Cham Fishermen and Women in Cambodia
A Cham is a Muslim in Cambodia known to be descendants of the ancient Champa kingdom, in the 15th century Indo-China. Most Chams are fishermen and women living along the Mekong and Tonle Sap River.
Estimated 300,000 at present, many were slaughtered during the Pol Pot regime genocide between 1975-1979. The regime banned Islam, closed mosques and forced Muslims to eat pork; 'it was like testing death'.
At present, Cham Muslims are the largest ethnic group in Cambodia living at the edge of a township (like any marginal, disadvantaged group) on the waterfront. The tour operators discourage tourists from visiting a fishermen village in Cambodia, saying, “those are Muslims; dirty people; live in the slum”.
Yes, the settlement is on the stilts houses, interconnected, on unclaimed government water body, all the daily garbage thrown in the water. But the painted boats and colorful clothing takes the attention away from that. With less space and increase in population, many are moving into the edge of the mangrove forest cutting down trees and saplings.
This is the survival of a neglected ethnic minority in Cambodia.
Kampot and Kho Khong , Cambodia, April 2013