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The Story of the Cape Malay! - Discussion Forum

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The Story of the Cape Malay!

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Old 18th January 2004, 22:45
Malayamerican Malayamerican is offline
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A Cultural Link Spanning Three Centuries:
The Story of the Cape Malay
South Africa and Indonesia have only enjoyed formal diplomatic ties since August 1994, but it is not a well known fact that our links stretch back close to three hundred years.
Looking back in history, the colonization of Africa and Asia by European powers from the fifteenth tonineteenth centuries led to the enslavement of millions of Afro-Asian peoples, and an international slave trade. This slave trade led to the involuntary migration of large numbers of Africans and Asians to different parts of the world.

It was one such stream of people, most of whom were political exiles or prisoners who had opposed the colonization of their countries, that came to the Cape of Good Hope (now the city of Cape Town). The first such migrants began to arrive in the latter half of the seventeenth century, mainly from colonies occupied by the Dutch and the British.

The large majority of these migrants that came to the Cape of Good Hope were Muslims, who were captured and sent into exile from colonies such as Ceylon, Madagascar, India and the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia as we know it today).

The origins of this migration can be traced to early in the sixteenth century when, at the end of Indonesia's Majapahit Kingdom, European military penetration and anti-Islamic persecution caused resistance. The dutch crushed that resistance and exiled many opponents to the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa, which was also occupied by the Dutch.

The first Dutch settlers in the Cape of Good Hope arrived in 1652, when Jan van Riebeeck came to the Cape to establish a trading post and supply fort in the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape thus became a regular stopover for trading vessels plying the Europe-East Indies route. In fact, remnants of the settlement can be found

in the city of Cape Town today, such as the Castle or Old Fort.
The Dutch therefore required labour and utilised the opportunity to import political exiles from the East Indies as slaves. Many of these people were skilled artisans, such as silversmiths, masons, milliners, cobblers, singers and tailors. They came to be known collectively as Cape Malay, since despite their diverse origins as far afield as East Africa and Malaysia, and they all spoke the "traders' lingua franca"- Malay.

One such prominent, figure among the Cape Malay, or Orang Cayen (Men of Repute), who resisted the Dutch occupation of the East Indies, and is hailed as a hero in modern day Indonesia, was Sheikh Yusuf. He is credited with having brought Islam to South Africa. Sheikh Yusuf (or Sheikh Yusuf al-taj alKhalwatial-Maqasari, as he is known in religious circles) was born in 1626 in Goa on the island of Celebes (today known as Sulawesi), the son of Makassarese nobility, and the nephew of King Bissu of Gowa.

Sheikh Yusuf spent several years studying Arabic and traditional religious sciences in Mecca, and eventually returned to Banten, West Java, where he taught the Islamic doctrine of "Khalwatiyyah", which he had learned during his years spent in Mecca.

He eventually sided with Sultan Ageng in his fight against attempts by the Dutch to gain complete control of the Sultanates in the East Indies. Sheikh Yusuf was captured in 1683, and exiled to Ceylon and eventually the Cape of Good Hope, where he arrived aboard the ship "de Voetboeg" in 1694.

Having arrived in the Cape, Sheikh Yusuf and his family and followers were sent to Zandvliet farm just outside Cape Town, to prevent his influence on the Islamic slave population. The Dutch attempts to isolate them failed, and Zandvliet became a rallying point for slaves, and other exiles from the East. Today, this farm area is known as Macassar. As Sheikh Yusuf's influence and spiritual teachings spread, the elementary structures of one of the first Muslim communities in the country were established.

Sheikh Yusuf died on 23 May 1699, and was buried on a hill overlooking Macassar. Today, a tomb constructed there is among the 25 Islamic shrines or kramat that encircle Cape Town. In 1705, Sheikh Yusuf's remains were brought to Makassar (Ujung Pandang of today), and interred in a tomb located in Katangka Village, bordering on the Gowa regency.

Ambassador Kubheka paid a historic visit to the tomb while on an official visit to South Sulawesi in March 1997, to pay his respects to the memory of Sheikh Yusuf, and the cultural link between South Africa and Indonesia which he helped to found.

Today in the city of Cape Town, remnants of this culture are to be found as a thriving Cape Malay community lends character to the mother city of South Africa. Cape Malay architecture, food (such as bobotie and yellow rice, samoosas, rotis, etc.), tailor shops, mosques and the warmth and hospitality of the Malay people continue to attract tourists in abundance. Indonesians and Malaysians are visiting Cape Town in increasing numbers to experience this cultural link for themselves.

Who can ever forget the spirit and vitality of a Cape Malay choir belting out original Dutch folk songs on a warm New Year's Eve evening or at Malay choir competitions? Or the vibrance and colourful spectacle of the New Year's Carnival, when in true Rio Carnival style, a song and dance procession by Cape minstrels is held through the streets of Cape Town? Costumes for this carnival are planned and made months in advance by Cape Malay tailors, and are kept a secret by each dance troupe until the very day of the carnival itself!
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Old 23rd January 2004, 06:01
liza81 liza81 is offline
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hey malay!
That was really interesting! That is a part of our history that we are not tought much about at school. What they tell us is pretty much "slaves came from Malaysia" and that's it!
I really hope that you'll get to go to RSA one day and see the Cape Ministrels. That is quite an experience. I've looked around for pics online but have been unable to find anything

We have bobotie and yellow rice all the time. That's Sunday lunch! I can give you recipes if you'd like!
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Old 21st February 2004, 01:34
liza81 liza81 is offline
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wow, can you post the picture for us? I bet Malay would love to see it.
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Old 17th March 2004, 02:50
Malayamerican Malayamerican is offline
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The Bo-Kaap
The Bo-Kaap is is an historic and culturally interesting area of Cape Town. A traditional residential area of Cape Town's Muslim community, the suburb is situated on the slopes of Signal Hill. You will find cobbled streets, brightly coloured houses from the nineteenth century, Muslim shrines ("kramats") and mosques.

Most of the residents are descended from slaves brought here by the Dutch in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They came from Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, and elsewhere in Asia. They are known as "Cape Malays", even though this term is incorrect. Most of them are not descended from Malaysians.

The early Muslim slaves in Cape Town included famous scholars and religious leaders. Many others were skilled craftsmen and artisans. They have played a major role in the language and culture of Cape Town and South Africa.

Afrikaans, a language spoken by descendants of the Dutch and most "mixed race" people in South Africa, was originally developed by slaves. These people came from all over the world, and needed a language to speak amongst themselves and with their Dutch masters. Muslim scholars produced the first written texts in Afrikaans.

The Muslim community has also had a large influence on the cooking of South Africa. Cape Malay cuisine is delicious. It usually consists of a combination of fruit, spices, vegetables and meat. You can visit a restaurant in the Bo-Kaap where food is served in the traditional way: sitting on the floor and eating with your hands.

The Bo-Kaap is within easy walking distance of One World Language School, and is just one of several interesting areas to explore close to the school.

Kramats (Mazaars), the holy shrines of Islam, mark the graves of Holy Men of the Muslim faith who have died at the Cape. There are more than 20 recognized kramats in the Peninsula area, with at least another three in the outling districts of Faure, Caledon, Rawsonville and Bain's Kloof.

The history of the Mazaars starts with the VOC invasion of places such as India, Ceylon and Java. Local communities resisted the tyranny but their leaders were banished to the Cape. Citizens of Malay, Indian, Javanese, Bengalese and Arabian origins were also sold into slavery during this time, and these slaves and sultans started the first Muslim communities in the Cape. It was only during the British occupation that the first Mosque was permitted.

The graves of Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah at the gateway to Klein Constantia and Sayed Mahmud, in Constantia, are probably the oldest known sites of deceased Auliyah (Friends of Allah), both having arrived at the Cape in 1667. Sheikh Abdurahman was the last of the Malaccan Sultans, whose ancestors established the first Malaysian Empire.

Sheikh Yusuf, buried at Faure, is probably the most famous Auliyah at the Cape. Faure is not on this map. Of noble birth, he lived in exile due to the VOC occupation of his hometown Macassar, where he had spearheaded resistance. He was eventually persuaded to surrender.

In a broken promise the VOC transferred him to the Cape in 1693 and accommodated him on the farm Zandvliet. He provided refuge for fugitive slaves, and it was through his teachings that the first true Muslim community developed.

Tuan Guru, whose Kramat is in the Muslim cemetery in the Bo Kaap, was a Prince from the Trinate lslands. His " crime" is not known but he arrived in the Cape in 1780 as a State prisoner. After 12 years imprisonment, Tuan Guru became active in the Muslim community around Dorp Street and was instrumental in the first madrasah (Muslim School) to be built in 1793, and in 1795, the first Mosque. Another Auliyah who served a 12-year sentence was Tuan Sayed Alawie who originated from Yemen. Alter his release he became a policeman, to have contact with slaves and spread the word of Islam. He died in 1803 and was also buried in the Bo Kaap.

The positioning of the kramats is said to fulfil a 250-year-old prophecy that a "circle of Islam" will be formed around Cape Town. This circle starts at Signal Hill with four separate kramats, continues to the site at Oude Kraal, then Constantia, and further to the famous kramat of Sheikh Yusuf at Faure (Macassar). The old tomb on Robben lsland completes the circle.

Etiquette on visiting a Kramat.

Please maintain utmost respect when visiting the tombs of Auliyah. Shoes should be removed. Do not sit or lean on, or put your feet on the grave, and please avoid loud conversation. Sit or stand respectfully facing the grave and have no intention other than to derive spiritual benefit from the shrine. For further information contact: The Cape Mazaar (Kramat) Society.


There are more than 23 known significant sites of burial across the Western Cape, ranging as far as Worcester; Wellington, Overberg & Faure. Please read the section on the history of these sites to understand their significance. Visitors are asked to show their respect when visiting these and other sites.

The index to Mazaars situated around Table Mountain & on the Cape Mountain Meander map: Not listed in order of significance but follows the route described in the book "Guide to the Kramats of the Western Cape", available from P O Box 443, Gatesville, Cape 7766. Ph: (021) 6990500. Fax: (021 6990508. Email:

A Robben Island: Tuan Matarah

(Sayed Abdurahman Motura)

B Simons Town: Sayyid Musa

(Sheikh Suleiman / Abdul Samad)

C Muizenberg: Sayed Abdul Aziz

D Klein Constantia: Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah

E Constantia (Summit Rd): Sayed Mahmud

F Constantia Forest: Sheikh Abdul Mutalib

G Oudekraal: Sheikh Noorul Mubeen

H Bakoven: Sayed Jaffer

I Camps Bay: Sheik Ali (Sayed Bassier)

J Signal Hill (Ridge): Sheikh Mohamed Hassen

Ghaibie Shah

K Signal Hill (Army Camp): Tuan Kaape-ti-low

L Bo-Kaap (Tana Baru): Tuan Guru

M Bo-Kaap (Tana Baru): Tuan Sayeed Alawie

N Bo-Kaap (Tana Baru): Tuan Nuruman

O Vredehoek: Sayed Abdul Matik

P Deer Park: Sayed Abdul Haq

Q Mowbray (Cemetery): Sayed Moegsien Alawie

& Sheikh Abdurahman ibn Muhammad al Iraqi

R De Waal Drive: Sheikh Abdul Kader (Biesmillah Shah Bawa)
From as early as 1667, Malay slaves and political exiles were brought to South Africa from Java and other Indonesian islands. They were fine artisans, fishermen, seamstresses, tailors and basket-makers -- and excellent cooks -- whose skills were eagerly sought after and appreciated by their European masters.

By refining what was already in place, adding Eastern nuances, and making excellent use of local ingredients from land and sea, their impact on the Cape table was profound.

Like women throughout history who have moved to strange lands, Malays brought with them spices to remind them of home. These, including their multi-flavoured masals, added exotic flavour to Cape dishes.

Spicy sambals, chutneys and pickles added interest and fired up palates more familiar with bland European fare. They introduced the pleasure of combining sweet and sour, a significant characteristic of South African cooking.

Smoorvis (or "smothered fish") was originally prepared with fish which had been slated and dried in sea breezes. After soaking in water, the flesh was flaked and "smoored" in spicy rice. Smoked fish is more often used today. Though similar to many highly spiced rice dishes of India, this recipe is attributed to Cape Malays, who have for centuries prepared similar dishes using ingredients as diverse as lobster and hard-boiled penguin eggs.

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