Vietnam Academy Of Social Sciences

Cham Islands in Champa Maritime Space from 11th to 15th Century


Nguyen Van Kim*, Tran Van Manh**


Abstract: Situated in a critical position on the sea routes in Southeast Asia, the Cham Islands or Cu Lao Cham (Vietnamese: Cù Lao Chàm) emerged remarkably as an important outport of the maritime kingdom of Champa since the first centuries. Over many centuries, the region of the Cham Islands and the estuary port of the Great Champa, also called Dai Chiem seaport (Vietnamese: Đại Chiêm hải khẩu or Cửa Đại), not only was seen as a destination and a trade centre of the small state of Amaravati, but also played a significant role in linking the kingdom of Champa with the outside world. In history, Cham people actively integrated into the region and the world, contributing greatly towards the formation of “the silk road”, “the spice route”, and “the ceramic route”,... in the Indo-Pacific region. In addition to the economic linkage, they were also used as channels for the exchange of cultures, beliefs, religions, scientific and technical knowledge between the kingdom of Champa and other Asian countries, creating new driving forces of development and enhancing the creative capacity in societies of the region.

Keywords: Cham Islands , maritime space, Champa, the 11th – 15th centuries. 

Subject classification: History


1. Introduction

In the history of humankind, maritime economic and trade connections always play an important role in development. The sea trade routes contributed part towards the development  of  cultures,  diplomatic  ties, and cooperation between nations. In Asia, the Champa maritime space used to be very significant for the connection of Southeast Asia with the markets in Northeast Asia and Southwest Asia.

As a group of islands in Central Vietnam, the Cham Islands (Vietnamese:  Lao Chàm) kept an extremely significant position in the Southeast Asian coastal trade route. At the same time, it had a   close   linkage   with   other   sea   routes running across Insular Southeast Asia. Over many  centuries,  the  Cham  Islands  were known as an outport of the port town by the estuary of the great kingdom of Champa, which  was  an  extremely  important  trade port  of  the  maritime  polity  of  Champa. Using an interdisciplinary and multifaceted approach,  the  paper  focuses  on  analysing the role and position of the Cham Islands in the East Asian trade and transportation networks, highlighting   the  regional and inter-regional linkage, describing the characteristics of the Cham Islands as an outport, an island port, and a multi- functional port, and interpreting changes in the role and functions of the Cham Islands during the maritime history of the kingdom of Champa and the period under the reign of  the  Nguyen  lords  in  Đàng  Trong  (lit. Inner land, the region in Central to South Vietnam,   which   was   later   enlarged   to become Cochinchina) from the 16th  to the 18th century.

2. Champa sea in the network of Asian maritime routes

The Asian maritime history is closely attached to the establishment of centres, economic zones, and trade routes. Known have been the significant roles and strong influence  of  three  centres  of  civilisation, which  were  also  considered  three  large markets, including China, India and West Asia. With economic centres, many Asian countries also played an important role in economic  exchange,  contributing  towards the establishment of two main trade routes connecting the East with the West. Many researchers often call them the continental silk route and the maritime silk route3 [58], [52], [59]. In fact, those trade routes were not only seen as an economic lifeline but also   channels   for   the   transmission   of culture, technical and scientific knowledge, and religions and the movement of people etc.  In  various  aspects,  the  international trade network brought about driving forces and  improved  the  development  potential and creativity in Asian societies.

Located in the middle of the East Asian sea route, since the first centuries AD, the Champa sea, which is a crucial part of the East Sea (Vietnamese: Biển  Đông) at present, were considered a destination and a waypoint by many merchant boats coming from  Northeast  Asia,  Southeast  Asia  and West Asia. Based on a broad view and the relative subdivision into nagara (or small states),  we  can  realise  that  the  Champa maritime space not only played a role in connecting mandalas in Southeast Asia but, to a larger extent, also undertook the function of linking the kingdom of Champa with  other regions  and  territories in Asia [19, pp.29-53]. With cultural exchange and maritime trade activities, Cham people actively integrated into the region and the world, contributing greatly towards the formation of  “the  silk  road”,  “the  spice trade route”, and “the ceramic trade route” etc. running across Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, from the port of Alexandria in  the  Mediterranean  region  to  the  trade ports in the Gulf of Tonkin and those in southern provinces of China such as Guangzhou, Fujian, and Zhejiang, etc. [50, pp.446-447], [27, pp.59-83, pp. 247-361].

During the first ten centuries AD, together with the foundation of the kingdoms of Lam Ap (192-749),  Panduganra  (758-859),  and Indrapura (875-982), a large maritime space was also set up by some sea powers as their own territory off the shore of the central coast. Due to the geographical location, the maritime space bore natural characteristics of the Chinese - Japanese subregion, while having advantages of the Indian - Malaysian subregion; the two subregions are included in the West Asia - Pacific region. The geographical advantage, duality and abundant natural  resources  of  the  Champa  sea  were recorded  in  many  local  and  international maps,  documents  and  research  works  [33, pp.178-179], [45, pp.89-137], [9, pp.291-314].

In regard to the natural resources and the goods  of  the  kingdom  of  Champa,  it  is written in “the History of Song: Chronicles of  Foreign  Countries”  (Vietnamese: Tống sử - Ngoại quốc truyện) as follows: “Local produce consists of incense, frankincense, areca,  sapan  wood,  eucalyptus,  beeswax, flowery fabrics, thread-plaited cloth, white woollen fabric, rattan mats, mats made of banyan-leaves, gold, silver, and iron bars, etc.  In  terms  of  grains,  they  have  rice, sticky rice, peanuts, and sesame, instead of wheat. Once  the  local  mandarin  provides one  bucket  of  seeds,  he  will  collect  100 buckets of output products in tax. In terms of flower and fruits, they have lotus, sugar cane, bananas, and  coconuts.  Regarding birds and animals, there are many peacocks and rhinoceroses. In regard to cattle, there are  a  lot  of  cows  and  buffaloes,  but  not donkeys. There are also wild buffaloes that are not used to draw the plough; instead, they  are  killed  for  the  sacrifice  to  the demons. When the buffalo is about to be killed,  the  shaman  prays  the  following phrase “A la hòa cập bạt”, which means “Let you die and reincarnate soon”. When local people have caught an elephant or a rhinoceros, they will offer it to the king. While travelling, local people usually ride elephants, use small sedan chairs, or ride horses bought from Jiaozhou (i.e. Dai Viet). People  eat  meat  of  chamoises  and  water bugs.   Champa   custom   and   clothes   are similar to those of the Abbasid Caliphate” [11, pp.286-287].

Of the products exported to the North, some were produced and exported from the Champa seaports and probably the  Cham Islands as well. In the 12th century, Edrisi, a Moroccan geographer, wrote: “The islands of the Champa sea produce aloe wood and other  perfumes...  On  its  shores  are  the domains of a king named Maliaridja, who takes control over a large number of well- populated and fertile islands, covered with [rice] fields and pastures, and producing ivory, camphor, nutmeg, clove, girolle, aloe wood, cardamom, piper cubeba and other substances [seeds] that are found as local products there… There is no king in India who possesses riches comparable to these islands, where trade is significant and well- known.  Among  these  islands  is  that  of Mayd. It contains a large number of streets and is larger and more fertile than that of Mudja… Kings have black and white slaves and beautiful eunuchs… This is where the Chinese ships coming from the islands of China gather and settle; that's where they're heading and from that point they're leaving to go elsewhere” [60, p.191].

Owing to the favourable  geographical conditions, the Champa  monarchy,  which was impacted strongly by many domestic and international factors, focused on developing the sea economy and promoting trade and diplomatic ties with other countries in the region and the world. Cham people established a chain of port towns, creating a large network of business connecting closely with many markets and centres  of  raw  materials  and  commodity circulation  [37,  p.72].  Using  the  central coast as a foundation and considering the sea  economy  to  be  the  strength,  local communities in the kingdom of Champa set up  “a  system  of  trade  ports  to  facilitate trade  with  foreign  countries.  Those  ports played an important role in the formation of “the maritime silk road” in the 9th  and the 10th centuries and became prosperous in the subsequent centuries” [38, p.346].

After spending years doing research on the central coast and referring to relevant historical   materials, Le Dinh Phung, a historian, identified a system of ancient trade ports belonging to Champa mandalas, which were located along the coast from the north to the south. It includes the following trade  ports:  (1)  Katligara  in  Quang  Tri province; it was probably near the present- day Cua Viet port; (2) Jilina in the area of Hue imperial city, near the present-day Tu Hien  and  Tu  Dung  ports;  (3)  Indrapura, which was an important port located in the gateway of Indrapura capital city to the sea. It is Dai Chiem seaport located in the area of Hoi An, Quang Nam province; (4) Vijasa or Thi Nai (Cri Boneithilibi Nai), which is Thi Nai – Nuoc Man (lit. Salt Water) port in Quy   Nhon,   Binh   Dinh   province;   (5) Lingaparvata  located  in  the  edge  of  Tuy Hoa city, Phu Yen province; (6) Kauthara located in Nha Trang coastal city, Khanh Hoa province; and, (7) Panduranga, which is the present-day Phan Rang port.

In addition, the author also confirmed a large number of other places and lagoons in Central  Vietnam,  which  were  convenient for the anchorage of boats and ships, such as Vung Bang in Quang Ngai province and Vung   Ro   in   Phu   Yen   province,   etc. Together  with  Thi  Nai  port  of  Vijaya, therefore, Dai Chiem seaport was a large trade port playing an especially important role in the history of economic development and   foreign   trade   of   the   kingdom   of Champa. Apart from the large trade ports located in important positions, other places, including lagoons and piers, were also used as  landing  stages,  where  boats  and  ships were moored to get food and fresh water, load  or  unload  goods,  do  short-distance business, or shelter from storms [29, p.630]. Thus, a system of coastal trade ports was set up by the small states of Cham people in the  Champa  maritime  space. They proactively  took  part  in  the  regional  and international  networks  of  maritime  trade routes  and  thereby  connecting  the  trade ports  with  “the Asian Commercial Network”, of which the Champa sea is one of  the  components.  Thanks  to  the  trade activities,  Cham  people  disseminated  and received   economic   resources   and   new cultural values, which are the very factors contributing to the one-time thriving cultural heritage.

In  a wide range of  research  works,  the authors, including: Tran Quoc Vuong, Tran Ky  Phuong,  Ngo  Van  Doanh,  Le  Dinh Phung, Kikuchi Seiichi, Momoki Shiro, Lam Thi  My  Dzung,  Bui  Minh  Tri,  Le  Hong Khanh, Dinh  Ba Hoa,  Nguyen  Chi Trung, Tran  Van An,  and  Do  Truong Giang,  etc. have emphasised the role of the port towns located by the estuary, especially Dai Chiem seaport in the basin of Thu Bon river, based on empirical and fieldwork research. During the  period  of  the  kingdom  of  Champa, therefore,   foreign   merchant   boats   often dropped   into   Dai   Chiem   seaport   to   do business and exchange   produce,   while travelling  from  Arab  countries,  India,  and Southeast Asia to China and Japan or vice versa [56, pp.105-110].

Over many centuries of the “Early Age of Commerce in Southeast Asia, 900-1300 CE”, the Champa sea was not only a place where people gathered and resided but also a centre for the connection of the “Nearshore Commercial  Route” (Vietnamese:   Tây Dương châm lộ; i.e. Western Trade Route, as in some documents). Owing to the rise of the maritime kingdoms, the enhancement of maritime knowledge, and the invention of the  nautical  compass  and  better  sampans etc., the second maritime route named “the Oceanic Commercial Route” (Vietnamese: Đông Dương châm lộ; i.e. Oriental Trade Route) was set up and developed in Southeast Asia in the 11th and 12th centuries, which ran along  Maritime  Southeast  Asian  countries. With  the  Nearshore  Commercial  Route,  a large number of merchant and cargo boats leaving  the  trade  ports  in  China  such  as Guangzhou, Fujian, and Hainan, etc. often sailed across Jiaozhou Bay to Champa and Chenla  before  sailing  across  the  Funan West Sea and the Strait of Malacca to reach Southwest Asia. Short-distance trade activities and maritime services  also took place.  Along the  coast  of  Vietnam,  trade activities were carried out, connecting the ports in northern Vietnam such as Van Ninh (Mong  Cai)  and  Van  Don  with  those  in Central Vietnam such as Lach Truong, Hoi Thong, Cua Sot, and Ky Anh and then those in the Champa sea, the West sea (Oc Eo - Funan) and finally the Kra canal (from the 2nd  to the 7th  century).   Since the late 6th century, however, the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Sunda were gradually used in competition with the Kra canal, sharing the influence and resources. The change in the international commercial networks was one of the major factors leading to the decline of the empire of Funan [25, pp.229-246], [18, pp.182-206].

From another perspective, the merchant boats coming from Southwest Asia and Maritime  Southeast  Asia  (crossing the straits of Malacca and Sunda) gathered in the  Champa  sea,  before  moving  to  the trade ports in North Central Vietnam and those in Northeastern Vietnam (Dai Viet). Based on the favourable geo-economic and maritime economic conditions as well as the  abundant natural resources and development potential gained by Champa from Southwest Asia and Southeast Asia, the  leaders  of  the  kingdom  of  Champa early thought about developing the maritime economy and increasing   the capacity  to  exploit  the  ocean  [26,  p.45]. Owing to the “Oceanic Commercial Route” and  the  “Nearshore  Commercial  Route” running  along the countries in Southeast Asian peninsula, Champa was successful in setting up not only the north - south linkage but also the east - west linkage; i.e. it had relations with both Maritime Southeast Asia and Mainland Southeast Asia (also called Southeast Asian Peninsula)4. The exchange of economic activities and the establishment of trade ports and towns in the islands and by the estuaries along the central coast created essential conditions for the  kingdom  of Champa  to  develop  its maritime economy, commercial exchange, and exploitation of the sea resources, while building imperial cities with grandiose architectural works and igniting  maritime cultural resources.

In regard to the activities of the Southeast Asian commercial networks, although all the nations and economic centres shared the common linkage, each of them  had particular relations, both regionally  and  inter-regionally.  Different from  economic  activities  in  agriculture, those  in handicraft, commerce, and especially maritime trade, to some extent, require more relations and a wider space of linkage. In other words, commercial economy, including maritime trade, cannot be created and developed without a system. The   space   and   systems, or systematic networks of linkage, are essential for development  of commercial economy. As shown in history, in the Asian commercial system, major  trade   ports   and   large economic centres played a leading role in running the activities of the whole system. Thus,  the  islands  such  as  Van  Don,  the Cham Islands, the Re islands (Ly Son), Con Dao,  Phu  Quoc,  and  Tho  Chu  etc.  were destinations   and   important   commercial hubs. Due to their particular features, those island  ports  had  close  linkage  with  the Champa coastal ports and the trade centres in  the  region  of  South  China  as  well  as those  in  the  farther  northeast,  such  as Taiwan, Ryukyu kingdom, Japan, and Korea. Based on the linkage of the chain of island ports, many monarchies of Dai Viet and Champa actively took part in the Asian internal economic activities.

From the 11th to the 15th century, maritime economic activities in East Asia relied greatly on Jiaozhou Bay, the Champa sea, and Maritime Southeast Asian countries. As important  as  the  Gulf  of  Tonkin,  Luzon quickly became not only a centre for linkage and commodity circulation but also a significant market in East Asia. Merchant boats coming from North Asia often dropped into  the  Philippines  before  sailing  further southwards to the kingdom of Malayu with the straits of Sunda and Malacca. In reality, the   trade   activities   carried   out by the merchants created a turbulent   economic atmosphere in the region and the Champa sea held multifaceted attraction  due  to  its particular   position [15, pp.207-230]. In history, the Champa institutions were proactive and active in finding an appropriate development model for the purpose of achieving its development targets. The kingdom of Champa was inclined to develop the maritime economy. Over centuries, Cham people and the ethnic communities residing in the socio-political space of Champa together built a diversified economy. They exploited natural resources in mountains, forest, plains and the sea as well [23, pp.105-115]. Cham people not only  carried out   effective exploitation of the resources but also promoted the use of knowledge and regional resources to establish   and reinforce its political institutions, building social relations and structure, and widening diplomatic ties and   cultural   creation.   As acknowledged popularly, in essence, the kingdom of Champa was comprised of maritime polities, including Amaravati in Quang Nam, Indrapura in  Dong  Duong,  Vijaya  in  Binh Dinh  (988-1471),  Kauthara in  Khanh  Hoa, and Panduranga in Phan Rang. Those polities, or  small  states,  joined  and  constituted  the maritime kingdom of Champa in form of the linkage  centralisation  [14,  pp.25-39].  The kingdom left a huge cultural heritage typical for not only Southeast Asia but also the entire Asia and the world as well [48, pp.110-115], [28, pp.128-334], [30, pp.573-632].

3. Cham Islands: potentialities and position

Based on the natural geographical perspective  and  historical,  archaeological, and  anthropological  documents  that  are available,  we  strongly  believe  that  the Cham Islands   always had a close linkage and, furthermore, regular interactions with Dai Chiem seaport (the port town by the estuary of the great kingdom of Champa), Amaravati, Simhapura    (in Tra Kieu), Indrapura, and some other small neighbouring   states. Over  centuries,  the offshore  islands  and  Dai  Chiem  seaport played the most important role in the Champa maritime commercial  system.

Although the role of the Cham Islands was recognised with respect to the prosperity of Hoi An (Faifo) and the maritime commerce in  Đàng  Trong  from  the  16th   to  the  18th century,  it  is  still  necessary to  clarify the awareness of the potentialities and position of the Cham Islands in the Champa maritime commercial system and the maritime space in Central Vietnam as well as the Champa socio-political changes from the 11th  to the 15th century.

Firstly, in recent research works, compared   with   other   small   states   of Champa,  nagara  Amaravati  is  considered by some authors to be the most comprehensive  complex.  In  history,  this small state had all favourable conditions for development with three ecological spaces, including:  the  plain  space,  of  which  the centre was the basin of Thu Bon river; the highland  space  in  the  mountains  in  the west;   and,   the   coastal space, or more precisely the sea and island space, covering a large maritime area in the east. Each of the spaces bore particular features, in terms of the natural geography, ecological system, environment, and economic activities of the residential communities. The potentialities and strengths of those areas were different from each other, but they actually complemented each other to create a general capacity and  gather  overall  momentum  for development of the kingdom.

Located inside the background of those areas,  the  Cham  Islands  emerged  as  a linkage between Amaravati and other trade ports in the Champa sea. In a broad view, the   three   entities,   including   the   Cham Islands, Dai Chiem seaport, and Thu Bon estuary, together with other seaports of the kingdom of Champa formed a linkage axis connecting Amaravati with other countries in Southeast Asian Peninsula such as Laos and Chenla. The linkage axis consisting of the trade routes for business and exchange of salt, seafood, silk, gongs, and jars etc. helped to set up and strengthen the relations between different regions in Southeast Asia and Asia. As time went by, the consciousness of  the  sea  and  the  factors  related  to  the maritime  economy  and  culture  penetrated deep into mind and culture of local people in the Annamite Range - Central Highlands and other  areas  lying  further  inland  in  the peninsula [19, pp.37-70].

Realising the potential benefits brought by trade, many institutions and local rulers tried to take full advantage of the rivers so that they no longer undertook merely the function of carrying water but were used for cultural exchange, transportation, and connections  between  different  ecological spaces and ethnic groups. In the “horizontal axis”  (the  East  –  West  Axis),  the  Cham Islands and Dai Chiem seaport located by the estuary of Thu Bon river played a dual role as a factor for economic development and protection of the regime in the east and a  linkage  between  “the  sea  and  island space”, “the plain space”, and “the highland space”, which were under the influence of Champa  [12,  pp.285-314].  In  the  chain  of connections of the Champa trade port system, the  axis  between  Dai  Chiem  seaport  and Chiem Bat Lao seaport (the Cham Islands) was one of the major linkages for economic activities  of  the  kingdom.  Besides,  a  large number  of  values  of  the  ecological  spaces were integrated and kept in the Cham Islands. As   a   result,   the   Cham   Islands   play   a significant role in transmitting and preserving cultural heritage of various regions. Owing to the  Cham  Islands  and  Dai  Chiem  seaport, Amaravati was seen as a central kingdom for centuries,  keeping  a  dominant  position  to affect other small states. Certainly, Amaravati would not have achieved  its sound development and economic prosperity without taking advantage of the Champa sea, especially  the  Cham  Islands  and  the  vast maritime space of the archipelago.

Secondly, based on the in-depth surveys carried out in Central Vietnam with the geo- ecological and geo-economic approaches as well  as  the  scientific  intuition,  Tran  Quoc Vuong,  a  historian  and an archaeologist, interpreted clearly the  role of the chain of islands, including also the Cham Islands, in the background of the natural world and the seaport  culture in Central Vietnam.

Accordingly,  “in the mountain bases, there are large and small rivers, running from the west to the sea in the east. The rivers are short and  very  blue.  They  do  not  carry  much alluvium. The plains are narrow. Many estuaries are really deep, appropriate to build lagoons and ports for the anchorage of boats and ships. In addition, the mountain-forming movement created offshore islands and archipelagoes. Excluding the farther coral archipelagoes such as the Paracel islands and the Spratly  islands, the islands and archipelagoes  found near the seashore, such as: Hon Me, Bien Son, and Nghi Son islands (Thanh Hoa province), Song Ngu and Hon Mat islands (Nghe Tinh region), Hon Co and Hon La islands (2 Hon La), Hon Nom island (2 Hon Chua), and Hon Gio island (Quang Binh province), Con Co island (Quang Tri province), Cu lao Cham or Cham  Islands (Quang Nam province), Ly Son or Re islands (Quang Ngai province), Phu Quy (Phu Yen province), and Hon Tre (Khanh   Hoa province)… formed the screens” protecting the Champa seaport [51, pp.308-340]. From the archaeological perspective, it is possible to affirm that “the Cham Islands  were a link of the cultural course in the period from 3500 to 3000 BP in the coastal areas and offshore islands in Central Vietnam” [7, p.108].

In the subsequent centuries, a North  - South linkage axis was formed based on the Cham  Islands and other offshore islands. With the Champa sea, the linkage axis had (mostly very close) relations with the inland political and economic centres, while keeping certain independent activities. As written clearly in an Arabic ancient  bibliography,  “The  ship  left  Hind (India)  and  it  took  10  days  to  reach  Sanf (Champa). Local people had fresh water and exported aquilaria   crassna   there…   We stopped by Sanf-fulaw and Cham Pulaw (the Cham Islands) to get fresh water and then headed  towards  Sin  (China)”  [46,  p.121]. According to the New Book of Tang (Chinese: 新唐書, Vietnamese: Tân Đường thư), “After leaving Guangzhou, we travelled for 200 Chinese miles southeastwards by sea and  reached  Don  Mon  mountain. With favourable wind, we sailed westwards and reached Cuu Chau (Cuu Chau Rock) in two days. Having travelled southwards for two days, we reached Chiem Bat Lao mountains (the Cham Islands) emerging from the sea, which were 200 Chinese miles due east of the state of Huan-Wang (Vietnamese: Hoàn Vương; i.e. Panduganra). After continuing to sail southwards, we reached Leng-Shan (Vietnamese: Lăng Sơn) in two days and then  the  state  of  Mon  Doc  (Binh  Dinh province) in one more day. We continued sailing and reached the state of Co Dat (Nha Trang) in one day and then Chau Dot Da Lang  (Panduranga,  the  present-day  Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan provinces) in half day.  Again,  we  sailed  for  two  days  and reached  Quan  Dot  Long  mountain  (Con Dao or Poulo-Condore islands). After spending five more days sailing southwards, we reached a strait named “zhi” (Chinese:厔, Vietnamese: Chất) by local people (…) (Strait of Malacca), of which two shores are one hundred Chinese miles far from each other; the north shore belonged to the state of La Viet, while the south shore belonged to the state of Phat The”  [33, pp.44-48]. In the chapter titled Foreign Countries No.5 in Volume  No.324  of  the  History  of  Ming (Chinese:   明史;   Vietnamese:   Minh   sử), “Champa  is  located  by  the  coast  in  the south. Departing from  Quynh Chau, with favourable wind, we could reach Champa in one day and one night. If we departed from Fuzhou, we  would  have to sail southwestwards and reach it in ten days and ten nights... In the period of the Tang dynasty, it  was  named  sometimes  “Zhan  Bu  Lao” (Chinese:  占不劳;  Vietnamese:  Chiêm  Bất Lao)  and  sometimes  “Zhan  Po”  (Chinese:占婆; Vietnamese: Chiêm ); the country where  the  king  resided  was  named  “Zhan Cheng” (Chinese: 占城; Vietnamese: Chiêm Thành; i.e. the kingdom of Champa). Under the   reign   of   Zhi   De   (Chinese:   至德; Vietnamese:  Chí  Đức),  the  kingdom  was renamed   “Huan   Wang”   (Chinese:   環王; Vietnamese: Hoàn Vương; i.e. Panduranga). At the time of the Later Zhou and the Song dynasties,   “Zhan   Cheng”   (Kingdom   of Champa)  was  used  to  name  the  country, which had to pay annual tribute” [11, p.306].

Thus, merchant boats could travel by sea from  the  Cham  Islands  to  Jiaozhou  or directly  to  Hainan  and  then  Guangzhou. The  boats  travelling  from  Guangzhou  to Srivijaya  or  Palembang  was   no  longer necessary to sail along the coast, but they could  sail  across  Hainan  and  then  head directly to  the  Cham  Islands  [60,  p.121]. During the trans-Asian journeys, when the weather  was  favourable,  many  merchant boats stopped by the Cham Islands  just to get food and fresh water or do small repairs without  coming  to  coastal  large  seaports, which were always under the strict control of the local government. The places appropriate to the need of the merchants were the islands and archipelagoes, where local  people  lived  for  a  long  time;  fresh water was found; the lagoons were deep; and, the wind was not strong. As a result, the Cham Islands played an important role in “the Nearshore Commercial Route” and “the Oceanic Commercial Route” due to its geographical position with many favourable and particular conditions.

Thirdly,  from  the  perspective  of  the systematic  approach,  we  can  see  that  the Cham  Islands,  the  island  ports  and  the estuary  ports  were  not  isolated,  but  they always had active  and systematic connections with each other. Within each mandala of the small states of the kingdom of  Champa,  three  entities,  including  port towns (by the estuaries), capital cities, and holy lands,  were  connected  by the  rivers running from the mountain in the northwest to  the  sea  in  the  southeast.  This  sacred linkage  axis  was  a  foundation  for  the formation  and  an  essential  factor  for  the prosperity of each of the states [49], [57].

In regard to the natural conditions, the Cham  Islands  were  near  enough  to  the shore (15km) to  play a  role as  a  screen preventing  raging  waves  and  hurricanes from ravaging the estuary areas of the Thu Bon and Han rivers as well as Dai Chiem seaport. Being a screen (a mountainous defence) protecting Dai Chiem seaport of nagara Amaravati for centuries, the Cham Islands certainly undertook the function as a military seaport of the kingdom, taking control over the boats and ships coming in and  out  as  well  as  the  flows  of  people moving across the Champa maritime space for the sake of keeping peace and, more importantly, the prosperity of the kingdom. As an island port, the Cham Islands also played the role of receiving and disseminating information on the political and economic changes in Asian societies.

Many  centuries  later,  some  Western explorers,   priests,   and   merchants   still recognised the role of the Cham Islands  as such  a  screen:  “A  small  island  called Callao  (also  named  Pulo  Champello;  i.e. the Cham Islands ), situated at the distance of about thirty miles to the southwards of Turon   bay…   This   island   completely commands the entrance of the main branch of the river on which Fai-foo, the ancient mart for foreign commerce, is situated; and is  completely  inaccessible  on  every  side but  that  which  faces  the  mouth  of  this river” [13, p.102]. In 1909, the historical writers of the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945) made the following assessment: “Chiem Bat Lao (i.e. the Cham Islands) was a mountainous defence for Dai Chiem seaport”5. Thus, the kingdom of Champa was so powerful and Dai Chiem seaport was so prosperous for a number of centuries, partly owing to the role played by the Cham Islands as a defending screen and a gateway.

Fourthly, having quite large, deep, and calm lagoons  for anchorage,  land for cultivation,  and  fresh  water  as  well  as abundant  natural  resources  for  use,  the Cham Islands became a residential place of the people during many cultural periods6. In the east - west linkage, the Cham Islands undertook a function as an outport of Dai Chiem seaport, the kingdom of Amaravati, and  perhaps  some  other  small  states  of Champa.  It  is  important  that  the  Cham Islands was really rich in natural resources, due to the surrounding large sea [43, pp.11- 90], [44], [39]. One could exploit successfully precious seafood  and  swallow’s  nest  from the  islands  and  concentrate  on  trading  in valuable commodities such as sugar, silk, cinnamon, pepper,   aloe wood,  and rhinoceros’ horn, etc., which were produced in  the  central  plain  and  mountains,  by exporting them to the international markets. For Asian seafarers, the offshore islands in Central Vietnam, including separate islands and chains of islands generally, were always seen  as  waypoints  of  their  voyages.  Over centuries, the Cham Islands were always the most important destination for international merchant  boats,  when  they  came  to  the Champa sea, before leaving for the Jiaozhou sea and East Asia [42, p.460]. In the chapter “Accounts of Muslim Traders” of the book titled  “Routes  and  Kingdoms”  (Al-masalik wa’l-mamalik),  Ibn  Khurdadhibih  described his three-day voyage from Qmar (Cambodia) seaports, have demonstrated the to  Sanf  (Champa),  before  sailing  towards Luqin (Long Bien) in the Red River delta.

The   document   titled   “Accounts   of China and India” (Akbar al-Sin wa’l-Hind) tells  about  a  ten-day  trip  from  Kadrang (Cambodia) to Sanf (Champa), where they stopped by to get fresh water. And then, they  sailed  across  Sundur  Fulat  (Hainan island) to reach “the Gates  of China” in Guangzhou. All  the merchant boats travelling along this route usually stopped by   the   Cham   Islands,   before   moving towards  the  north.  The  traces  found  in many places such as Bai Ong and Bai Lang include  the  artefacts  of  Viet  Chau  and Truong Sa ceramics dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries as well as other pieces of Islamic   ceramics of the same date. Remarkably, both of the above-mentioned documents show that the main product of Champa   was   aquilaria   crassna   (sanfi), which was considered the best by Arabian and international traders and could be sold at a very high price in the world and Asian markets [5, pp.78-88], [47, p.385].

In the Chinese ancient bibliography, it was also written about the regular participation of Islamic merchants in the Champa diplomatic and commercial missions to China, especially during the late period of the Tang dynasty (618-907) and the period of the Song dynasty (960-1279) [41, pp.91-44]. In addition to the evidence related to the diplomatic missions, a large number of artefacts coming from East Asia and Southwest Asia, such as Chinese ceramics, Islamic ceramics,  and  glass products (including a  lot  of  coloured  and high-quality glass ones coming from outhwest  Asia  and  Egypt),  which  have been found in the Champa vestige sites and seaports, have demonstrated the international   importance   of   the   Cham Islands  and  the  Champa  maritime  trade over many centuries.

4. Conclusion

The  Cham  Islands  played  a  role  as  an outport of Dai Chiem seaport, which was the  main  trade  port  of  the  kingdom  of Champa, as well as an important island port in the chain of the islands located along the Nearshore  Commercial  Route  in  the  East Sea. It was not only a waypoint for foreign merchants   but   also   an   "entrepôt"   of commodities in the Southeast Asian coastal commercial  route.  Economic  activities  in the  Cham  Islands,  to  some  extent,  were similar to those in Van Don trade port of Dai   Viet [27, p.14].   Based on the development characteristics, the Cham Islands  could  be  seen  as  an  island  port, which was one of the four typical forms of ports in the history of Vietnam7. According to   the   role,   functions,   and   diversified activities, the Cham Islands were a really multi-functional   port   of   the   maritime kingdom Amaravati and the entire maritime trade   system   of   Champa.   Over   many centuries, the Cham Islands had all the three essential elements as follows:  Point (consisting  of  places  for  exchange  and trade: Bai Lang and Bai Ong, etc.); Centre (where  people  gathered  and  commodities were delivered); and Network (connecting the  regional  and  inter-regional  economic systems).  The  convergence  of  the  three elements  made  the  kingdom  of  Champa become  an  inter-regional  and,  to  some extent,  an  inter-world  centre  [35,  pp.37- 55]. In other words, the Champa seaports bore all the three fundamental features: the superiority, the versatility, and the linkage. The kingdom  of Champa established trade ports as well as regional and international commercial ties and, in turn, Asian commercial activities exerted great impacts on the economy and politics of the Champa maritime polities [59, p.120].

According to historical documents, after Dai Viet became independent in the tenth century, a trend of the southward expansion started due to  the political pressure from the north. In 979 and 982, the pressure imposed by Dai Viet resulted in the decline of Amaravati and the emergence  of  other  small  states  such  as Vijaya  (in Binh  Dinh),  Kauthara (in Nha Trang),  and  Panduranga  (in  Phan  Rang) [53, pp.178-179]. The epitaphs in two stelae dating back to 1029 and 1035, which were found in Panduranga, provide us with information  about  the  presence  of  many international merchants, especially Islamic ones.  The  available  historical  documents also prove “the marriage-based diplomacy” between Dai Viet and Champa through the marriage of Champa King Sri Harijit (Jaya Simhavarman  III  or  Chế  Mân,  1285?-  ? 1288-1307) with Dai Viet Princess Huyen Tran in  1306, owing to  which O and Ri (Ly)  regions  of  the  kingdom  of  Champa were handed over to Dai Viet8. By 1471, the  influence  of  Dai  Viet  expanded  to Vijaya and Thi Nai well-known trade port. The  political  changes  resulted  in  many impacts on economic activities and life of the kingdom of Champa. By the 15th  and 16th   centuries,  the  vestige  of  the  earlier cultural  periods  was  rarely  found  in  the “traditional” land of Amaravati and Vijaya; etc.  As  we  can  suppose,  the  decrease  in those vestige sites is closely related to the decline  of  the  kingdoms  as  well  as  the Champa and Thi Nai trade ports, which no longer   played   a   role   as   internationally significant trade ports [22, p.76], [55, p.223].

Due  to  the  historical  changes  in  the period from the 11th to the 15th century, the role  played  by  the  Cham  Islands  as  an outport  became  less  and  less  important. Trade activities were still carried out and, to some extent, the Cham Islands still remained  as  a  multifunctional  island  port due to the abundant natural resources and particular geographical location.

Since  the  late  15th   century,  with  the activation for the Asian maritime commercial system, the Cham Islands gradually restored the central position in the Southeast Asian trade  network,  owing  to  the  presence  of Asian and European merchants in the trade ports,  which  previously  belonged  to  the kingdom of Champa. In the 16th  century, Hoi An (Faifo) trade port was increasingly rehabilitated  and  bore  a  new  appearance. Over about three centuries, from the 16th to the 18th century,   a   large   number   of international explorers, merchants, missionaries, and trade corporations (such as CIO,  VOC,  and  EIC...)  visited  Hoi  An, Nuoc Man, and other trade ports in Central Vietnam and they all were deeply impressed with  the  position  of  Pulociampello  (Cham Islands) [1, p.91]. Remarkably, it is necessary to mention the archaeological and interdisciplinary  discoveries  and  research findings related to a shipwreck in the sea of the Cham Islands (from May 1997 to June 1999). The ship was 29.4m long and 7.2m wide, containing  more  than 240,000 artefacts, including  mostly ceramic products made in the kilns in Chu Dau - My Xa (Hai Duong province) and dating back to the late 15th  century, which provide us with   further   information about various aspects such as: the tradition, the competence,  and  the  particularity  of  Dai Viet  ceramics;  the  exchange  of  cultural values, craftsmanship and knowledge between Dai Viet and Champa; the international and regional commercial ties; the relationship among Dai Viet, Champa, Siam, and Southeast Asia; and, the role of the  Champa  and  Cham  Islands’  maritime space  over  more  than  ten  centuries  [31, pp.20-22], [3, p.236], [40, pp.54-91].



*, ** University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Vietnam National University, Hanoi

1,2 The paper was published in Vietnamese in: Khoa học xã hội Việt Nam, số 1, năm 2020. Translated by Nguyen Tuan Sinh, edited by Etienne Mahler.

3   The  terms  “Silk  Road”  was  initially  raised  by Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833-1905), a German geographer, in 1877 in a book titled “China”. It is written “Seidenstraße” in German or “Silk Road” in English,  referring  to  a  network  of  inland  and maritime trade routes which connected the East and West in the medieval period.

4   Drang Lai epitaph, which was discovered in Drang Lai  temple  (Gia  Lai  province)  and  dates  back  to 1435,  says  clearly:  “And,  the  Cham  people,  who were ordered by your Excellency to inhabit here in the highlands together with Viet, Khmer, Laotian, Siamese,  Javanese,  and  Bengali  people:  the  total number of the inhabitants is 170” [13, p.55].

5   As  recorded  by the  historical  writers  under  the Nguyen  dynasty,  “Located  68  Chinese  miles  due east  of  Dien  Phuoc  district,  there  is  an  island emerging from the sea. It has several names such as Ngọa  Long  (i.e.  Sitting  Dragon),  Cù  Lao  (i.e. island), and Tiêm Bút (i.e. pen rack) or Chiem Bat Lao  as  its  ancient  name.  It  plays  a  role  as  a defending screen for Dai Chiem seaport. Residents of Tan Hiep commune live in the southern side of the mountain. One can do farming in the fields in the mountain; our seafarers often stopped by the island to  get  fresh  water  and  firewood.  There  are  three temples:  one  to  worship  the  “Phuc  Ba”  general, another - “Tu Duong Hau”, and the last one - “Bich Tien”. Some called the last the temple of Cao Cac, Bo Bo… [34, pp.418-419].

6   In  regard  to  Son  Tra  peninsula  and  the  Cham Islands as well as other islands in Central Vietnam, Le Quy Don wrote: “Off the seaports in Thuan Hoa and  Quang  Nam,  there  are  rocky  mountains  of different sizes emerging from the sea and playing a role  as  a  defending  screen  for  the  seaports.  In southern district of Bo Chinh (Vietnamese:  Châu Nam  Bố  Chính),  there  is  an  offshore  mountain named Cu Lao Co. It takes about four "canh" (a canh  is roughly equivalent  to  two  hours)  to  sail from Bac Bien village, An Nau commune to the island. In Dien Ban prefecture, there are Hon Tra and Hon Lo islands offshore Da Nang seaport. It takes half a canh to sail from mainland to those islands. In Thang Hoa prefecture, there are large mountains named Cu Lao Cham (the Cham Islands) emerging in the sea off Dai Chiem seaport. Three of the mountains are located proportionally. Two of the  three  mountains  are  larger  and  covered  with green  trees.  People  live  and  do  farming  in  the mountains.   They   plant   various   fruits   such   as oranges, mandarins, beans, and peanuts, etc. There are freshwater streams. The rest one is smaller and barren. It takes two canh to sail from the mainland to those islands” [7, pp.105-111], [10, p.116].

7 Based on the formation characteristics of the trade ports in Vietnam,  we can classify them into  four basic groups:   i) River ports: such as Thang Long (Hanoi), Pho Hien (Hung Yen province), Cu Lao Pho (Dong  Nai  province),  Saigon  (Ho  Chi  Minh City), and Oc Eo (An Giang); ii) Estuary ports: such as  Van  Ninh  (Quang  Ninh  province),  Do  Me (Domea, Hai Phong City), Lach Truong (Thanh Hoa province), Hoi Thong (Nghe An province), Thanh Ha  (Hue  City),  and  Champa  seaport  -  Hoi  An (Quang  Nam  province);  iii)  Seaports  (located  in lagoons): such as Ky Anh (Ha Tinh province), Thi Nai - Nuoc Man (Binh Dinh province), etc.; and, iv) Island   ports:   such   as   Van   Don   (Quang   Ninh province), Cu Lao Cham or Cham Islands   (Quang Nam province), Con Dao and Phu Quoc [16, p.16].

8 In 1307, O and Ly regions were renamed Thuan Chau and Hoa Chau (i.e. the region of the present-day Quang Tri,  Thua  Thien  Hue,  Quang  Nam,  and  Da  Nang) according to the order of King Tran Anh Tong (1276- 1320) [24, p.17].



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Sources cited: JOURNAL OF VIETNAM academy OF SOCIAL SCIENCES  No. 1 (195) - 2020





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