Cham - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Two religious systems are followed by the Cham: Islam and Hinduism. The adherents of Islam are known as cham bams (sons of religion) or cham aclam (Cham of Islam). Those who follow Hindu practice are called cham jat (thoroughbred Cham), cham kaphirs, or akaphirs (infidels) . A substratum of indigenous religious practice is to be found in the syncretized form of Islam and Hinduism practiced by the Cham. The Chams of Cambodia, most of whom are Muslim, are members of the Shiite branch of Islam. The Cham of Vietnam, who are almost exclusively Hindu, practice a form of Shaioita Brahmanism.

Religious Practitioners. The chief religious functionary of the Muslim Cham is the imam, the congregational leader. Other Muslim officials include the ong-grou (high priest of the mosque), the katip (assistant to the ong-grou), and the mo'duo'n (censor). Among the Hindu Cham, the most important religious officials are the priests who belong to the basaih caste. This caste elects three high priests ( po adhia ) who serve in this capacity for life. From the age of ten, children of this caste are taught appropriate sacerdotal rituals and activities. Other practitioners include the camenei, the kathar, and the paja (celibate priestess/prophetess), the kain yan, the rija, and the Hindu mo'duo'n. The camenei, who form a caste inferior to that of the basaih, are responsible for temple upkeep. The kathar are cultic musicians who sing hymns and play instruments for ceremonial observances. The paja officiates at domestic ceremonies. The kain yan (assistant to the paja) presents offerings to the paja and performs ceremonial dance. Finally, the rija (family priestess) also officiates at certain family-based magicoreligious rites. The Hindu mo'duo'n is a celebrant at certain magicoreligious observances.

Ceremonies. The calendar of the Hindu and Muslim Cham contains a number of ceremonial occasions that are marked by magicoreligious rites. Many of these contain indigenous elements that have been blended with elements of Islam and Hinduism. Two major feasts are observed by the Hindu Cham: Bon Kate (September-October), observed on the fifth day of the fifth month, and Bon Cabur (January-February) , held on the first day of the ninth month. The spirits of the departed are honored on these occasions. A festival meal is shared and five days of celebration accompany each of these feasts.

Arts. The visual arts of the Cham are not well developed. Music (instrumental and vocal) is, however, highly developed, though musical instruments are of the most rudimentary type. The Cham literary corpus includes a number of songs and hymns, prayers, rituals, folktales, and lists of divinities.

Death and Afterlife. Muslim Cham bury their dead twice (provisionally and then permanently). Several commemorative ceremonies are carried out near the tomb during the year following the death of an individual. The bones of the deceased are exhumed when the final ceremony takes place, and are carried to a permanent resting place in the area that serves as the people's common cemetery. Here the bones, along with the deceased person's rings, are buried. The Hindu Cham, by contrast, cremate the deceased after ceremonial preparation of the body. The remains are placed in a family sepulcher.


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