Category Archives: nationalism

Comanchería Meets Indian Territory, 1830s

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 152-154:

With the passing of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, the United States government began a wholesale relocation of eastern Indians across the Mississippi valley—the proclaimed permanent Indian frontier—into Indian Territory in what today are Oklahoma and Kansas. The removal policy brought thousands of Indians into present-day Oklahoma and Kansas, creating a new and deeply volatile geopolitical entity on Comanchería’s border. The most populous of the transplanted peoples—the Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Choctaws—were placed in the southern and western sections of Indian Territory where, around the Wichita Mountains, their lands overlapped with Comanchería’s eastern fringe. Hundreds of removed Cherokees, Delawares, Shawnees, and Kickapoos also moved across the Red River into Texas, where Mexican officials offered them legal land grants if they served as border sentinels to protect the province from Comanche raiders and to keep illegal American traders from entering Comanchería.

A clash was immediate and, it seems, inevitable. Dismayed by the agricultural prospects in subhumid Oklahoma, many immigrant groups began to experiment with bison hunting. The westernmost bands of the Delawares, Kickapoos, and Shawnees developed a typical prairie economy of farming and foraging and started making regular hunting excursions to the plains, tapping into Comanchería’s bison reserves. Comanches responded to these transgressions by attacking the intruders and by raiding deep into Indian Territory to exact revenge and to plunder maize, cattle, and captives. The death toll climbed on both sides. The fighting also disrupted the Comanche-American trade that had flourished for two decades on the southern plains….

In moving across the Mississippi valley, the immigrant nations had encroached upon the Comanche realm but, more important, they had entered an ancient borderland where commercial gravity tended to pull peoples together. Their position between the livestock-rich Comanchería and the livestock-hungry Missouri and Arkansas territories invited the removed Indians to become middlemen who facilitated the movement of goods among the centers of wealth around them. Like the Wichitas, French, and Americans before them, several of the immigrant nations responded. A propitious diplomatic opportunity to attach themselves to the Comanche trade network opened to them in 1834 and 1835 when the U.S. government sponsored two large-scale political meetings among the Comanches, their allies, and the immigrant Indians, hoping to quell the violence that threatened to abort the entire Indian removal policy. In August 1835, some seven thousand Comanches and their Wichita allies gathered at Camp Holmes near the Canadian River, where nineteen Comanche chiefs signed a treaty and agreed to open their lands “west of the Cross Timber” to the immigrant tribes. In return, they expected trade.

The immigrant tribes did not disappoint, and within a few years the border region between Comanchería and Indian Territory had become a site for thriving trade. Although uprooted and dislodged, the removed Indians could still generate impressive surpluses of manufactured and agricultural products, which they were keen to exchange for the plains products they needed to survive in their new homelands. Comanches sponsored massive intertribal gatherings along the Red and Brazos rivers and on the salt plains of north-central Oklahoma, often sending messengers to Indian Territory to announce a forthcoming fair. Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole trading convoys frequented Comanche rancherías, bringing in maize, wheat, potatoes, tobacco, vermilion, wampum, beads, powder, lead, and government-issued rifles. In exchange, they received robes, skins, meat, salt, horses, and mules, a part of which they traded again to American settlers in Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Sometimes the seminomadic and more mobile Delawares, Kickapoos, and Shawnees served as intermediaries, moving commodities between Indian Territory and Comanchería. The thriving commerce also pulled more marginal groups into the Comanche orbit….

The dynamics of this exchange mirrored the direct Comanche-American trade it had supplanted, but there was an important new element: slave trade. The removed Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles [the “Five Civilized Tribes“] had brought with them approximately five thousand black slaves, and the bondage institution persisted in Indian Territory as the planter-shareholder elite set out to rebuild its exchange-oriented cotton and tobacco economy. This created secure markets for Comanche slavers who now commanded extensive raiding domains in Texas and northern Mexico. More improvised than organized, the slave traffic offered multiple opportunities for its practitioners. Removed Indians purchased kidnapped Mexicans, Anglo-Americans, and black slaves from Comanches, either to augment their own labor force or to resell them to American Indian agents, who generally ransomed the offered captives, especially if they had fair skin. At times Comanches bypassed the middlemen and took their captives directly to U.S. officials at Fort Gibson and other frontier posts, and sometimes they relied on comanchero intermediaries who then delivered the captives to American agents. Occasionally, Comanches even kidnapped black slaves from Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks and then sold them to Delawares, Kickapoos, and Shawnees. They also captured black runaway slaves from Indian Territory and incorporated them into their ranks.

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Comanche-U.S. Commerce after 1821

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 150:

In 1821, Spain’s American empire collapsed, and the resulting confusion in the Southwest opened the floodgates for Comanche–U.S. commerce. Only a year later, Stephen F. Austin reported that eastern Comanche rancherías had become the nexus point of three well-established trade routes that connected them to U.S. markets along the Mississippi valley. The northernmost route linked eastern Comanchería to St. Louis via a chain of Native middlemen traders. Below was the Red River channel, which funneled traders from Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans into the heart of eastern Comanchería. The busiest of the trade routes was the southernmost one, leading from eastern Comanchería to Nacogdoches, which had nearly expired during the 1812–13 revolt in Texas and then, like Natchitoches, became a haven for American merchants and filibusters. With close ties to Natchitoches and New Orleans, Nacogdoches grew into a major trading community, boasting an annual trade of ninety thousand dollars in the early 1820s.

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Comanches Meet the Americans, c. 1800

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 144-145:

A more subtle but ultimately more serious challenge to the Comanche-Spanish emerged in the late 1790s, when American merchants and agents operating out of Spanish Louisiana began to push into the southern plains. Evading Louisiana’s Spanish officials—and sometimes cooperating with them—itinerant American traders infiltrated the contested borderland space between Spanish Texas and the United States and then proceeded toward eastern Comanchería. Americans’ arrival constituted a litmus test for the pact between eastern Comanches and Texas, for the treaty of 1785 had anticipated the United States’ westward thrust and explicitly prohibited Comanches from dealing with American agents. Spanish officials expected eastern Comanches to honor the treaty, remain loyal to Texas, and banish the intruders. They expected that not only because Comanches had signed a political contract but also because Spanish gifts and generosity obliged them to do so.

The Americans, however, did not come as conquerors carrying guns and banners but as merchants carrying goods and gifts, and eastern Comanches eagerly embraced them as potential trading partners. Comanches simply viewed the linkage between presents and politics differently from Spaniards. Gifts, Bourbon administrators insisted, were contractual objects that created a political bond, an exclusive bilateral union, whereas for Comanches the meaning of gifts was primarily of a social nature. Bourbon officials insisted that Spanish gifts should forbid Comanches from trading with foreign nations, but this was a narrow interpretation of loyalty and friendship that did not easily translate into the Comanche worldview. If foreigners—American, French, or any other kind—who entered Comanchería were willing to adhere to Comanche customs and expectations, Comanches had no reason to reject them. Indeed, as the pages that follow will show, by demanding eastern Comanches to choose between devotion to Spain and hospitality to Americans, Texas officials eventually wrecked their alliance with the Comanche nation.

And so, by simply letting American newcomers in, eastern Comanches began to turn away from their fledgling, uneasy alliance with Spain, and toward American markets and wealth. It was a momentous shift that changed the history of the Southwest. By establishing exchange ties with Americans, and by linking their pastoral horse-bison economy to the emerging capitalist economy of the United States, eastern Comanches set off a sustained commercial expansion that eventually swept across Comanchería. Spanish officials were slow to recognize this change and even slower to react to it. When José Cortés applauded Comanches’ loyalty to Spain in 1799, eastern Comanches were already engaged in an active trade with the westering Americans, and when Pino echoed Cortés’ praise thirteen years later, eastern Comanches had already turned their rancherías into a thriving gateway between the Southwest and the U.S. markets. By the time the Spanish colonial era came to an end in 1821, the entire Comanche nation had moved out of the Spanish orbit. They commanded a vast commercial empire that encompassed the Great Plains from the Río Grande valley to the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys, and they looked to the north and east for markets, wealth, allies, and power.

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Ute-Comanche Slave Raiding & Trading, c. 1700

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 26-27:

Utes also introduced Comanches to European crafts. Having traded regularly in New Mexico since the 1680s, Utes had accumulated enough guns and metal tools to pass some of them on to their Comanche allies, who now moved, literally overnight, from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Although Comanches used the new technology to replace their traditional tools and elaborate on their old techniques, not to realign their basic economic system, it was a momentous leap nonetheless. Iron knives, awls, needles, and pots were more durable and effective than their stone, bone, and wooden counterparts, making the daily chores of hunting, cutting, scraping, cooking, and sewing faster and easier. Spanish laws prohibited the sale of firearms to Indians, but the ban was widely ignored in New Mexico’s trade fairs, especially in the northern parts of the province. The few guns available at the fairs were cumbersome and fragile flintlocks, but they nevertheless profoundly changed the nature of intertribal warfare. Firearms allowed Comanches to kill, maim, and shock from the safety of distance and to inflict wounds that the traditional healing arts of their enemies were unaccustomed to treating. And, like horses, firearms gave Comanches access to an unforeseen source of energy—gunpowder—further expanding the world of new possibilities.

With Ute assistance, Comanches incorporated themselves into the emerging slave raiding and trading networks on New Mexico’s borderlands. By the time Comanches arrived in the region, commerce in Indian captives was an established practice in New Mexico, stimulated by deep ambiguities in Spain’s legal and colonial system. Although thousands of Pueblo Indians lived within the bounds of Spanish-controlled New Mexico, strict restrictions prohibited their exploitation as laborers. Encomienda grants of tributary labor, the economic keystone of early Spanish colonialism in the Americas, were abolished in New Mexico in the aftermath of the Pueblo Revolt. The repartimiento system of labor distribution continued, allowing the colonists to pool and allot Pueblo labor for public projects, but that system operated on a rotating basis, making Indian laborers a communal rather than a personal resource. Most Pueblo Indians, furthermore, were at least superficial Christian converts, whose exploitation was strictly regulated under Spanish law. Eager to obtain personal slaves to run their kitchens, ranches, fields, and textile workshops—and to reinforce their fragile sense of honor and prestige—Spanish elite turned to captive trade in indios bárbaros, savage Indians. Spanish laws specifically prohibited the buying, selling, and owning of Indian slaves, but the colonists of New Mexico cloaked the illegal traffic as rescate (ransom or barter), whereby they purchased captured Indians from surrounding nomadic tribes, ostensibly to rescue them from mistreatment and heathenism. In theory, these ransomed Indians were to be placed in Spanish households for religious education, but in practice many of them became common slaves who could be sold, bought, and exploited with impunity.

Utes had first entered New Mexico’s slave markets as commodities seized and sold by Spanish, Navajo, and Apache slave raiders, but the allied Utes and Comanches soon inserted themselves at the supply end of the slave traffic. When not raiding New Mexico for horses, Utes and Comanches arrived peacefully to sell human loot. Their raiding parties ranged westward into Navajo country and northward into Pawnee country to capture women and children, but their main target were the Carlana and Jicarilla Apache villages in the upper Arkansas basin at the western edge of the southern plains. Traffic in Apache captives mushroomed in New Mexico. By the late seventeenth century, the people in New Mexico possessed some five hundred non-Pueblo Indian captives and were emerging as major producers of slave labor for the mining camps of Nuevo Vizcaya and Zacatecas; they even sent slaves to the tobacco farms in Cuba. By 1714 slave trade had become so widespread in New Mexico that Governor Juan Ignacio Flores Mogollón saw it necessary to order all Apache captives baptized before taken “to distant places to sell.” Many of these Apaches were purchased from Utes and Comanches, whose mutually sustaining alliance had put them in a position of power over their neighboring Native societies.

By the early eighteenth century, the Ute-Comanche coalition dominated the northern borderlands of New Mexico. The allies shut off Navajos from the prime trading and raiding locales in New Mexico and treated the colony itself as an exploitable resource depot.

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Climate Change Created Comanches, 17th c.

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 22-23:

Shoshones had created a flourishing and eclectic culture that belies the traditional image of the impoverished existence of Basin peoples; and yet over the course of the sixteenth century, they abandoned the Basin for the Great Plains. This migration was apparently triggered by a climate change, the beginning of the Little Ice Age, which ended the long dry spell and brought colder temperatures and higher rainfall. As steady rains once again nourished the grasslands, allowing the ailing bison herds to recover, humans began to move back, first in trickles, then in masses. What followed was one of the greatest migrations in the history of North America. As if pulled into a vacuum, people flooded in from the Rocky Mountains, northern woodlands, and the Mississippi valley, turning the plains into an agglomeration of migration trails. This human tide consisted mainly of groups that had lived on the plains before the great drought, but some of the immigrants were newcomers. Among these newcomers were the Shoshones.

Building on their century-old tradition of seasonal transmontane migration, more and more Shoshones filtered through the South Pass onto grasslands in the early seventeenth century, elbowing the Kiowas and other nations eastward to the Black Hills region. By midcentury a distinct branch of Plains Shoshones had emerged. Occupying the northwestern plains between the South Platt and upper Yellowstone rivers, these eastern Shoshones morphed into typical plains hunters who shaped their diet, economy, and culture around the habits of bison. They lived as nomads, following their migrant prey on foot, moving their belongings on small dog travois, and sheltering themselves with light, easily transportable skin tipis. In hunting bison, they alternatively surrounded the animals, ran them onto soft ice or deep snow, or drove them off steep precipices. These communal hunts absorbed a lot of time and energy and required careful planning, but astounding returns rewarded the efforts. The Vore site, a precontact buffalo jump near the Black Hills, contains partial remains of ten thousand bison, even though people used the site only once every twenty-five years or so. Hundreds of similar, if smaller, sites in the Shoshone range testify to a burgeoning economy and a flourishing way of life.

But prosperity did not translate into stability. Sometime in the late seventeenth century, the Shoshones suddenly splintered into two factions and left the central plains. Possibly seduced by larger and denser bison populations above the Yellowstone valley, the bulk of the people migrated onto the northern plains, where they were dragged into prolonged wars with the southward moving Blackfeet and Gros Ventre—wars that were still raging on when the first Canadian fur traders entered the northern plains in the 1730s. A smaller faction headed south and disappeared from archaeological record for several years. They reemerged in the early eighteenth century in Spanish records as Comanches, one of the many Native groups living along New Mexico’s borderlands.

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Comanches and the Spread of the Horse Frontier

From The Comanche Empire, by Pekka Hämäläinen (Yale U. Press, 2008), pp. 70-71:

A superb hunting niche framed by two major agricultural spheres—the Rio Grande valley and the southern prairies—the upper Arkansas was primed for commercial prominence. Comanches had capitalized on the Arkansas’ centrality since the 1740s, when they forged exchange ties with the Taovayas and the French in the east. From the 1760s on, however, Comanches increasingly focused their commercial activities to the northern and central plains, where the diffusion of horses had opened fresh commercial opportunities.

The spread of the horse frontier across the Great Plains revealed yet another natural advantage of the upper Arkansas basin: it marked the northern limit for intensive horse husbandry on the continental grasslands. The climate became increasingly adverse for horses above the Arkansas, turning noticeably harsher north of the Platte River and outright hostile above the Missouri. The long and cold northern winters took a heavy toll on foals and pregnant mares, and the vicious blizzards could literally freeze entire herds on their hooves. Such hardships kept most northern tribes chronically horse-poor: only a few groups beyond the Arkansas valley managed to acquire enough animals to meet basic hunting and transportation needs. To the south of the Arkansas, however, winters were considerably milder, posing few limitations on animal husbandry. This meant that western Comanches could raise horses with relative ease and then export them to a vast perennial deficit region—a prerogative that gave them trading power that was rivaled only by the Mandans’ and Hidatsas’ celebrated trading villages on the middle Missouri River.

As the various Native groups on the central and northern plains acquired their first horses around midcentury, they quickly began to look south to Comancheria to build up their herds. In the course of the 1760s and 1770s, western Comanches incorporated many of those groups into an expanding exchange circle. They opened trade relations with the Pawnees, Cheyennes, and Kiowas, who ranged on the western plains between the Arkansas River and the Black Hills, and with the Ponca, Kansa, and Iowa farmers along the lower Missouri, Kansas, and Des Moines rivers. Recent converts to equestrianism, all these groups coveted horses and were willing to travel hundreds of miles to the Arkansas valley to obtain them. They incorporated these trade journeys into their semiannual hunting expeditions, traveling along established trails that led from the Republican and Kansas rivers tot he Great Bend of the Arkansas, which was only a few days’ journey away from the Big Timbers, the favorite camping ground of western Comanches.

While extending their commercial reach into the northern plains, western Comanches continued to trade actively on other fronts. They visited the Taos fairs and restored the ties with the Wichitas that had been severed in 1757 when the Taovayas fled from the Arkansas River. Now traveling to western Comanchería from their new villages on the middle Rad and Brazos rivers, Taovayas traded garden produce as well as high-quality guns, which they obtained from wide-ranging British contraband traders operating out of the numerous British posts that emerged on the east bank of the Mississippi after 1763. As a dramatic example of the volume of this trade, a Taovaya trading party sold seventeen horseloads of guns to western Comanches in a single transaction in 1768. The three-way commerce among Comanches, Taovayas, and British thrived well into the 1770s. According to a 1776 Spanish account, western Comanches received quantities of rifles, pistols, munitions, iron hatchets, and metal utensils from Taovayas, who in turn acquired these goods from the lower Mississippi valley.

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What’s the Matter with Cambodia?

From Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley (Public Affairs, 2011), Kindle Loc. 258-289:

Ask any Cambodian leader why the nation remains so stagnant while most of its neighbors prosper, and he will blame the Khmer Rouge years. “We are a war-torn country just now standing up from the ashes,” Nam Tum, chairman of the provincial council in Kampong Thom Province, said in 2009, echoing similar remarks by dozens of officials, thirty years after the Khmer Rouge fell from power. In Phnom Penh at that time, the United Nations and Cambodia were putting several Khmer Rouge leaders on trial. But so much time had passed that the leaders were old and frail. Some of them were likely to pass away before they could stand trial. Pol Pot was already long dead.

At the same time, though, Vietnam’s experience over the same period complicates Nam Tum’s argument. Vietnam suffered a devastating war with the United States in the 1960s and ’70s that killed 3 million Vietnamese and destroyed most of the nation’s infrastructure, just as the Khmer Rouge (and the American bombing of eastern provinces) did in Cambodia.

The war in Vietnam ended just four years before the Khmer Rouge defeat in 1979. Yet today Vietnam’s gross domestic product per capita is almost ten times higher than Cambodia’s. Only 19 percent of the economy is based on agriculture, compared to more than one-third for Cambodia. Vietnam manufactures pharmaceuticals, semiconductors, and high-tensile steel. Cambodia manufactures T-shirts, rubber, and cement. Life expectancy in Vietnam stands at seventy-four years. In Cambodia it is sixty-one, one of the lowest in the world. (In the United States it is seventy-eight years.) [But see Note 1 below.]

Most Vietnamese students stay in school until at least the tenth grade. By the tenth grade in Cambodia, all but 13 percent of the students have dropped out. Vietnam’s national literacy rate is above 90 percent. UN agencies say that Cambodia’s hovers around 70 percent, though available evidence suggests that may be far too generous. Most Cambodians over thirty-five or forty years of age have had little if any schooling at all. The explanations behind these and many other cultural and economic disparities lie in part in the nations’ origins. Vietnamese are ancestors of the Chinese, while Cambodians emigrated from the Indian subcontinent. [Not! Emphasis added. See Note 2 below.] From China, the Vietnamese inherited a hunger for education, a drive to succeed—attitudes that Cambodian culture discourages.

Author David Ayres wrote in his book on Cambodian education, Anatomy of a Crisis, that in Vietnam, “traditional education provided an avenue for social mobility through the arduous series of mandarin examinations.” In contrast, “Cambodia’s traditional education system had always reinforced the concept of helplessness, the idea that a person was unable to determine their position in society.” Village monks taught children that, after they left the pagoda school when they were seven or eight years old, their only course was to make their life in the rice paddies, as everyone in their family had done for generations.

The two nations have fought wars from their earliest days, when the Vietnamese were known as the Champa [Not! Emphasis added. See Note 3 below.] and lived only in the North of the country. The rich, fertile Mekong Delta in the South was part of Cambodia for centuries—until June 4, 1949, in fact, when France, which was occupying both nations, simply awarded the territory to Vietnam. And North Vietnam, where most Vietnamese lived, early in the nation’s history, was not blessed with the same fertile abundance as Cambodia. As a result, the Vietnamese never acquired a dependence on “living by nature.”

Even with Vietnam’s fertile South, an accident of nature has always given Cambodia an advantage. The Tonle Sap lake sits at the center of the nation, and a river flowing from it merges with the Mekong River, just north of Phnom Penh. Each spring, when the Mekong swells, its current is so strong that it forces the Tonle Sap River to reverse course, carrying tons of rich and fertile mud, as well as millions of young fish, back up to the lake. When the lake floods, it deposits new, rich soil on thousands upon thousands of acres around its perimeter. The fish provide meals for millions of people through the year. Cambodian civilization was born on the shores of the Tonle Sap. The wonder and reliability of this natural phenomenon still encourage many Cambodians to “live by nature.” Even now, many Cambodians say they have no need for society’s modern inducements.

Notes: Brinkley’s book does a good job of assembling evidence of thoroughgoing corruption throughout Cambodian society, based on his own personal interviews and on reading what government officials and fellow journalists have written. This is how most journalists seem to work. They don’t appear to read much history, and thus have little frame of reference for anything that happened before their lifetimes. (They don’t even check Wikipedia!) The introductory passage quoted above contains the worst examples of garbled history that I have encountered so far in this book.

1. The Khmer Rouge specifically targeted and killed most of their urban, educated, and entrepreneurial population, forcing everyone into autarchic, agrarian, rural communes, committing excesses even by the standards of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. North Vietnam, by comparison, may have imprisoned, killed, or driven into exile large numbers of urban, educated, entrepreneurial southerners, but they had from early on adopted Russian-style industrial models of building socialism, which depended on cadres of educated technicians. Furthermore, within its decade of economic chaos and stagnation after absorbing the south (1975-1986), Vietnam began reforming its Stalinist centrally planned economy and moving toward a Deng Xiaoping-style socialist-oriented market economy (called Doi Moi). These reform efforts began in the south, which had had a free-wheeling colonial- and military-oriented market economy until 1975. In Vietnam: Rising Dragon (Yale, 2010), Bill Hayton argues that unified Vietnam owes its economic dynamism primarily to the former South Vietnam.

2. The Cambodian (Khmer) and Vietnamese languages are both classified as Austro-Asiatic (also known as Mon-Khmer), thought to be indigenous to mainland Southeast Asia (roughly centered on the Mekong River Valley), with scattered outposts in northeastern India. “Cambodians” never migrated from India, nor were Vietnamese the ancestors of the Chinese. All of Southeast Asia was heavily influenced by South Asian culture for many, many centuries, but only northern Vietnam was ever conquered and ruled by China for a thousand years (111 BC to AD 938). Like Korea and Japan, Vietnam long ago adopted Chinese as its language of scholarship and all three languages retain thousands of words borrowed from Chinese. All three countries belong to the Confucian-influenced East Asian cultural sphere.

3. Cham peoples occupied most of the central coast of present-day Vietnam for at least a thousand years before they were finally conquered by the Vietnamese between 1471 and 1832. They were maritime peoples who spoke Malayo-Polynesian languages and had wide trading ties across the Malay world and beyond. During the 12th century, the Kingdom of Champa sacked Angkor Wat, but it was gradually diminished and its people dispersed by constant warfare with Khmer and Vietnamese kingdoms. Like most of the Malay world, the Cham absorbed much Hindu religion and culture during early times, and much Islamic religion and culture in later centuries.

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