I learned of the existence of something called Cham, when a fellow pilot pointed out a man-made structure on an early flight north from Tuy Hoi airfield in central Vietnam. He explained that it had something to do with local religion (I have since learned that Champa was an ancient kingdom and the structures are religious shrines. I won’t bore you with details of history, which can be gleaned from any guide to Vietnam). Upon flying past, I noticed damage from gunfire and decay from natural elements and/or age. The pilot suggested that American soldiers used it for target practice or to take out frustration at being unable to punish an elusive enemy. These are probably the same kind of American, which criticized the Taliban for destroying non-Muslim religious relics in Afghanistan. Both cases are fine examples of winning hearts and minds of the local population. I do not recall my thoughts on the structure, its meaning, or American behavior, but was certainly interested in learning something new about a strange land.
My recent trip to Vietnam taught me that the people are proud of their heritage, of which the Cham make up a part. Relics from the past have been carefully restored and housed in museums. Despite many French injustices, some archeologists did a good job in discovering, restoring, and cataloging ancient items. Many are housed in the museum in Da Nang, a name known to some Americans for other reasons.
As I am with all creative acts of humans, I was impressed by the skill of early craftsmen and intrigued by beliefs of ancient folks. First of all, someone has to think up the stuff, and then someone else had to crave things from stone. Both are beyond my abilities. That said, I understand the place of myths in ancient life and am able to see through the hype of modern religions.
Upon learning the ancient myths of Vietnamese religion, I was not surprised to discover that many have been adopted, modified, or stolen by other religions. This is not a new feature of human and/or religious life. Of course, each defends the purity and uniqueness of their chosen creed, especially when reality points to creativity and superiority in people that have always been denigrated. As a side note, it’s interesting that the Cham people are closer related to Muslims than to Buddhists.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.