory. However, amongst the Cham community, Võ Cạnh is clearly a separate polity from Fou-Nan, an assertion that has made it into Vietnamese-language Cham scholarly works such as those of Inrasara (2006) and Sakaya (2013). Given the evidence, however, the relationship between Fou-Nan and Angkor is not quite as direct as the Khmer nationalist-oriented interpretation would have it, and more likely than not this was a poly-ethnic space, from which Cham political power eventually emerged.

The politics of the Fou-Nan debate, which are also related to the politics of history, are additionally linked to the debate regarding the ‘Indianization of Champa.’ Later critiques have already seen the works of French scholars during this era as creating a view of the ‘Indic colonization Champa’ for heavily politically motivated reasons. However, if this is the case it is also the case that there were Indian scholars, such as the famous scholar R.C. Majumdar, who, in the context of subverting British colonial-intellectual authority, used the ‘power of Indian civilization,’ to emphasize a ‘north Indian narrative’ and a particularly ‘re-Indianized’ view of Cham history. Sastri (1935) however, contested the notions that were presented by Majumdar (1932), as he saw Majumdar arguing that the preliminary colonizers of Champa were from North India (Sastri, 1935: 233 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). ‘Rather’ Sastri argued that there are certain characteristics of the orthography of the Mỹ Sơn and Hòn Cụt inscriptions that are similar to 4th and 5th century Pallava inscriptions, suggesting a ‘central’ Indian origin (Sastri, 1935: 236; 241 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). However, it appears that Sastri had misinterpreted Marjumdar’s argument. In reality, Marjumdar (1932) had recently published comments that were in opposition to Bergaine’s points (1888). Bergaine’s article in the Journal Asiatique examined the similarities between Võ Cạnh and Rudradama at Girnar, arguing that they had similarities based upon the ‘Kushana’ script. Majumdar (1932) in turn, contested that similar script forms were already present in South India in the 2nd century (Majumdar, 1932: 137 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). Hence, Majumdar actually asserted a ‘south Indian’-focused political narrative. Nevertheless, this debate makes it clear that the politics of language and the politics of nationalism have been so dangerously intertwined that they have covered critical understandings of the origins the modern Cham script of Akhar Thrah. In this way, the desire to create a simplistic understanding of religion has, in a sense, prevented deeper examinations of how the Cham religion has changed throughout history.

The most popular way to understand ‘the Cham religion’ was ‘developed’ by E. Aymonier, who asserted that there were three eminent Cham deities: Po Inu Nagar, Po Rome and Po Klong Garai. These are generally related to the ‘Brahma, Vishnu and Siva’ that were worshipped in the ‘Champa religion’ which was primarily Siva worshiping, according to interpretations of epigraphy. Furthermore, as Cabaton (1932) so quickly put it, Po Inu Nagar is ‘the Hindu Uma,’ ‘no further explanation needed’ so to speak (Cabaton, 1932: 75 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). However, if one examines the epigraphic record of the Cham goddess, there is no mention of Uma. Rather, as Trần Kỳ Phương (1987) has noted, the epigraphic record uses the Cham name ‘Uroja’ in references to the female goddess, in addition to a number of other names (Trần Kỳ Phương, 1987: 4 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). This by no means has prevented later Cham communities from developing a deep understanding of Uma as utterly interchangeable with Po Inu Nagar (in Sakaya 2013 for example). Nevertheless, this examination does show us that the ‘Champa religion’ and the ‘Cham religion,’ while related, are different. There was a process of historical change that has led to the development of the contemporary ‘Cham religion,’ and critical to this process is the assertion, as in Yosuko Yoshimoto (2012), that the Cham religion is polythetic and that the Cham of the Bani path are an integral element to this polythetic tradition, rather than a syncretic Islamic community.

The above mentioned development of the concept of a ‘Cham Religion’ is critical to the understanding of the Bani population. In classic scholarly interpretations such as those of Cabaton (1932) they have generally been interpreted as ‘the Cham Muslims of Vietnam,’ again, as in Cabaton’s descriptions of Po Inâ Nâgar-Uma, with little further explanation (Cabaton, 1932: 75 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). Even though closer examinations have occurred, scholars are prone to simplifying and dramatizing for their audiences, as Trần Kỳ Phương (1987) did when he referred to the Cham-Balamon as a sort of ‘deformed Hinduism’ (Trần Kỳ Phương, 1987: 5 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). However, some scholars have also been able to treat the Cham religion with a more empathetic approach. For example, in the case of Leuba (1915) there were not ‘Muslims and Hindus’ but rather ‘Muslims and Balamons,’ who were ‘also known as’ ‘Bani and Kafir.’ The author, however, did not elaborate the connotations of the term kafir as being an Arabic, occasionally pejorative, term for non-believer. Nevertheless, more so than many of her contemporaries, Leuba (1915) devoted a great amount of attention to the annual Mbeng Kate ancestral worship ceremony that occurred around the date of October 23, 1908 (according to her field notes; Leuba, 1915: 378) and argued in favor of the differentiation between the wife of Siva: Uma in India and Po Inu Nagar “the lady of the City, or, Bhagavati.” Nevertheless, she did refer to Po Inâ Nâgar as “L’Auguste” – referencing a particular type of clumsy French clown (Leuba, 1915: 378 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). Hence, there have been few who have been able to take an empathetic approach to the understanding of the Cham religion, preferring rather to use their own frameworks, or the understanding of other traditions in order to explain it. This was the case with Phan Xuan Bien (1993), when he noted that the difference between the Champa religion and the Cham religion was that the ‘Hindu Trinity’ had been transformed into the ‘Cham Trinity’ where Po Inâ Nâgar was the ‘highest’ ((Phan Xuan Bien, 1993: 53 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). An ironic assertion, since the temple of Po Inâ Nâgar has been out of the hands of the Chams, with little exception, since the seventeenth century. On the other hand, however, Phan Xuan Bien (1993) does give a more detailed than most explanation of the Cham Bani tradition. He saw the Cham Bani as different from Muslims since they also “worship the Hindu [Balamon] pantheon” and during Ramadan, he noted, the priests, “only fast for the first 3 days” (Phan Xuan Bien, 1993: 59 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). This differs substantially from my own experience with the Cham Bani ‘Ramadan’ or Ramâwan. The priests suggested that the practice was to keep a ‘lay Buddhist vegetarian diet’ (hence: fish and seafood allowed) for 15 days. Nevertheless, Phan Xuan Bien did hint at how Ramadan ceremonies were becoming Vietnamized. He noted that the Kho Tan circumcision ceremony had been renamed the Katat. He does not mention this detail, but Katat could be a tongue-in-cheek adaptation of the Vietnamese cắt tắt meaning: cut short. He additionally mentions that, although female circumcision was not practiced, there was another ceremony Karơh/Kareh for the coming of age of women (Phan Xuan Bien, 1993: 59 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). Upon reflection on Phan Xuan Bien’s work, it follows to re-examine one of the first publications on Bani practice, Durand (1903). Durand (1903) had studied the Cham community during the turn of the century and recorded the Katan ceremony (note the similarity to the Kho Tan Vietnamese transcription used by Phan Xuan Bien) as well as the Karơh ceremony, establishing that these ceremonies had been in place for at least one hundred years, and according to oral tradition, much longer.

Durand (1903) also makes one of the first, datable, explicit mentions of the two critical terms to understanding the contemporary practices of the Cham religion: ‘Awal,’ meaning ‘first’ (the Bani) and Ahier, meaning ‘last’ (the Balamon), although he describes these terms as meaning “the initiated” and “the profane.”  This may be used to suggest a link between the terms kafir/akaphier and Ahier (Durand, 1903: 58 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). Nevertheless, we still see an attempt to explain the Bani as part of a larger Islamic world, in that Durand explained that the Bani were likely influenced by Shi’a tradition as they elevated the veneration of Ali (Po Ali) and his sons: Hassan and Hosain (Manguin 1979: 278 refers to the veneration of Po Ali, Hasan and Husain as well in Studies on Champa (1990s)). A point that Durand (1903) does not mention is that one can spot potential Sufi influence in the mapping of deities upon the face of the ‘perfect man,’ to use a Sufi concept. Although he may not have been familiar with this element of Sufi tradition, Durand did describe Po Allah as the front of the face, Po Ouwlah as the left eyebrow, Po Mohammet as the right eyebrow, Jibarael (Gabriel) as the left eye, Ibrahim (Abraham) as the right eye, Po Asan (Hasan) as the left nostril, Po Asai (Hosain) as the right nostril, Haowa (Eve) as the left ear and Adam as the right ear (Durand, 1903: 54-55 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). As a final note to this interpretation, it is clear that Durand also ‘Christianized’ what he was being told, through noting certain Christian parallels to the Islamic and Cham figures in parentheses. Finally, he noted that the holy book of the Bani, “the book of Norsarawan” which he received from a “Muslim Cham from Tanrang” (Cham: Hamu Tanran, VN: Hữu Đức) was a “version of the Bible” modified by Islamic tradition (Durand, 1903: 59,62 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). More than likely, however, this was a version of the Qur’an, modified by Cham tradition. Importantly however, the interaction between Durand (1903) and his field cite of Hamu Tanran, however, marks place of historical re-examination. Hamu Tanran, was the same home-village (Cham: Bhum Palei) as that of Etienne Aymonier’s contemporary Hợp Ai, who was also author of the Cham Ariya: Ariya Po Pareng. It is therefore, by looking more deeply into Hamu Tanran, and similar locations, that scholars can gain a better knowledge of Cham history.

Reconsiderations of Cham History

Based upon my research inquiries, there are three important reconsiderations of Cham history that can be drawn from the material of the Studies on Champa collections. The first of these relates to the ‘language game’ that is played so often by area studies scholars. In this case, it has been the standard scholarly interpretation that one of the first Islamic contacts in the history of the Cham was an Arab trade emissary who moved from the Cham coast to the Chinese courts in the ninth century. The assertion that Pu Hasan as he was named was an Arab named Abu Hasan is based upon the translation of the Chinese character ‘Hui’ and, even more importantly, that Pu is a Chinese transcription of Abu. The Hui people are now a recognized ethnic minority in China. However, in classical Mandarin the character Hui had a much broader application. It did apply to Arabs in some cases, in others it applied to Persians, in others it simply applied to Muslims. As it happens, the classical character ‘Hui’ is also the same as the character that became the root for the Vietnamese: Hồi the same character that gives rise to the contemporary Vietnamese name for Muslims, Hồi Giáo. Nevertheless, a particularly well thought out critique of the Pu Hasan was the first named Arab on the coast argument came from PY Manguin (1979). As Manguin argued, while the Chinese Pu was used for the Arab name Abu in some cases, this was not likely always the case, as there were already Chinese transcription of the Cham title Po that appeared in Chinese sources in the forms of Pu/Mpu and Ppo dating to the Han period and that the names Pu/Bu/Bo in China may have been linked to, or even originated from the Cham title. Furthermore, this Cham title could already frequently be found in inscriptions by the time of Pu Hasan (Manguin, 1979: 258-259 in Studies on Champa (1990s)).

In line with the critical analysis of Manguin (1979), scholars of Cham studies have also been at great pains to address ‘the Maspero hypothesis’ or rather, dramatic assertion, that the ‘triumphant victory’ of the Lê dynasty in 1471 was ‘the end of Champa.’ General histories of the Cham almost must address this date at some point. Nevertheless, scholars have not seemed to accept the assertion of Po Dharma (1987) of the continuation of a southern lineage of Cham elites until the nineteenth century. However, others, such as PB LaFont (1991) for example, were convinced of Po’s hypothesis, and sought to de-dramatize the events of 1471 as the ‘End of Hinduized Champa’ (LaFont, 1991: 14 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). However, evidence that ‘Hinduized’ or at least ‘Hindu influenced Champa’ continued well beyond 1471 is ample. For example, in Boxer’s (1995[1950]) translation of ‘the Codex’ that originally appeared in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Boxer concluded that material in ‘the Codex’ related to the Chams were actually more than likely a reflection of the Spanish designs on the delta and Cambodia dated to between 1590 and 1595. He recorded the notable absence of Islamic practices. Nevertheless, the second passage in the selection of ‘the Codex’ that appears does mention that the dress of the Chams resembled the Muslims of Luzon at the time. This could be seen as a marker of Malay influence, which would have been increasing at the time. Nevertheless, the passage does colorfully refer to sati-like rituals that were practiced at the closing of the sixteenth century that were “invented by the devil himself” (Boxer, 1995: 163-165 in Studies on Champa (1990s)). Certainly there is more than one conclusion that can be drawn even from this short statement. For this discussion it serves as evidence that potentially Hindu-influenced practices were still present, and in fact continued through the seventeenth century, when a wife of Po Rome (1627-1651) would seal the lines of inheritance of Cham royal treasure to her offspring through her own sati-like experience. Finally, the very existence of Po Rome as a devaraja-like figure, persisting through the present shows that the boundary between ‘Hinduized Champa’ and modern/contemporary ‘Hinduized Cham’ culture is not as clear as LaFont (1991) suggested, and so, it is ending with this discussion of Po Rome that bridges into the last discussion of this review of the material at the CKS Library in Siem Reap: a discussion of the ‘contemporary movements’ of scholarship in Cham Studies in the 1990s.

Contemporary Movements of Cham Studies in the 1990s

Given that scholars of Cham studies in the 1990s were aware of, discussed, and in many cases, argued in favor of the same ‘critiques of the field’ that I have outlined above, there were also several new directions proposed for the field of Cham studies. For example, on the cusp of a scholarly wave of Cham-Malay research related questions, Crystal (1991) advocated this ‘new direction’ in research, as well as comparisons between Panduranga (Bình Thuận and Ninh Thuận) and Bali as ‘Hindu enclaves’ (Crystal, 1991: 72 in Studies on Champa (1990s)) [NB: Cham scholar Sakaya has recently proposed a study on Cham and Balinese palm leaf manuscripts, and has a forthcoming article on this subject (Journal of Cham Culture No. 2 – Fall 2013)]. Meanwhile, through these kinds of comparisons, they do risk being criticized with the same force as the Indianization narrative. For example, Nguyễn Tan Dac (1994) essentially Vietnamized the Cham legend of Kajong Hlak, by arguing quite strongly for its interpretation as a Tam-Cam narrative, following ‘classic Vietnamese’ socio-cultural patterns. A point that he maintains in the face of admitting the matrilineal and cognatic inheritance structures that act as an essential distinguishing marker between how individuals interact with each other in Cham society when compared to patrilineal and patriarchal Vietnamese tendencies. Hence, the use of the Tam-Cam narrative operates more as the ‘hook’ to get readers well-familiar with the particularly Vietnamese form interested in the Cham narrative, finally concluding that there are more regional similarities to be examined (Nguyễn Tan Dac 1994: 102-116 in in Studies on Champa (1990s)). This ‘hook’ may well have been critiqued, as Phan Xuan Bien (1987) argued, that the Cham are frequently examined as ‘the only Muslims in Vietnam.’ This raises the question of whether or not a similar ‘hook’ may have been applied to the Cham community in Cambodia, particularly with regard to the ‘syncretic’ community of the Kaum Imam San/Bani community in Cambodia (With thanks to Alberto Perez-Pereirro and Abu Paka of the Cham Studies Center of Cambodia for their collaborative efforts in introducing me to this particular discussion).


As one might ask about any historical study: why is the above information useful? To begin with, I outlined a collection of maps that I found in the CKS libraries to discuss how maps may be used to contest historical presumptions about certain areas within Southeast Asia, particularly borderland areas. Following upon this discussion I chose to review a metaphorical ‘Cham manuscript’ – that is, a six-volume library collection that demonstrates many of the same problems that a reader or researcher encounters when reading or researching Cham manuscripts. I then reviewed this ‘publication’ in order to highlight some of the major standing assumptions, important discussion and potential ground-breaking work that remains to be done in the field of Cham studies including: 1) a reconsideration of ‘space and origins’ 2) a reconsideration of ‘the Cham religion’ 3) a reconsideration of certain aspects of Cham history and finally a reconsideration of the ‘contemporary trends’ of Cham scholarship. With this information in mind there are still even more contemporary movements in Cham studies that have not been discussed in this piece as they were simply not present at the time that the six-volume “Studies of Champa” compilation was produced. Nevertheless, this compilation represents but one of the many offerings of the CKS library in Siem Reap, Cambodia and also reveals many problems that may be used as ground for future research, particularly as a framework for the examination of materials presented in the National Archives of Cambodia.

While the primary material for this review of library materials was taken from the Research Library of the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap, Cambodia, this review of library materials is based on four years of research on Southeast Asian history, which has been supported by the Center of Khmer Studies, the Foreign Language Areas Studies Program and the University of Social Science and Humanities (Ho Chi Minh City), as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies and Department of History. In addition to the wide range of students, colleagues and friends that I normally have to thank for such work, for the specific inspiration of this review I have to thank Alberto Perez-Perreiro and Krisna Uk. Much of the content of this review was based upon a seminar that began with a question raised by Alberto: How does one study history in Southeast Asia? This seminar was given to the Junior Scholars program at CKS upon his invitation.

William B. Noseworthy
Herfurth Fellow – Department of History
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Senior Research Fellow, Center for Khmer Studies – Cambodia
Image: “Po Rome Inscription – the birthplace of Akhar Thrah” (est. 17th century). Location: Po Rome tower, Hau Sanh, Ninh Thuan Province Vietnam. Photograph by Author (October 2013).

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    1. Absolutely! A great building. Yes, to clarify: the Ecole Francaise D’extreme Orient (EFEO) is the French overseas research institute that has focused on East, Southeast and South Asian studies for more than one hundred years. They have centers throughout Asia that can be found on their website, linked above. Meanwhile ‘The Bulletin’ (the ‘BEFEO’) refers to the journal of that institute. Their new Ho Chi Minh City center has also recently put out two excellent publications: one on Da Lat and one on Cham inscriptions. Enjoy!

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