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Kinship and modernisation : an analysis of a Cham community of East Coast Peninsular Malaysia

Awang, Siti Nor


Siti Nor Awang


Colin, 1940 Creighton

Mark, 1949 Johnson


This study addresses the issue of the nature of contemporary kinship relationships among the Cham Muslim community of migrants from Cambodia, now settled in Malaysia. The study was conducted in 2006 in Pulau Keladi Village, a Cham settlement on the East Coast of peninsula Malaysia, and employed an ethnographic research approach combining traditional participant observation with simple survey techniques.

The study is primarily concerned with how modernization has affected kinship relations among the Cham. Modernization is used here to designate the processes of involvement in the commercial relations of a market-based society. In the case of the Cham, the transition to such relations was intertwined with the process of movement from their country of origin, i.e. Cambodia, to another country. With the process of movement and resettlement, this community confronted real challenges and had to develop new ways of life in a new milieu. From traditional forms of farming and fishing, which had been their main sources of economic support in Cambodia, these people utilized a similar physical environment to develop commercially-oriented economic activities in their new settlement. The degree of cooperation in the village helps producers to produce and market larger quantities than if everyone operated as an isolated unit. The spirit of mutual help which pervades this community, and which is interrelated with kinship, is an important aspect of this study. Through the way in which they responded to their new milieu and the cultural challenges which it provided, the Cham managed to re-establish strong kinship networks and to assemble a large group of kin in a single place.

Through examining the kinship structure and ideology of the Cham, their marriage patterns, relations between parents, adult children and adult siblings, the role of kinship in life course transitions and ceremonies, the utilisation of kinship in economic activities and the interplay of migration, ethnic identity and kinship, the study identifies the significance of kinship to Cham social organisation and explores the elements of continuity and change.

Over the last three decades, these people have undergone significant transformation due to the modernization process and resettlement. The data of this study suggests that changes have taken place in some aspects of their lives. However, compared to western communities, the resilience of kinship ties is clearly transparent. While there are more elements of freedom for the younger generation in many areas of life, they still accept considerable guidance from older family members, and the range of kin who are recognised and who meet regularly to celebrate family events, the preference for working with kin, the patterns of financial and emotional assistance, the relatively high levels of arranged marriages and of cousin marriage, the exceptionally low rates of divorce and remarriage, and the close relations between parents and adult children and between adult siblings, all illustrate the importance that the Cham attach to the bonds of kinship and their efforts to protect kinship from the eroding influence of modernisation. Finally, the study suggests that important contributing factors to the continuing strength of kinship are the historical and contemporary efforts of a minority group to maintain their identity, persecution under the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent migration and resettlement, which have all both accentuated the importance of kinship as protection and resource, and deepened the attachment of the Chain to a collective identity - now in the form of Orang Kemboja - which kinship plays an important role in maintaining.


Awang, S. N. (2010). Kinship and modernisation : an analysis of a Cham community of East Coast Peninsular Malaysia. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 4, 2012
Publicly Available Date Feb 22, 2023
Keywords Social sciences
Public URL
Additional Information Department of Social Sciences, The University of Hull
Award Date Feb 1, 2010


Thesis (19.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2010 Awang, Siti Nor. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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