Preserving the old: ChamAttic

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Cham mosque

Looking at those pictures, at those memories of those few still standing, one could easily fall for nostalgia and an urge for ”salvation”. A sustainable tourism plan could come to mind, engaging local populations into preserving their heritage and in so doing, to generate new incomes. But doing so locates – and I would say enclosed – the old mosque in strangeness: the building is kept and taken care of as long as it is appreciated by those visiting outsiders. The mosque therefore becomes an outsider itself, and the discussion about renewed local expressions or architecture doesn’t even happen.

From the most excellent blog ChamAttic. In case you didn’t know, the Cham are Cambodia’s indigenous Moslems. Their ethnicity is sui generis – they’re not Khmer, they are, well, Cham. Once upon a time they had a kingdom of their own, called Champa, located along the central coast of what is now Vietnam. They spoke, and speak, a language related to those of the Philippines and Indonesia, they were once Hindu but converted to Islam in the Middle Ages. The Vietnamese overran their lands and they retreated into Cambodia. They seem pretty well accepted by Cambodians, but are not integrated – they live apart. Strangest comment to me by a Khmer: “They aren’t like the Vietnamese, they don’t steal Cambodian land.” I must study Khmer attitudes to land some day – the sacred Srok Khmer.

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