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254th Meeting - Tuesday, November 9th 2004

Introduction to the history and significance of Champa

A talk and presentation by Michael Vickery

Present: John Aloia, Klaus Berkmüller, Maya & David Bradley, Bonnie Brereton, Peter J. Bumke, Pitya Bunnag, John Cadet, Bea Camp, Guy Cardinal, Patricia Cheesman, Bernard Davis, Roshan Dhunjibhoy, Andrew Forbes, Louis Gabaude, Jim Goodman, Oliver Hargreave, David Henley, Reinhard Hohler, Otome Klein Hutheesing, Anja De Jongh. Carool Kersten, Josef Konrad, Francois Lagirarde, Bill Lee, Ranee Lertleumsai, Marie-Hélène Lylap, Maggie McKerron, Richard Nelson-Jones, Jean-Claude Neveu, Thomas Ohlson, Hans & Nengnoi Penth, Fuengfah Piachampa, Uyen & Genevieve Le Quang, Ron Renard, Clarence Shettlesworth, Heather Silverberg, Ute Sodemann, David Steane, David Summers, Vanvadee Suvatanashaw, Rae Svarnas, Claudine Triolo, Ricky Ward, Patrick Wright. An audience of 47.


Summary of the talk:
What was Champa?
Champa no longer exists as a separate entity. There was an officially recognized Champa (recognized at the time by China, Vietnam and Cambodia) under that name along parts of the coast of what is now central and southern Vietnam from at least the 7th century until the beginning of the 19th century. At its greatest extent the regions comprising Champa extended from Quang Binh in modern north-central Vietnam to just north of Saigon in the South. During conflict with Vietnam beginning in the late 10th century territory was gradually lost, although there were times when the Cham invaded Vietnam, and in the late 14th century nearly conquered their northern neighbor. However, by the end of the 15th century, following the Vietnamese conquest of the current Champa capital Vijaya, near modern Qui Nho'n, Champa was clearly on the decline politically, its territory confined to the region of Phan Rang (illustration and maps of total area). That total area was never politically unified. There were always at least two Champas, sometimes three, or even four, located along the mouths of large rivers flowing from the mountains eastward to the Pacific Ocean. When Champa history begins Vietnam did not exist politically, and the area which would become Vietnam after the 10th century was a province of China.
The most important centers of Champa recognized from their architectural remains were (illustrations of architecture from each site): Mi So’n, with inscriptions from the 5th century and architecture from the 7th or 8th; Tra Kieu, near Mi So'n, shown be archaeology to have been important from the early centuries A.D. and from which some of the best pieces of sculpture (8th-10th centuries) have been recovered; ?ong Du'o'ng a large Buddhist center which was probably in the city of Indrapura, capital of north Champa in the 9th-10th centuries; Vijaya, now Qui Nhon, perhaps from the 11th century, with architecture from the 12th-14th centuries; Nha Trang, with its temple of Po Nagar containing structures and inscriptions from perhaps the 7th or 8th centuries; Phan Rang, with three important temples dating from the 8th to 16th centuries and several inscriptions; and Phan Thiet, with a temple of peculiar style in which Cham and Khmer architecture seems to be mixed.
(photocopy maps with these main Champa centers indicated were provided to the audience).

Champa origins
The standard history of Champa, written by French scholars from old Chinese records and Champa inscriptions, begins with Chinese records of a country called Lin Yi probably centered in the area just north of the Vietnamese city of Hué, and which the Chinese complained was constantly attacking northward against the Chinese province which is now northern Vietnam. The Chinese did not start using the name ‘Champa’ until 877, and kept writing about Lin Yi until 758. Cambodian and Champa inscriptions, however, used the name ‘Champa’ from the 7th century, and probably the Lin Yi about which the Chinese wrote was separate from Champa and farther north.
The language of the Cham people belongs to the group of languages called ‘Austronesian’, including the languages of the Philippines and Indonesia. Historians now believe that the Cham came by sea to the coast of Vietnam around 2500 years ago from Borneo/Kalimantan. They were among the famous Southeast Asian seafarers of prehistoric times who spread the Austronesian languages from Taiwan to the Philippines, Indonesia, Polynesia, and even as far as Madagascar, and last of all from Borneo to the coast of future Vietnam (the Cham) and to the Malay peninsula (Malay).
Because of their advanced skills in seafaring, for the time, they probably visited India too, and the Indian influence in Southeast Asia may have been brought from India by those Southeast Asians, not by Indian colonists or merchants as was once believed.
Before the Cham arrived the populations of what is now Vietnam spoke Mon-Khmer languages. During several hundred years the Cham spread along the coast and into the interior. They settled mostly in good ports at the mouths of large rivers, and the remains of their inscriptions and architecture show simultaneous development of some of the centers which I listed above.
After Vietnam separated from China in the 10th century direct relations developed between new Vietnam and Champa. Sometimes the relations were peaceful, but often there was warfare, which often began with attacks by Champa northward against Vietnam. Slowly, during several centuries, the wars resulted in expansion of Vietnam to the South. The most serious permanent defeat for the Cham was the Vietnamese capture of Qui Nhon in 1471. A small kingdom of Champa, however, continued to exist in the south until the early 19th century.

The interest in Champa today
Champa is of general interest today for its architecture and sculpture. The architecture consists of religious edifices, temples, consecrated to the well-known religions of India, Sivaism, Vishnuism and Buddhism, easily recognized by the images found in them. This does not mean that the Cham practiced those religions in the same way as in India. Some students of Champa believe that the Cham adapted Indian facades for their own beliefs existing from before the time they had extensive contact with India. This interpretation is strengthened by the realization now that early contact between India and Southeast Asia was probably initiated by seafarers from Southeast Asia, not by Indians. The extant architecture and sculpture is from the 7th century (perhaps), or the 8th century to the last standing temple, 'Po Rome', near Phan Rang, believed constructed in the 16th century.
This time range of Cham art and architecture is comparable with Cambodia in its pre-Angkor and Angkor periods, and at first glance a new visitor is immediately reminded of Cambodia by some similarities in Champa art. There are differences, however, which soon enable even a casual visitor to distinguish between the two. Champa temples were always constructed with brick (with some stone decorative pieces), whereas in Cambodia stone was used almost exclusively after the 8th century. The structures of walls, lintels, pediments/frontons, and colonnettes are also quite distinct in the architecture of the two areas.
(slides and photographs accompanied the talk to illustrate these points).
The most famous site of still standing Champa architecture is Mi So'n, the Buddhist site of ?ong Du'o'ng was destroyed by bombing during the American-Vietnam war, around Qui Nho'n there remain several fairly intact single-tower monuments and one three-tower structure, the Po Nagar temple in Nha Trang is in fairly good condition, and near Phan Rang three temples of quite different periods remain in quite good condition, the two towers (originally three) of Hoa Lai (9th century), Po Kong Garai with three main structures (13th century) and the single edifice of Po Rome (16th century).
The best pieces of sculpture from all sites have been collected in the Cham Museum in Danang. These include important objects from the destroyed ?ong Du'o'ng, from Tra Kieu, where all architecture had disappeared before the arrival of the French in the 19th century, and from Thap Mam, near Qui Nho'n, a temple which appears to have collapsed while under construction or soon after. Its sculpture, quite different from that of the other sites, shows Vietnamese/Chinese influence, and may well date from the 14th-15th centuries.
There are still small communities of Cham in Vietnam and Cambodia today. The most important in Vietnam is near Phan Rang, where they maintain their own old religion, and where there is a famous center for weaving traditional cloth (photographs were shown). Other Cham communities, and almost the entire Cham population in Cambodia are Muslim, their ancestors having converted probably after the 15th century, although no precise date may be established. It is believed that the Cambodian Cham migrated there following Vietnam-Champa wars, but Cham language terms in 7th century Khmer inscriptions show that there was some Cham community in Cambodia from very early times.

After the question and answer session, the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where members of the audience engaged Michael in more informal discussion over drinks and snacks.







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