Historical relations between Vietnam and the kingdom of Champa was a very long- standing affair characterized by the gradual rise of the Vietnamese and the decline of the Chams. The relationship began as early as the second century CE, when the Chams started a kingdom called Lin-yi, covering the area between the land of the Viet people in the north and Nanchao in the south. The historical consciousness of both peoples includes wars and conflicts between the two over a period of fifteen centuries before the kingdom of Champa was incorporated under Vietnamese rule in 1693. Thereafter, the lands of the Chams were settled by Vietnamese through a series of land settlement programs introduced by the Vietnamese ruling houses.
Subjugation of the former land of Champa was incomplete, however, as Cham resistance – often armed – became the central theme of the relationship after 1693. Resistance was based on the desire to be free of Vietnamese rule and to reinstate the kingdom of Champa. Contributing to this desire was the friction that existed between Vietnamese and Chams, often at the expense of Cham rights and well being. It was not until 1835 that Cham resistance was finally broken.
This essay traces the history of Vietnam-Champa relations between 1693 and 1835, with emphasis on the Vietnamization process and the existence of a Malay-Islam regional network in Southeast Asia, based mainly in the Malay Peninsula, that contributed to Cham resistance. The last part of the essay discusses the correlation between historical and present-day Cham-Malay relations.
The Vietnamese Victory over Champa in 1693
Before 1692, Champa was trying to strengthen its position against the Vietnamese through dealings with other regional powers. The Vietnamese were represented by the Nguyen family, which had ruled southern Vietnam since 1558. Although Champa was then still an independent state, Nguyen sources such as the Tien Bien had used the term “rebellion” for all Champa military action against them since 1629 – revealing that the Nguyen perceived Champa as a tributary vassal.
In 1682, the French priest at the court of Ayudhya reported that the king of Champa had submitted voluntarily to the king of Siam. While no other information is available, the event suggests an attempt by the Chams to forge an alliance with Siam with the ultimate aim of resisting the Nguyen. During a stop at Pulo Ubi near the Gulf of Siam on 13 May 1687, William Dampier, the English traveller, met a vessel of Champa origin anchored on the eastern side of the island. The vessel carried rice and lacquer and was on its way to Malacca. All forty crew members were Chams. They carried broad swords, lances, and some guns. Dampier wrote that the Chams were actively involved in trade with the Dutch at Malacca.
In 1692, the Chams were feeling confident enough to challenge the Vietnamese. In September, Po Saut, the king of Champa at Panduranga (Pho Hai-Phan Rang-Phan Ri region), began building fortifications and had his men attack the region of Dien Khanh (Dien Ninh prefecture and Binh Khang garrison). The campaign ended with the defeat of the Chams in the first month of 1693. Po Saut and his followers were captured seven months later; meanwhile, the Cham court was renamed Thuan Thanh Tran and occupied by Nguyen garrisons whose mission was to prevent attacks from the remnants of Cham forces.
The conquest of Champa should be understood in the context of Nam Tien (southward movement). Chinese scholar Yang Baoyun considers Champa a victim of the Nguyen’s deliberate policy of subjugation, which stemmed from the principle of “maintaining good relations with countries of distance, and attacking the neighboring countries.” Title-inscriptions found on a cannon cast in 1670 by Joao da Cruz (Jean de la Croix), the Portuguese gun founder in the service of the Nguyen, sheds light on the matter. The title-inscription on the cannon reads, “for the King and grand Lord of Cochinchina, Champa and of Cambodia.”
A series of battles between the Chams and the Vietnamese in 1693-94 left the area in severe famine and led to the outbreak of plague. Apart from the difficulties caused by military clashes, the new Vietnamese administration was ill-prepared to govern the Chams. The main problem was its inability to establish an effective military presence. This was partly resolved when the Nguyen ruler Nguyen Phuc Chu (r. 1691-1725) appointed Po Saut’s lieutenant, Po Saktiraydaputih (or Ke-ba-tu), as the ta do doc (governor) to administer the region on behalf of the Nguyen.
Po Saktiraydaputih was given the rank of a kham-ly (civil official) in the Nguyen bureaucracy. His three sons were given the military appointments of de-doc, de-lanh, and cai-phu. The Chams were also ordered to change their costumes to those of the Han tradition, which meant the costumes of the Vietnamese. Thus began a process of Vietnamization in the Cham territories that was to continue through the eighteenth century.
The Vietnamization Process
In 1694, Nguyen Phuc Chu made Po Saktiraydaputih the native king (phien vuong) of Thuan Thanh Tran, and the latter was obliged to pay tribute to the Nguyen. Thus the tributary relationship was resumed. Nguyen Phuc Chu also returned the royal seal of Champa together with captured weapons, horses, and population. Thirty Vietnamese soldiers or Kinh Binh (soldiers of the Imperial City) were sent to protect the new Cham ruler. At this point the kingdom of Champa no longer existed as an independent entity, but had been integrated into the Nguyen domains. The Cham people continued to live in small pockets from the region of Quang Nam down to the Pho Hai-Phan Rang-Phan Ri region, where the seat of the Cham court under Po Saktiraydaputih was situated. The ruler’s palace was situated at Bal Chanar, not far from Phan Ri.
Even though the Chams continued to refer to their kingdom in the Pho Hai-Phan Rang-Phan Ri region as Panduranga, it was actually occupied territory. Vietnamese-Cham relations after 1697 under Nguyen Phuc Chu were based on central-regional relations; the role of the Cham ruler was more of a cultural and economic leader than a political one. But it was probably due to such a relationship that the Cham people were able to co-exist with the Vietnamese during the southward expansion of the Nguyen up to the early nineteenth century.
The Nguyen-Champa tributary relationship provides an insight into the attitude of the Nguyen with regard to its new status as a suzerain. On the one hand, the tribute had great economic and practical value to the Nguyen. More significantly, this self-created tributary relationship was a manifestation of the Nguyen’s achievement of an independent state ruling over its newly acquired tributary state, Champa. The Nguyen court was now the center of a system of tributary states made up of weaker states and uplanders.
However, the relationship between Po Saktiraydaputih and Nguyen Phuc Chu did not prevent friction from taking place in day-to-day affairs between the Cham people and Vietnamese settlers. Chams were also dissatisfied with the Vietnamese administration of the newly created Binh Khanh prefecture, whose jurisdiction covered the Cham territories in the Pho Hai-Phan Rang-Phan Ri (Panduranga) region. Such friction involved the jurisdiction of law enforcement, trade, trade taxes, slaves and labor contracts, and administrative boundaries. The Chams were at a disadvantage when dealing with the Vietnamese in these matters.
An agreement made in 1712 between Nguyen Phuc Chu and Po Saktiraydaputih included five provisions to regulate or govern Vietnamese-Cham relations in Binh Khang. Nguyen records mentioned that the agreement was made at the request of Po Saktiraydaputih and that Nguyen Phuc Chu “granted” a list of rules (not an agreement). It is difficult to ascertain if Po Saktiraydaputih really requested such an agreement, but clearly it was important in safeguarding the interests of the Chams, even though some of the articles were biased against them:
- Anyone who petitioned at the Royal palace (of Po Saktiraydaputih) has to pay 20 string of cash (quan) to each of the Left-Right Tra (court official), and 10 string of cash to each of the Left-Right Phan Dung; Whereas those who petitioned at Dinh Binh Khanh have to pay 10 string of cash to the Left-Right Tra, and 2 string of cash to each of the Left-Right Phan Dung.
- All disputes among Han people (Vietnamese) or between Vietnamese and a resident of Thuan Thanh shall be judged by the Phien Vuong (Cham King) together with a Cai ba (treasurer) and a Ky Luc (judicial official) (both Vietnamese officials); Disputes among the people of Thuan Thanh shall be judged by the Cham King.
- The two stations of Kien-kien and O-cam shall be defended more carefully against spies. The authorities shall have no power to arrest residents of the two stations.
- All traders who wish to enter the land of the registered barbarians (Man de) must obtain a pass from the various relevant stations.
- All Chams from Thuan Thanh who drifted to Phien Tran (borders with Cambodia) must be well treated.
From the agreement it is apparent that the Cham territories were well penetrated by Vietnamese settlers and that there was no distinctive demarcation between a Cham and a Vietnamese area in the Binh Khang Garrison (Thuan Thanh area). The terms of the agreement also suggest that the Nguyen had conceded a great deal of administrative authority to their sponsored Cham king. However, the great influx of foreign culture and people inevitably forced the Chams to accept the presence of the Viet people and adopt some of their ways, including wearing Vietnamese costumes and using the Vietnamese language.
Nguyen-Champa relations between 1697 and 1728 were described by Vietnamese sources as amicable. In the seventh month of 1714, for instance, after the completion of the renovation of the Thien Mu Temple in Phu Xuan, Po Saktiraydaputih brought his three sons to attend a religious celebration hosted by Nguyen Phuc Chu. Chu, a devout Buddhist, was “very pleased” with their presence. He appointed each of Po Saktiraydaputih’s sons as hau (noble in charge of a village).
Three months later, Po Saktiraydaputih requested assistance from the Nguyen for the establishment of an official court. The Tien Bien recorded how Nguyen Phuc Chu ordered a plan drawn up for the Cham ruler in which the respective positions of military and civil officials in the court were specified. Given the nature of the Nguyen chronicles, it is difficult to be sure if Po Saktiraydaputih had actually made such a request, or whether the whole system was imposed upon the Chams. Nevertheless, it represented another step towards the Vietnamization of the Chams.
Under Po Saktiraydaputih, the Cham people remained subordinate to Nguyen authority between 1700 and 1728, a period when the Nguyen were expanding into Cambodian territories. Even when the Nguyen were preoccupied with the situation in Cambodia, the Chams did not take the opportunity to free themselves. After the death of Po Saktiraydaputih in 1728, Nguyen-Champa relations underwent a shift. In that year, the Chams rose against the Vietnamese, but were swiftly defeated. This led to further Vietnamization as Vietnam-Champa relations were downgraded to those of a prefecture and subsequent Cham rulers adopted the Vietnamese family name of Nguyen.
No Cham ruler after Po Saktiraydaputih developed a close relationship with an individual Nguyen ruler such as that between Po Saktiraydaputih and Nguyen Phuc Chu. The Cham rulers continued to come from the line of Po Saktiraydaputih (of the Po Rome line), but they conducted their affairs with the prefects of Binh Khanh and Binh Thuan prefectures and rarely had direct contact with the Nguyen capital at Phu Xuan. A survey of the Cham Archives of Panduranga provides the information that post-1728 Nguyen-Champa relations were still governed by the regulations set by Nguyen Phuc Chu and Po Saktiraydaputih. This represented continuity with the pre-1728 period, but the process of Vietnamization also continued. The autonomous Champa ruler as envisaged by Nguyen Phuc Chu became little more than a local chieftain under the jurisdiction of prefecture administrators, and the position of the Chams became more and more vulnerable.
Beyond state-level relations, Champa’s own cultural identity was threatened by the large number of Vietnamese in its territories. Po Dharma describes the remnant areas of Champa as spots on a leopard skin. Not only did the Vietnamese swamp Champa, but they also began to break into the traditional economic positions of the Chams, taking over their role in the collection of jungle produce from the highlands. This included the direct collection of calambac (gaharu) and eaglewood and dealing directly with the uplanders for jungle produce. According to Po Dharma, many Chams became indebted to the Vietnamese by borrowing money at the exorbitant interest rate of 150%. This resulted in Chams losing land, rice fields, slaves, even their children and parents.
In this state of losing their homeland and inevitable Vietnamization, the Chams began to turn towards the Malays of the peninsula for assistance.
The Chams and the Malays
Like the Malays, the Chams are categorized as Malayo-Polynesian (Austronesian). They came under Indian cultural and religious influence around the middle of the fourth century CE. The fusion between local dynamics and this foreign influence is evident even today in Cham architecture and relics found in the region between Hue and Quang Nam. The cities of Tra-kieu, Dong Duong, and My-son are fine examples.
Contrary to the findings of earlier scholars, the people of Champa were not ethnically homogenous. In fact, over the centuries, interaction took place between the Cham and uplanders from the Truong Son (Annamite mountain chain) range. Former Cham centers in the highlands such as My-son lend support to such an argument. There are new findings that suggest an incorporation of other Austronesian tribes such as the Jarai, the Chru, the Ronglais, and the Rhade into Champa. Po Rome (1627–1651), one of the most popular kings in the history of Champa, was actually of Chru descent. Po Rome’s son, Po Saut, was of Chru and Rhade parentage. There is also evidence suggesting the incorporation of non-Austronesian groups – the Stieng and the Hmong – into the Champa kingdom.
The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) mentions the presence of Chams in Malacca during the reigns of the Malay sultans. They were known to be political refugees who had arrived in Malacca after 1471. They were well received by the rulers of Malacca, who appointed some Cham noblemen to official positions in the court. In highlighting the Cham presence in Malacca, Marrison draws attention to the fact that the Chams probably contributed to the racial admixture of the Malays of the Peninsula and hence some Cham influences may have survived in Malay cultural tradition.
It is more important for our purposes to note that Malacca was a destination in the post-1471 Cham diaspora. The year 1471 marked the sack of Vijaya by the Vietnamese, the year Henri Maspero suggested as the end of Champa. Was the Cham decision to go to Malacca prompted by ethno-cultural considerations or by religion?
It was probably based more on ethno-cultural factors – as evidenced by the record of Champa-Malay relations – than on religion While the rulers of Malacca had converted to Islam in 1414, Islam had not yet made major inroads into Champa. Islam would later become important, however, in the strong connection between the Chams and the Malays. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it would be the main factor in rallying Malay help for the Chams in resisting Vietnamese domination.
French scholar Pierre Yves Manguin suggests that the Chams only converted to Islam in the seventeenth century, almost three centuries after the Malays. But Islam was introduced into Champa at an earlier, undetermined date. Maspero stated that some Chams may have converted to Islam as early as the era of Sung dynasty China. Two Kufic inscriptions found in what was southern Champa are dated around 1030 CE and there is some indication of a Muslim community in Champa in the tenth century.
Existing literature and the present situation in Indochina have probably given rise to the impression that the Chams were Muslims during the life of Po Rome, who stayed in Kelantan for several years in the seventeenth century. And many Chams who had fled the Champa heartlands (central Vietnam) since 1471 and lived in Cambodia and on the Vietnam-Cambodian border had converted to Islam. The existence of this group, commonly known as Cham Baruw, also reinforced the Islamic image of the Cham people.
Po Rome’s stay in Kelantan, however, should be seen from another angle. While Kelantan has been known as the serambi Mekah (gateway to Mecca) since the fall of Malacca in 1511, this title does not necessarily mean that religious practice was like that of the present day, when religion is paramount in the lives of the Kelantanese. Po Rome’s presence in Kelantan a few years prior to his ascension to the throne of Champa was likely an attempt to learn broadly about Malay culture, including the powerful Malay magic and the new Islamic religion. Instead of being the main concern of Po Rome, Islam was part of the wider Malay culture that he and other Chams were hoping to learn about in order to rekindle their ethnic and cultural links with the Malay world.
People-to-people relations between the Chams and the Malays were not confined to religious activities. It is likely that the Chams had been frequenting Kelantan for many centuries. Several place names there, such as Pengkalan Chepa and Kampung Chepa, suggest close ties between the two peoples and wide acceptance on the part of the Malays. There were costume and textile names associated with Champa, for example, tanjak Chepa (headdress), sutra Chepa (silk), and kain Chepa (cloth). Chepa is used to describe one type of keris (dagger). There was padi Chepa (Champa paddy) and sanggul Chepa (a hair decoration). It is believed that a mosque in Kampung Laut was built by Cham sailors who frequented Kelantan. And according to the Hikayat Kelantan (Kelantan Annals), the ancestors of Long Yunus, the founder of the present-day Kelantan sultanate, originated in a state known as Kebayat Negara or Kembayat Negara, which is believed to be Champa.
Cham movement to the Malay Peninsula seemed to be frequent and even lasting. As early as the late fifteenth century, a Cham colony was established at Malacca. While most of the colony’s inhabitants were merchants, it began as a sanctuary for Cham refugees. In 1594, the king of Champa sent a military force to assist the Sultan of Johore to fight against the Portuguese in Malacca. While no explanation was given for the Cham king’s action, it is likely that it was influenced by the common Malay identity and possibly common Islamic faith of the rulers of Champa and their Malay counterparts.
According to the Babad Kelantan (Kelantan Annals), a Cham prince arrived in Kelantan in the mid-seventeenth century who was known as Nik Mustafa. After residing in Kelantan for many years, he returned to Champa and was made king, reigning with the title of Sultan Abdul Hamid. Another Cham ruler who is believed to have been Muslim was Po Rome’s son, Po Saut (1660–1692), the last ruler of independent Champa. He used the Malay title “Paduka Seri Sultan” in a letter he sent to the Dutch governor at Batavia in 1680. In 1685, he requested a copy of the Quran from Father Ferret, a French missionary serving in Champa.
The Cham classic entitled Nai Mai Mang Makah (The Princess from Kelantan) tells the story of a princess from Kelantan who was trying to convert the Cham king to Islam. The event was not dated. Po Dharma and Gerard Moussay are of the opinion that the event took place between the 1693 fall of Champa and the 1771 Tayson rebellion. Manguin suggests that Malay migration into Champa played its part in influencing the people to convert to Islam. Accordingly, the Chams were also influenced by the Malays to adhere to the Sunni Shafie sect and, like the Malays, they also kept traces of Shi’ite devotion. However, Manguin also believed that Malay migration to Champa was much more restricted, especially after Champa was absorbed by Vietnam.
Cham Resistance and the Malay-Islamic Regional Network
French missionary sources mention that during the thirty years prior to the fall of Champa to the Nguyen in 1693, there were many Malay scribes and missionaries in the court of Champa. Their main task was to propagate the Islam faith to the Chams. It is likely that these Malays became involved in the Cham struggle against Vietnamese encroachment into Cham territories, resulting in several anti-Vietnamese movements. In this regard, the Chams clearly invoked their Malay-Islamic identity in trying to enlist help against the Vietnamese.
Between the establishment of Nguyen rule over Champa in 1693 and the final annihilation of the Cham political entity in 1835, the Chams made many attempts to break away from Vietnamese rule. These normally took the form of armed revolts. Among the major Cham revolts were those of 1693, 1728, 1796, and 1832-34.
In the case of the 1728 revolt, Po Dharma suggests that the main cause was Cham dissatisfaction with their socio-economic situation. It was through these revolts that the Chams began to rekindle their ties with the Malays and seek their help in resisting the Vietnamese.
The Cham resistance of 1796 control was led by a Malay nobleman named Tuan Phaow. He is believed to have been from Kelantan, as he told his Cham followers that he was from Mecca (Kelantan). His followers consisted mainly of Chams from Binh Thuan and from Cambodia (giving rise to the suggestion that he was from Cambodia), as well as Malays. Tuan Phaow’s resistance had a religious dimension. In order to legitimize his actions, Tuan Phaow claimed to have been sent by God to help the Chams resist the Vietnamese. Tuan Phaow’s forces were up against Nguyen Anh (Gia Long, founder of the Nguyen Dynasty). Despite putting up strong resistance for almost two years, Tuan Phaow’s forces were cornered and defeated by the Nguyen army working in league with a pro-Nguyen Cham ruler. Tuan Phaow reportedly escaped to Mecca. This resistance movement was the first clear indication that Cham resistance had a strong Malay connection. It also shows the Islamic religious dimension becoming a common rallying call.
The 1832 Cham revolt took place as a reaction against Emperor Ming Mang’s harsh oppression of the Chams in reprisal for their support of Ming Mang’s viceroys in Gia Dinh in the south. Viceroy Le Van Duyet had refused to accept orders from Hue since 1728. After Duyet passed away in 1832, he was succeeded by his adopted son, Le Van Khoi, who continued to resist the Nguyen court. Ming Mang’s army carried out a series of oppressive activities against the Cham population in Binh Thuan to punish them for supporting Le Van Duyet and Le Van Khoi. In this conflict, the Malay-Cham connection is again evident in the form of Malay leadership. The Chams were led by a Islamic clergyman from Cambodia named Katip (Khatib) Sumat, who had spent many years studying Islam in Kelantan. Apparently, upon hearing that Champa was under attack by the Nguyen army, Katip Sumat immediately returned. Arriving in Binh Thuan in 1833, he was accompanied by a large force of Malays and Chams from Kelantan. Katip Sumat led the Chams in a series of guerrilla attacks against the Nguyen army. Apart from fighting for the survival of Champa, Katip Sumat invoked the Islamic bond in rallying Malay and Cham support for the cause. In some ways this turned the Cham struggle against the Vietnamese into a form of religious war. The Katip Sumat-led resistance, however, was defeated by the Nguyen army.
Katip Sumat’s Malay contingent did not consist only of volunteers. It is believed that they were sent by Sultan Muhamad I of Kelantan (1800-1837), who raised an army to accompany Katip Sumat to Champa. According to Po Dharma, the underlying factors were the Sultan’s acknowledgement that he and the ruler of Champa shared the same lineage (descendants of Po Rome) and of the need to preserve Islamic unity.
The defeat of Katip Sumat and other Malay-Cham resistance against the Vietnamese in 1835 marked the end of Champa as an independent or autonomous political entity. However, resistance up to that time demonstrates that the Malay-Cham relationship was very old and based first on their common Malay identity and, increasingly since the sixteenth century, on their common adherence to the Islamic faith. Malay-Cham relations continued after 1835 as well, mainly culturally and religiously.
The Twentieth-Century Legacy of Cham-Malay Linkages
The final annihilation of Champa by the Vietnamese Emperor’s troops in 1835 effectively marked the end of almost two millennia of continuous Champa existence. Since then, the last strips of Champa territories, known as Panduranga to the Chams, were fully incorporated into the Vietnamese realm. The end of the Cham royal house also effectively ended the little protection afforded the Cham population between 1693 and 1835. Unlike the previous arrangement, wherein the Chams were subjects of the Cham rulers and governed by Cham regulations and laws, the post-1835 Cham population came under direct Vietnamese rule. The provincial administrators were the highest authority, and Cham notables served as middlemen between the population and the Vietnamese rulers.
With the end of 1835 revolt, Cham links with the external world were also considerably reduced. This situation persisted until the second half of the nineteenth century, when Binh Thuan and five other provinces in the south were ceded to the French by the Nguyen at the end of the Franco-Vietnamese War of 1858-1861. The advent of French colonization of Vietnam actually ended Nguyen attempts to wipe out the Chams. The breakdown of the Nguyen administrative apparatus in the face of greater French control over the provinces saw the rekindling of ancient Cham aspirations to exert Cham identity. Efforts to re-establish traditional external linkages, including those with the Malay states, played an important role. This is evident from reports of religious teachers (ulama) from the Malay Peninsula who frequented the former land of Champa during the final years of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth. Like their predecessors, many of these visitors stayed for long durations in the former Champa as well as among the Chams in Cambodia. They married local Cham women and had children. Several of these families remained in the former Champa and in Cambodia, cementing relationships established in earlier centuries.
During the twentieth century, exchanges of visits between the Chams and the Malays became more frequent and were often family visits, though the religious factor remained strong. Until recently, Malay missionaries visited southern Vietnam to spread the Islamic faith among the Chams. In the annual international Quranic recital competition in Kuala Lumpur, representatives from Vietnam (Binh Thuan) continued to take part until the escalated Vietnam War made it impossible for them to attend.
From the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 until 1993, the Malaysian government took in no fewer than 7,000 Muslim Cham refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, making them the only group out of the tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees who passed through Malaysia to be accepted and settled. Though the official explanation was based on humanitarian considerations, the truth lies with Malay-Cham connections based on common Malay and Islamic identity.
Danny Wong Tze Ken is associate professor in the Department of History, University of Malaya. This project was funded by a SEASREP-Toyota Foundation Regional Collaboration Grant.