Clichés du fin fond du grenier: From Caliphs to Kings – Some Saeth & Po Couples…

Title :

A Saeth / Po Couple.

Nature of the document:
Picture – BW.

Prei Pi Village, Kompong Chhnang Province, Cambodia. The couple is pictured in front of their house.



Thanks to Tuon Dja and her daughter Mchou’k who provided the picture of their parents / grand parents.


Usually nicknamed as ‘’Ta Arab”, “The Arab Grand-Father”, because of his physical appearance, Saeth Ahmat was a Saeth, a Sayyid, a descendant of the caliphs themselves, he would have emphasized. But among Chams, Saeth are more famous for being descendants of those foreigners who are said to bring Islam to Champa, and for providing the Champa Kings a powerful and loyal army.

The name of Saeth, both feared and respected, could be inherited only through male lines, according to the patriarchal rule of the Saeth. Therefore, a son would inherit the name whoever he marries to, but a daughter could only wed a Saeth to preserve the line.

Saeth Ahmat himself married to Math Salipoah (here on the picture), a Po woman, a heir of high linage of the Champa Kings.

As Po might have preserved a strict matrilineal tradition, those weddings have been very common in cham society, suiting both the Po and Saeth transmissions. But with the influence of the Muslim paternal system, it is not clear today, if Po might also have been following a paternal inheritance. Therefore, such alliances might have just been contracted to avoid marriages with “lower strata of the society”, the Rih, and protect a hierarchical status.

Not only Khmer Rouge regime, but before that the Norodom Sihanouk national integration politics, changed most of this traditional social organisation. If marriages crossing the rules of the social borders are now common and tolerated (Po or Saeth marrying with Rih, when not with Khmers), still Saeth and Po tend to try to preserve their specific kinship system.

What about today?

Mchou’k, Ira and Chab, back from deserts at the Sala Lekh Pram market, Kompong Chhnang province.

Mchouk’s mother – Tuon Dja – is the daughter of Math Salipoah and Saeth Ahmat. As she married a Po, the Saeth line was broken, and therefore Mchou’k is not considered to be a Saeth. But when Mchou’k married Chab – whose mother is Khmer but father is a Saeth – the line was born again. Their young daughter – Ira – bears once again the Saeth women’s name “Tuon”. Still, if Chab and Mchou’k want to pursue this ancestral linage, what they need now is a boy to be named “Saeth”. 

About social hierarchy and stratification among ”Brahmanists” Chams in central Vietnam:
LAFONT Pierre Bernard 1964 : « Contribution à l’étude des structures sociales des chams du Viet-Nam », BEFEO LII, Paris, p 157-171.

And when it comes to Saeth and Po kingship, this is something I have been spending most of my time on for the past few years, so just bear with me and hopefully I will post an update on those research soon enough on this blog.

Phnom Penh, February 11, 2013, Emiko Stock.

Those little field-notes are reminiscences of the past blogs and shares. While they are not proud of their flaws, I thought they shouldn’t be punished for it. Hopefully you will forgive them to be just as they come, just as they will remain.

* Originally published on the former Du Fin Fond Du Grenier website, November 2007.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


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