Reframing centuries of Cham forced displacement: Connections, interactions and networks across the South China Sea

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Government and International Affairs


This project will investigate Cham Muslims who live across Southeast Asia, speak a Malayo-Polynesian language and exemplify the global and protracted nature of forced displacement. Between the 7th and 15th centuries the Cham occupied coastal plains and mountain zones in today's central and southern Vietnam. They never formed a unified kingdom but rather "a cultural-political space" built around fishermen, shipbuilders, pirates, traders and transregional trade (Taylor 1992: 153). From the 17th century the Cham became part of the Viet polity through gradual and often violent southward expansion and colonization that forced them to take refuge in the neighbouring polities with which they had long interacted.
The painful memory of their ancestors' flight to Hainan from Vietnam is still alive among the Cham, who in China are classified as Muslim (Hui). In the 1970s, Cham from the Mekong Delta were among the many persecuted groups during Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime; thousands fled as refugees to Malaysia and as far as the United States, France, Australia and Canada. Today, both in Vietnam and China the Cham are officially recognized as ethnic groups, but remain economically and culturally marginalized compared to the dominant Kinh (ethnic Vietnamese) or Han (dominant Chinese). Although in Malaysia they could not fully escape poverty, the state constitution recognizes Cham rights to Malaysian citizenship and their Bumiputera status.
Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and museum representations across three countries on the ODA list-China, Vietnam and Malaysia-the proposed project will offer first hand insights into the multiple social and economic inequalities arising from the lasting repercussions of repeated historical displacements that continue to mark the Cham out as marginal, even centuries on. Focusing on the historically fluid cultural and political identities of those engaged in the South China Sea (SCS) region, we seek to illuminate how perceived ethnic and religious commonalities and differences are interwoven with legislation and domestic discourses in 'host countries' and how they might facilitate or constrain the integration of vulnerable and displaced groups like the Cham.
The Cham have been inscribed into the present day nation-state order premised on homogeneous, bounded space that replaced pre-modern, unbounded understandings of space and territory. The proposed research is innovative in focusing on sea/land and translocal, transregional connections beyond the administrative boundaries and histories that are usually framed in nation-state terms, both politically and in scholarly analysis (methodological nationalism). The project's first objective is to critically examine how official discourse and ethnic categorization essentialise the ethnic minorities within the nation-state. The second objective is to trace how they sustain their centuries-old mobility, including political, religious and trade activities that straddle and transgress nation-state borders. The third objective explores how the connection to the global Islamic community spurs the Cham on to (re)define their ethnic, religious and national belongings. Finally, the fourth objective is to chart how the Cham history and mobile way of life is represented and/or silenced in Malaysian, Vietnamese and Chinese museums.
At the intersection of anthropology, history, political science and museum studies, this project will play a vital role in building dialogue and knowledge exchange with museum curators and educators around the issue of ethnic and national representation. It will offer a fresh perspective on other displaced groups, such as Muslim Rohingya persecuted in Myanmar who - contrary to Cham - do not enjoy the same rights to Malay citizenship, thereby deepening and diversifying our understanding of different representations of vulnerable groups who do not easily fit into the nation-state frame and whose group identities are not fixed.

Planned Impact

The proposed research comments on museum representations of Cham minorities and their forced displacement from a comparative perspective. The project includes knowledge exchange activities highlighting how the Cham experience might better be represented in exhibits and in museums' education. Capacity-building workshops for museums curators and educators in the selected ODA countries (Vietnam, Malaysia, China PRC) will disseminate research findings, using the Cham case study to consider how wider representations of refugees and ethnic minorities impact on intercultural dialogue, social cohesion, trust and integration.

Impact activities will be developed together with the ODA country partners. Benefit sharing actions are thus inherent in the research design. They build on a successful pilot carried out by the PI with Southeast Asian museum curators in 2014. In this, the PI held a capacity-building workshop in preparation for a museum exhibition in Durham, UK. Building on this positive experience, the project will incorporate capacity-building around the co-design and delivery of workshops in each country case. These short-term impact activities will take place in the third country in order to reach a maximum number of potential participants, who will be identified through the partner museums. Aimed at museum curators and educators, the workshops will be designed to explore museum representations of nation, identity and ethnicity through the Cham case study and the project's research findings in relation to each partner country. This will facilitate responsiveness to local museum needs.

The workshops will provide a 'safe space' for museum practitioners to exchange ideas on how to curate exhibits concerning or incorporating refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities. Taking the lead from successful collaboration between Hanoi's Museum of Ethnology and the Smithsonian Institution in the United States, among others, the project team will work with Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian museum partners to identify a wide range of participants and develop culturally sensitive and appropriately pitched workshop content and activities. The dissemination activities will also benefit from the expert input of Rachel Barclay, senior curator at the Oriental Museum in Durham.

In the medium term, workshop participants will be asked to identify any changes made to their professional practice as a result of the workshops. Given the importance of museum education as a teaching resource across all three ODA countries, these changes will have potentially wide-ranging, long-term benefits for school pupils, which will be tracked.


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Title Cham Centuries Project website 
Description Interactive website showcasing photography from the research project, with the functionality to include comments. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The idea was to disseminate these pictures to research informants so that they can comment on the photographs, and this aim was supported by employing a research assistant to raise awareness of the website among informants from October 2018-February 2019, inclusive. 
Title Cham Homelands 
Description Exhibition showcasing research and professional photography that forms part of the research project. Held at School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This exhibition will transfer to the Art Museum of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur in March 2018. 
Title Exhibition entitled Homelands: Centuries of Cham Migration 
Description This exhibition travelled from Durham University to the Museum of Asian Art, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, in April 2018. A curator was sent out from Durham University's Oriental Museum to support the installation and the photographer whose work featured prominently also went out to oversee the curation of his photographs, as a great many more could fit the available space in Kuala Lumpur than in Durham. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact The connections forged on this occasion provided the basis for the Museology workshop held in Kuala Lumpur in September 2018. 
Title Photography Exhibition entitled 'Homelands: Documenting Centuries of Cham Migration' 
Description This solo exhibition by the photographer James Sebright was held at Durham University's Oriental Museum from February-September 2019. Although this did not present research findings, it used text and photographs produced in the context of the research project. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact None as yet. 
Description The grant outputs addressed the four grant objectives, as detailed in their respective abstracts below. The first output is an overarching theory-building piece, the second reflects on methodological considerations arising from the photographic archive created, while the remaining outputs present the findings resulting from primary museological and anthropological research on the Cham.

1. Sutherland, C. 'Stop the clock! Taking the nation out of linear time and bounded space' Time and Society (forthcoming)

Abstract: This article focuses on the importance of linear time and bounded space to the nation, which must have a past, present and future in a way that occludes other ways of grasping time. It offers a critique of national chronological time and advances an alternative analytical approach to national belonging based on a politics of longing embedded in 'wet ontology' that encompasses fluidity and migrant mobility. The article argues that rather than start with the nation-state as a category of analysis, as is the case with methodological nationalism, approaching a sense of belonging to the nation as part of a broader politics of longing offers a more open starting point for exploring the nation's many manifestations. The politics of longing posits that the nation is but one frame of reference among many, and by no means necessary to individuals' sense of belonging. It encompasses both restorative and reflective nostalgia as possible means of connecting individual narratives of belonging with ancestors and (national) heritage. The advantage of an approach derived from the politics of longing over methodological nationalism, understood as taking the nation-state for granted as a category of analysis, is that it allows for knitting together narratives of home and belonging in many different ways, both within and outwith the national frame.

2. 1. Sutherland, C. 'Transcending Ethnicity through Photography: Representing the Cham' Ethnic and Racial Studies (submitted, under review)

Abstract: This article explores how photographs selected from an archive represent the Cham ethnic group. It argues that portrait photographs provide a useful analytical focus for critiquing ethnonational categories and their visual representations. Cham live across Southeast Asia, speak a Malayo-Polynesian language and exemplify the global and protracted nature of forced displacement. Little unites them beyond their self-identification as such, and their minority status in every country they call home. The article examines the extent to which selected photographs engage with and challenge dominant depictions of Cham ethnicity as a basis for considering an alternative approach to belonging that is not bound to the dichotomy of self and other. It concludes that the materiality of the sea holds greater potential to capture the emotional and atemporal elements of living as a migrant or an ethnic minority than analyses trapped within the linear and bounded spatiotemporal frames that create the categories of migrant and minority in the first place.

3. Nakamura, R. & Sutherland, C. (2019) 'Shifting the Nationalist Narrative? Representing Cham and Champa in Vietnam's Museums and Heritage Sites' Museum and Society Vol. 17(1), 66-79

Abstract: The Cham are commonly defined as an ethnic group associated with the ancient Southeast Asian kingdoms of Champa. Corresponding to present-day central and southern Vietnam, these kingdoms were progressively conquered by the Vietnamese Dai Viet Empire from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries. In offering a critical reading of Cham and Champa museum representations that goes against the grain of the standard Vietnamese nationalist narrative, the article does not advocate for the Cham to be inserted into a chronological counter-narrative of the Vietnamese nation. Rather, it contributes to literature exploring how museum exhibits can feature multiple perspectives on identity and belonging. Cham representations in Vietnam thus have broader significance for how ethnic minorities are depicted as part of an official national narrative. The article concludes that on the whole, juxtaposing representations of Cham ethnicity with Champa artefacts does not amount to a real engagement with the legacy of Champa for Vietnamese
history and identity, though limited exceptions are discussed.

4. Roszko, E. 'Fishers, Poachers, Traders, Smugglers, Militia: Navigating Seas and Markets through Occupational Slippage in the South China Sea, 1776-2018'(13.960 words) submitted on 27 July 2019 to the journal Comparative Studies in Society and History

Abstract: Subsidized, militarized and state-supported fishers of Vietnam and China are at the forefront of the South China Sea dispute. Political scientists and economists have largely assumed that fishers are instruments of their states' geopolitical agendas, responding to regulations and incentives. This present-centric approach both obscures the actual motivations and modalities of fishers' expansion of their fishing grounds and downplays the inter-ethnic networks, connecting different fishers beyond state territories and localized fishing grounds in past and present. Taking the case of Vietnam's Phu´ Quy´ Island, located at a historical crossroads in the South China Sea, I connect - usually separate - histories and activities of Cham, Chinese, and Viê?t fishing groups and offer a longue durée analysis of maritime and marine connections. Through a combination of ethnography and historiography, I analyze how fishers move in and out of legal and illegal, state and non-state categories of fisher, poacher, trader, smuggler, and militia. Furthermore, deploying the novel concept of occupational slippage, I develop a theoretical framework of fishers as mobile maritime actors who enact multiple occupations while navigating not just seas but also markets. Thus, I argue that shifting occupational categories of fisher, poacher, trader, smuggler, and militia are predicated on ethnic networks within and beyond states, reflecting wider interconnections between modern, state-supported and technology-driven fisheries with older pre-nation-state patterns of mobility, producing new forms of mobility under the states' radars.

5. Roszko, E. 'Re-enacting an imagined lost homeland of Champa: Migration, Pilgrimage and Ritual in the South China Sea' (19748 words) submitted on 29 July to the journal Modern Asian Studies

Abstract: The destruction of the Cham cities of Indrapura (982) and Vijaya (1471) constituted decisive Ð?i Viêt victories against Champa but it was not until 1832 that the last Cham territory of Panduranga was formally incorporated by the Nguy?n dynasty into Vietnam's territory. This article elaborates on present-day reverberations of these three significant historical events in the entangled Vi?t-Cham history. Rather than providing a historical interpretation of these turning-point events linked to particular dates, I offer an ethnographically informed analysis of lasting effects that these historical moments had in different localities and on various categories of people. Specifically, the article zooms in on two Cham communities spread across the South China Sea - one located in the old territory of Panduranga (Vietnam), the other - living in exile - in Hainan (China). By introducing two different but overlapping Cham mythico-histories narrated in those communities, the study shows that the absence of an actual territory of Champa incited people to take different routes in reproducing the bonds that stand for their homeland, and ultimately for their redemption. Building on Liisa Malkki's analytical framework in her study of displacement and exile, the article argues that for Cham people in Vietnam redemption was a transcendental act of recovering lost co-ethnic communities dispersed in the region, while for those in Hainan redemption was sought in enacting Islamic piety and in a combined, palimpsestic ethnic-religious homeland that included Champa as a place of origin but embraced China as the new homeland.

6. Nakamura, R. 'Becoming Malay: the politics of the Cham migration to Malaysia, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism' (accepted subject to revisions, revised and resubmitted on the 7th of July 7, 2019) (ID SENA 2018 0049).

Abstract: This paper is about Cham immigration to Malaysia. The Cham people are descendants of Champa that existed along the central coast of Vietnam between the 2nd and the 19th centuries. The Muslim Cham came to Malaysia as a part of refugees from mainland Southeast Asia after the establishment of the Communist regimes in the 1970s. The paper is one of the outcomes of 9-month research among the Cham which initially looked for stories of a hypothetical community of "Zomia" of the sea. The research findings, however, indicated that the Cham were specially selected among the refugees from mainland Southeast Asia by the Malaysian authority and brought into the country for some political purposes. The paper discusses the political reasons behind the acceptance of the Cham people to the Malaysian Nation as Melayu-Champa and examines the process of the Cham refugees' integration into the Malay community. It concludes that the Cham refugees could rearticulate who they are by reinterpreting their lost polity of Champa as a part of Malay civilization. They could do so by being included in the state discourse of the greater Malay world and Malay superiority.

7. Nakamura, R. "Eating our foods" the role of foods in the construction of ethnicity among the Cham immigrants in Malaysia (to be submitted to the journal of ethnic and cultural studies by the end of August)

Abstract: The paper examines the relationship between the foods and the interaction of the Cham refugee community in Malaysia. Centuries of their exodus from their historical polity, Champa, which existed in the central part of modern-day Vietnam between the 2ndand the 19thcentury, have created diaspora communities of the Cham in the Southeast Asian region. Consequently, the Cham have diverse backgrounds and origins. The paper discusses the characteristics of the Cham community in Malaysia that is consisted of the Muslim refugees from Cambodia and Vietnam and how their national boundaries are hindering them to have unity and solidarity. It then discusses the Cham foods in Malaysia as the Hobsbawm sense of newly invented tradition (1983). They were created by juxtaposing different national and Cham dishes of Cambodia and Vietnam. By applying Fischler's notion of food as a signifier (1988:276) I argue that the Cham foods in Malaysia became the ethnic signifier for the Cham group across their national boundaries. The Cham of diverse background recognizes and accept the tradition of the new food as their ethnic marker. By consuming the Cham foods, they became more coherent even though such unity is temporal. Tasting the Cham foods at the same time works as an emic classifier to them since it reminds them of the divisions among themselves. By consuming the Cham foods, the Cham articulate their ethnic boundary and they are able to maintain their ethnic identity in their host country.
Exploitation Route Through exhibitions, museum collaborations and other capacity-building partnerships initiated through the research project.
Sectors Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Exhibitions, capacity-building workshops and a website as detailed under partnerships and collaborations.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

Description Capacity-Building with Fine Art Museum, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 
Organisation University of Kuala Lumpur
Country Malaysia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Week-long visit to Durham University by Director of University of Malaya Fine Art Museum in March 2018 to explore the possibility of establishing a museology course at the University of Malaya, followed by loan of temporary exhibition from Durham to KL in April-May 2018. Malaysia Museology workshop held from 6-8th September 2018 for Malaysian museum curators and directors. 5 colleagues from Durham University Museums or with museums expertise went from the UK to Kuala Lumpur to present at and facilitate the workshop.
Collaborator Contribution Partners took charge of organisation of materials, translation, publicity and co-curating of loaned exhibition. Partners organised the workshop and invited the participants.
Impact Travelling museum exhibition on the Cham in Southeast Asia, as listed under artefact/exhibition. Capacity-building workshop for Malaysian museum curators and directors.
Start Year 2017
Description Capacity-Building with Vietnam Fine Arts Museum, Hanoi 
Organisation Vietnam Fine Arts Museum
Country Viet Nam 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Expenses paid invitation to Ms Nguyen Ngoc, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum employee, to visit Dr Edyta Roszko in the field, October 2016. Follow-up visit by project team to Vietnam Fine Arts Museum in April 2017, resulting in a workshop on Museum and Marketing and Communication delivered by staff from the Oriental Museum, Durham University for 30 Vietnamese museum curators and educators in Hanoi, December 2017.
Collaborator Contribution Partners set the theme in accordance with Vietnamese Ministry of Culture strategic priorities and organised the workshop, providing the venue and catering, inviting the participants, looking after the facilitators and translating the supporting materials into Vietnamese.
Impact Vietnamese language workbook on Museum Marketing and Communications translated from materials provided by the Oriental Museum, Durham.
Start Year 2016