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Chams

Chams

A race of Indo-Chinese origin, numbering about 130,000, that settled in Annam, Siam; Cochin, China; and Cambodia. They had some reputation among the surrounding population as sorcerers, probably arising from the mythic influence of a conquered race. Their magicians claimed to be able to slay at a distance and to bring ruin and disease by the aid of magic formulas. Among the Cambodian Chams, sorcerers were detested by the common people, as they were believed to be the source of all the evil that befell them; the majority of them usually ended their days by secret assassinations.

Sorcerers were nearly always women. They entered the sisterhood by means of a secret initiation held in the forest at midnight. The woman who desired to become a sorceress sacrificed a cock on a nest of termites. The initiate cut the cock in two from the head to the tail and danced in front of it in the nude until, by force of her incantations, the two halves of the bird approached each other and became once more alive and started crowing again.

Sorceresses were said to be known by the tendency of their complexion to alter its hue and by their swollen and bloodshot eyes. They possessed numerous rites for gaining the favor of evil spirits, in which they implicitly believed. In building a house numerous propitiatory rites had to be observed, accompanied by invocation of the protecting deities. The Chams believed in lucky and unlucky days and were careful not to under-take anything of importance unless favored by benevolent omens.

The Chams also possessed many peculiar superstitions. They would not disturb grain that had been stored during the daytime, as they said it was then asleep; they waited until nightfall before gathering it. They also had many magic agricultural formulas, to ensure that harvests were worthy to be stored. The Brahmanic Chams believed that the souls of good men passed to the sun, those of women to the moon, and those of the coolie class into clouds, but these were only places of temporary stay until such time as all finally come to reside within the center of the earth. The belief in reincarnation was also highly popular.

Sources:

Aymonier, Etienne F. Les Tchames et leur Relìgions. Paris, 1891.

Chaton, Aymonier. Dictionnaire Cam-Française. Paris, 1906.

. Nouvelles recherches sur les chams. Paris, 1901.

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