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Vietnam's Ethnic and Religious Minorities:

A Historical Perspective

Jörg Thomas Engelbert

The book deals with Vietnam’s ethnic and religious minorities in a historical perspective. The time frame stretches from the pre-colonial era to contemporary times. Except for one paper on the situation of the Vietnam-China border area, the authors focus on South or Southern Central Vietnam. The Chinese, the Cham and the Bahnar represent three different categories of ethnic minorities: the so-called Foreign Asians, the highly developed nationalities and the former tribal populations, who once lived at the margins. The Vietnamese and Highland Catholics as well as the French Protestants are two prominent religious minorities. The aim of this book is to contribute to a discussion about common features, categories and tasks, which transcend regional, ethnic or religious particularities and the familiar lowland-highland divide.

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The Cham Diaspora in Southeast Asia: Patterns of Historical, Political, Social and Economic Development


The Chams are a well-known ethnic minority in Southeast Asia. They are heirs to the prestigious kingdom of Champa – an ancient Indianised kingdom located in what is today Central Vietnam. Champa was a maritime power that came to serve as an important link in the Spice Route. It had extensive political, economic and cultural relationships with Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, the Malay Archipelago and North Vietnam. After the 10th century, Champa went into decline due to the increasing pressure of the Vietnamese kingdom, and gradually lost its territories. The kingdom of Champa finally disappeared in 1832; however, its population remained, and became a part of modern Vietnam. In spite of the disappearance of Champa and the intensive assimilation policies pursued by the Vietnamese imperial court during the first thirteen years of the 19th century, the Chams have continued to live in Vietnam, maintaining their distinct culture and religions.

Nowadays, their communities are mainly concentrated in the provinces of Bình Thuận and Ninh Thuận, in the two South-Western provinces of Tây Ninh and Châu Đốc, and in Ho Chi Minh City. The Chams display remarkable cultural and religious diversity, in that their practises differ according to where they are settled in Vietnam. In Central Vietnam, they have kept the traditional Cham script (akhar thrah, i.e. “straight writing”) and a number of cultural and religious traditions inherited from Champa. They practise Brahmanism (called Ba-la-môn in Vietnamese) and the Bani religion. Both religions include...

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