The capital of the province of the same name is located on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, northeast of the capital Phnom Penh.
Kompong Cham (or Kampong Cham), literally Port of the Cham, is a place overflowing with history: not only are there some buildings that testify to the French colonial period, but the Cham, Cambodia’s largest minority, of Muslim faith, live here.
The Cham are the heirs of the ancient kingdom of Champa, which arose in the 8th century along the southern coast of Vietnam.
The situation is more complex than that, but we can currently identify three main Cham groups: the Cham proper, who arrived here in 1471; the Cham Sot, descendants of the royal family and their entourage who came to Cambodia in the 17th century; and the Cham Chvea, merchants from Java and Sumatra.
The Cham Sot represent 10% of the entire Cham population (about 30,000 people).
Unlike the other groups, the Cham Sot, despite being Sunnis, practise a different Islam from the other Cham, due to the influence of Hinduism. This translates, among other things, into praying only on Fridays (and not five times a day as Islamic orthodoxy dictates) and leaving the pilgrimage to Mecca voluntarily.
Moreover, they are the only ones still using the ancient Cham language.
During Pol Pot’s regime, the Cham have severely persecuted: 36% of the Cham population died between 1975 and 1979.
The Khmer Rouge attempted to completely erase their culture by preventing them from speaking the Cham language, destroying the Koran, forcing them to eat pork and dispersing them in labour camps nationwide.
The Cham are free to practise their religion, although the Cham language is not officially used in state schools.
The Cham still dress peculiarly: women wear long hair and cover their heads with veils while men wear skullcaps and often wear long beards.
The village and area of Kompong Cham are part of the Cambodia 2019 Masterclass programme