Viewing cable 03HANOI1554
Title: Khmer and Cham in Vietnam --

03HANOI15542003-06-20 09:27:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Hanoi
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958:  NA 
SUBJECT:  Khmer and Cham in Vietnam  -- 
-            Minorities by Ethnicity and Faith 
¶1.  (U)  Summary:  The Mekong Delta province of An Giang on 
the Cambodian border is home to members of all of Vietnam's 
recognized religious faiths and two of its larger ethnic 
minorities, the Khmer and the Cham.  The Khmer follow 
Theravada Buddhism, while most Vietnamese Buddhists belong 
to the Mahayana tradition common in Northeast Asia.  An 
Giang's Cham Muslim community is one of several scattered 
around the Mekong Delta and south-central coastal Vietnam. 
Both groups seem able to maintain their languages, 
religions, and traditions, but also appear to avoid 
undertaking actions that might be seen as controversial. 
End Summary. 
Khmer Theravada Buddhists 
¶2.  (U)  Tri Ton District in southwestern An Giang is home 
to about 51,700 ethnic Khmer people, 47 percent of the total 
district population.  Many of them appear to speak the Khmer 
language at home and in town.  The distinctive, colorful, 
Cambodian-style pagodas clearly mark Khmer communities. 
Despite the difference between the Mahayana and Theravada 
traditions, members of both belong to the Vietnam Buddhist 
Sangha, the GVN-recognized Buddhist organization.  DCM and 
delegation, along with several provincial officials, visited 
a Khmer Buddhist temple in Tri Ton District, An Giang on May 
20 and spoke with the head monk, Reverend Chau Ti.  He spoke 
no Vietnamese, only Khmer, although he has lived in Vietnam 
his whole life, 57 years. 
¶3.  (U)  Reverend Ti described the situation for Khmer in 
Tri Ton district.  They have lived in the area for "several 
generations."  A few people fled to Tri Ton from Cambodia 
during the Khmer Rouge period, but have long since returned, 
he claimed.  The Khmer language is taught at an ethnic 
minority boarding school in the district center, and there 
are other Khmer programs in Soc Trang and Tra Vinh 
provinces.  However, there is a shortage of Khmer-speaking 
teachers, especially in remote villages.  Monks also teach 
the Khmer language at pagodas, as permitted by authorities. 
Reverend Ti also said that local authorities also support 
Khmer festivals and denied allegations that the GVN 
suppresses the Khmer language and culture.  There is some 
radio programming in Khmer and some regulations are printed 
in Khmer.  Khmer language textbooks are published in Soc 
Trang.  Reverend Ti added that he uses Buddhist texts 
published in Cambodia brought to Vietnam by businessmen. 
¶4.  (U)  Reverend Ti pointed out that Theravada Buddhism is 
practiced somewhat differently now than in the past.  The 
tradition of mendicant monks is less common.  Currently, 
those monks who wish to go from house to house to seek food 
do so from 10:00AM until noon.  They eat after that and then 
fast until the following morning.  Some men still become 
monks temporarily.  Pagodas used to take in the community's 
orphans, who would then live in the temples.  However, 
because "socio-economic conditions are better" and because 
the GVN takes care of orphans, he said, the pagodas no 
longer undertake this role.  Nonetheless, some "homeless" 
children, apparently in their teens, do come to the pagoda 
and stay there, he claimed.  Mission officers encountered 
several such teens helping out at the pagoda on the day of 
their visit. 
¶5.  (U)  While Reverend Ti said he has no contact with monks 
in Cambodia, he regularly associates with other monks in 
Vietnam, both Khmer Theravada and Kinh Mahayana.  Relations 
between the followers of the two branches are fine, he 
declared.  He had attended the tenth anniversary celebration 
of the provincial Buddhist association at a Kinh temple in 
Chau Doc that morning.  One difference between followers of 
the two traditions is that Mahayana initiates study in 
Buddhist academies, while Khmer initiates study under senior 
monks at local pagodas.  The respective ranking systems of 
monks are similar, however, he said. 
¶6.  (U)  The pagoda that DCM and delegation visited has four 
monks.  The current structure dates from 1980.  It replaced 
another pagoda of the same name that had been built in about 
1910, but subsequently destroyed.  About 7,000 Khmer live in 
the surrounding commune, according to Reverend Ti. 
Cham Muslims 
¶7.  (U)  Almost 20 Muslim followers warmly received DCM, his 
delegation, and several provincial officials at the Phu Hiep 
village mosque on May 20.  They introduced themselves by 
title, rather than name, and included the local community 
chief, the deputy chief, and the village's Imam.  About 
17,000 Chams live in An Giang, the chief said.  Most of the 
people in the village are Cham Muslims whose ancestors had 
migrated there after "wars" with the Kinh.  Non-Muslims who 
marry Muslims must convert to Islam to be accepted by the 
community.  If they do not, the couple usually moves away. 
Young people who leave the area usually move to other places 
with Muslim communities, including Ho Chi Minh City, they 
said.  The community also participates in cultural events 
and festivals with Cham Muslims elsewhere in Vietnam, 
especially in nearby Tay Ninh province, according to the 
chief.  The Cham language is very similar to those of the 
Roglai and the Ede minorities in the Central Highlands and 
is also closely related to Malay, they added.  Several of 
the Muslims told mission officers that they had more than 
one "wife," but only one official wife under Vietnamese law. 
¶8.  (U)  The mosque in Phu Hiep was established in 1750 and 
has been renovated four times, most recently in 1967.  The 
GVN declared the mosque a historic relic in 1989, according 
to the deputy chief.  About 500 households with a total of 
2129 people use the mosque.  The Imam pointed out that the 
mosque is two kilometers from the Cambodian border and 
recalled that Pol Pot's forces had destroyed five mosques in 
An Giang and damaged several others. 
¶9.  (U)  The Muslim leaders credited the GVN, and more 
specifically local authorities, for improvements in living 
conditions after "liberation" in 1975.  They also expressed 
thanks for charitable donations from Australia, Malaysia, 
and the U.S. that have helped overcome the consequences of 
heavy flooding during the past three years.  The Imam 
highlighted help from U.S. veterans groups and former 
Ambassador Peterson.  He also mentioned that they were happy 
that Vietnam had re-established relations with the U.S. 
¶10.  (U)  The Phu Hiep community has developed ties with 
overseas Muslims in recent years.  Since 1994, several 
elementary and secondary students have gone to Malaysia and 
a few to Indonesia to study the Koran and other subjects. 
The Imam and the deputy chief said that there are currently 
eleven such students overseas.  Sponsors in those countries 
pay for their education and may pay for university education 
overseas as well.  The Imam said he expects the students to 
return and work in Phu Hiep.  The Imam was one of the first 
from the village in recent years to undertake the Hajj; 
about 50 others have followed, including three this year. 
Most, if not all, have been sponsored by the Saudi royal 
family, he claimed. 
¶11.  (U)  Activities at the mosque itself include the cycle 
of five daily prayers from 4:30AM until 8:00PM, Friday noon 
prayers, and classes every day but Friday.  There are four 
teachers, two male and two female.  They hold classes for 
two hours a day on the Koran, and for Arabic and Malay.  The 
Imam clarified that students learn Malay in preparation for 
possible study in Malaysia, but that no teachers from 
overseas come to the mosque.  Another object for their 
studies is to prepare for Koran reading competitions.  The 
winners of these competitions are invited to go to Malaysia, 
Thailand, and Brunei, according to the chief. 
¶12.  (U)  Contrary to some reports, it does not appear that 
GVN authorities are attempting to suppress the Khmer 
language and culture in An Giang.  The Khmer whom Mission 
officers encountered appeared relaxed and able to practice 
Khmer customs at will.  Khmer pagodas appeared to be in good 
repair and the provincial government includes Khmer 
officials.  Khmer communities appear to be somewhat poorer 
than those elsewhere in An Giang, but they are decidedly 
better off, at least in economic terms, than their brethren 
across the border in Cambodia.  DCM and the monk had some 
opportunity to speak directly to each other in Khmer and the 
monk came across as uninhibited and forthright. 
¶13.  (U)  The Cham Muslim community leaders adopted a 
uniformly positive tone to describe their current situation 
and their attitude towards both the GVN and USG.  The 
community's ties to Malaysia and Indonesia are more 
extensive than Mission had known, but are not entirely 
unexpected.  Other religious groups in Vietnam including 
Buddhists, Catholics, and Protestants also send members 
overseas for religious education, although not at such a 
young age.  The Chams appear to shy away from activities 
that may seem controversial and show no sign of being 
influenced by Islamic fundamentalism.  It is encouraging 
that local authorities allow and perhaps even encourage both 
groups to provide education, including language instruction, 
at religious institutions.