By Assoc. Prof. Po Dharma
The combined evidence of epigraphic records, the Chinese and Vietnamese annals, the Cham language manuscripts and the accounts of Western and Arab seafarers provides the historical information on Champa, a highly civilised kingdom which existed in the central part of present-day Vietnam from the end of the second to the beginning of the nineteenth centuries AD. It was long believed that Champa was confined to the coastal plains of the South China Sea, but it is also known that its territories also included the highland plateaux to the west of the region. Its population was composed not only of Champs living near the coastal area, but also of a wide variety of ethnic communities, including hill people speaking languages of the Austronesian group (Jörai, Cru, Edê and Raglai) as well as those who speaks the Austroasiatic tongue (Ma, Sré and Stieng). The list is not exhaustive. The Cham language itself is an Austronesian language.
The history of Champa is dominated by the wars it fought against the Vietnamese kingdoms across their common border to the north. Faced with the emergence of Dai ViIet power, with its rapid population growth which by the 14th century had tilted the balance of power to its advantage, Champa was gradually obliged to retreat southwards until it finally disappeared in 1832. Its history had witnessed the development of two major civilisations. Until 1471, when its capital, Vijaya, fell under the onslaught of the Dai Viet king Le Thanh Tong, it had been a Hinduised state with a Sanskrit culture. At this crossroads in its history, Champa turned away from its Hinduist heritage and set off in a new direction, adopting the religious practices, cosmology, theory of kingship and social order preserved in native traditions which had continued to flourish in the southern principalities. From 1471 to 1832 the history of Champa was destined to be long struggle, as the Chams attempted to resist Vietnamese expansion, keep their independence and save their identity.