Cape Malays…

and their Heritage

The Assimilation: Enslavement (1652 – 1699)

Posted by tahirfarrath on December 1, 2009

(History of Muslims in South Africa)

1652 – J S Mayson, describing the Islamic life in the 19th century Cape Town, in The Malays of Cape Town, writes: “In 1652 a few Malays of Batavia were brought by the Dutch into the Residency, and subsequent Settlement of the Cape of Good Hope…” It is possible that these “Malays of Batavia” were the first Muslims to come to this country.

1653 – 2 March, The first slave, Abraham, a stowaway from Batavia, is given to Van Riebeeck. He works for the Company until sent back to Batavia three years later.

1654 – Four “Asiatics” had been sentenced by the High Court of Justice in Batavia to banishment and hard labour for life. Their crime: preaching insurrection in Batavia against Dutch rule. Three of them were sent in the Haaselt to Mauritius and one was brought to the Cape of Good Hope. This political prisoner was probably among the the first recorded Muslim to land on South African soil, two years after the White settlement in the country.

1658 – The first recorded arrival of Muslims were known as the Mardyckers (the word “implies” freedom as opposed to the reissued Placaat of 1642 in 1657). They were brought from Amboyna in the southern Mollucca Islands for the protection of the colony and for serving as a labour force. The 1642 Placaat issued by Van Diemen and reissued by Governor Maetsuyckers in 1657 in anticipation of the arrival of Muslims in the Cape that stated:

“No one shall trouble the Amboinese about their religion or annoy them; so long as they do not practise in public or venture to propagate it amongst Christians and heathens. Offenders to be punished with death, but should there be amongst them those who had been drawn to God to become Christians, they were not to be prevented from joining Christian churches”

(Quoted in Achmat Davids, Mosques of the BoKaap, The South African Institute of Arabic and Islamic Research [Cape Town] 1980, p87 from Aspeling, E, The Cape Malays by a Cape Colonist, W A Richards & Son, 1883.)

Historically, it is certain that the Dutch East India Company decided to use the Cape as a penal settlement for political prisoners. Slaves, political exiles and convicts were brought to the Cape from the Malay archipelago (especially the Celebes and Java and later Macassar and the Indian archipelago, such as Bengal, Coromandel and the Malabar Coast).

Slavery is often associated with the introduction of Islam to the Cape. In spite of the Western Cape having a very large Muslim community, not all Cape Muslims are descendents of slaves. However, Islam was regarded as the religion of resistance that was brought to the Cape by Muslim political exiles and slaves from the East Indies.

Over 50% of the slaves came from India. People from India were taken to the Cape and sold into slavery – soon after Jan van Riebeeck set up a Dutch settlement at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 – to do domestic work for the settlers, as well as the dirty and hard work on the farms.

The Dutch were mainly traders, and though they were not slave raiders, they exchanged firearms and brandy for slaves and encouraged slavery at the Cape (Van Rensberg, n.d.). Since the Burghers were not allowed to trade slaves in their own country of origin, the slave trade to the Cape was controlled by the VOC. However, Laurens Real, the Governor-General in the East Indies from 1615-1619, introduced slave labour into the nutmeg plantations on Amboina in the East Indies. His successor, Jan Pieterzoon Coen (1619-1623 and 1627-1629) introduced slave labour in the rest of VOC settlements in the East Indies. Therefore, when Jan van Riebeeck established a settlement in the Cape in 1652, slavery was already regarded as an accepted way of obtaining labour.

The definition of slavery was not clear-cut. Many forms of slave labour existed in the past and many forms of labour were called unfree or bonded labour and not everyone agreed that all bonded labour should be called slavery. Thus, the VOC send out slavers to buy slaves and bring them to the Cape Colony. These slave expeditions went mainly to Mozambique and Madagascar. The form of slavery used in the Cape Colony and the Americas is called chattel slavery. Chattel slaves were obtained in the lands of their birth and taken against their will to different places where they were sold again.

The Dutch takes Human cargo

The first slaves at the Cape also arrived on 28 March 1658 on board the Amersfoort. This group was captured by the Dutch from a Portuguese slaver that was on its way to Brazil. Of the 250 slaves that were captured, only 170 survived the journey to the Cape. Most of the slaves on board the Amersfoort were originally captured by the Portuguese in present-day Angola. The second group also came from West Africa. On 6 May 1658, 228 slaves from Ghana arrived at the Cape on board the Hassalt. These two groups were the only slaves who came from West Africa.

Displacement of Indigenous People to the Southern most Tip of Africa (and Ceylon).

Human cargo of slaves who were snatched away from their families and lands, and survived the treacherous sea voyage, would have greeted their destination with relief after that ordeal. They may have also feared the unknown with uncertainty on what would become of them. This must have pressed hard on their hearts and spirits. Now banished from their familiar environment and being subjected to harsh treatment, sold, transported many times and then placed at the mercy of some strange person as their property.

1667 – Arrival of political exiles [Orang Cayen].

This year saw the arrival of more Muslim political exiles banished by the Dutch to the Cape. The Polsbroek left Batavia and arrived on the 13th of May 1668 with three prisoners. They were from the West Coast of Sumatra after their defeat at the Castle of Soeroesang. One was incarcerated on Robben Island and Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah was one of two who were sent to the Company’s forest at Constantia. The Malaccan Sulatanate from where they came was by established by Megat Iskander Shah, a Sumatrian prince. These political exiles or Orang Cayen were Muslim men of wealth and influence who were banished to the Cape from their homeland in the East because the Dutch feared them as a threat to their political and economic hegemony. The first political exiles were the rulers of Sumatra. They were Sheikh Abdurahman Matahe Sha and Sheikh Mahmood. (Both were buried in Constantia.) From the very outset the Cape authorities accommodated the exiles away from Cape Town as they feared the exiles would escape. A tomb for these political exiles has been erected on “Islam Hill” in Constantia in the Cape. (Shaykh Yusuf of Macassar is the best known of the Orang Cayen.)

1681 – Officially Cape designated place of political exiles.

From 1681 onwards the Cape of Good Hope became an official place of confinement for Eastern political prisoners of rank of the Dutch East India Company. Macassarian princes arrived at the Cape and were sentenced for opposing Dutch rule. They were housed in stables at the Castle of Good Hope. As former heads of state in the Indonesian archipelago, they, however, exerted very little direct influence in the establishment and development of Islam at the Cape. Thus, the role of the political exiles in the establishment of Islam has been greatly overplayed at this time.

1694 – Arrival of Shaykh Yusuf.

Shaykh Yusuf [‘Abidin Tadia Tjoessoep] was born in 1626 of noble birth in Goa in the East Indies. He fought alongside and supported Sultan Ajung of Bantam, Goa, in his war against the Dutch. Twice Shaykh Yusuf escaped from Dutch custody in the East, but was finally persuaded in 1694 to surrender on the promise of a pardon. The Dutch did not fulfil their promise and Shaykh Yusuf was banished, along with his family and followers, to the Castle in Batavia from where he was transferred, under armed guard, to the Castle in Colombo, Ceylon [now Sri Lanka]. Fearing Shaykh Yusuf’s influence in Ceylon the Dutch exiled him to the Cape of Good Hope ten years after his initial surrender. The Shaykh arrived on board `De Voetboog’ on April 02, 1694 along with his retinue of 49 which included his two wives [Carecontoe and Carepane], two slave girls [Mu’minah and Na’imah], 12 children, 12 imams [religious leaders] and several friends with their families. He was royally welcomed by Governor Simon van der Stel at the Cape. They were housed on a farm in Zandvleit, near the mouth of the Eerste River in the Cape, far from Cape Town, on June 14, 1694. The Company’s attempt to isolate Shaykh Yusuf at Zandvleit did not succeed. On the contrary, Zandvleit turned out to be the rallying point for `fugitive’ slaves and other exiles from (he East. It was here that the first cohesive Muslim community in South Africa was established. Since many of the Shaykh’s followers hailed from Makassar, the district around Zandvleit is still known today as Macassar.

1697 – Arrival of the Rajah of Tambora [Abdul Basi Sultania].

Another political exile to be brought to the Cape was the Abdul Basi Sultania, the Rajah of Tambora. Tambora was originally part of the Majaphit Kingdom of Java. The Rajah arrived at the Cape in chains, being sentenced for actively opposing the Dutch East India Company in his native country. On his arrival at the Cape, he was housed in a stable at the Castle in Cape Town, but upon Shaykh Yusuf’s intervention, the Cape authorities moved the Rajah to Vergelegen in the district of Stellenbosch to live in isolation and away from other political exiles. Robert Shell 7 maintains that the Voortrekker leader, Piet Retief, was a descendant of the Rajah of Tambora.

1697 – First hand-written Qur’an at the Cape.

The Rajah of Tambora, while living in isolation with his family at Vergelegen, wrote from memory the holy Qur’an which was given as a gift to the Governor, Simon van der Stel. This Qur’an, the first written in the Cape Colony, probably never passed out of Vergelegen.

1699 – Death of Sheikh Yusuf

Shaykh Yusuf died on May 23, 1699 at the age of 73. Shortly after his death, the Rajah of Goa petitioned the Dutch Governor-General and the Council at Batavia to transfer Shaykh Yusuf’s widows, children, friends and servants back to Batavia. Thus in 1704 after much petitioning the Company allowed solely the Shaykh’s widows and daughters to return to Batavia on two ships: De Liefde and De Spiegel. As far as Shaykh Yusuf’s sons and grandsons were concerned, only those below the age of five/six were permitted to go back. The Company resolved to keep Shaykh Yusuf’s friends and servants and had them evaluated. They were forced to work for the Company until their term of service was deemed as adequate recompen­sation for what it had cost the Company to maintain the Shaykh and his retinue at Zandvleit. One of Shaykh Yusuf’s daughters, Zytia Sara Marouff, who had married the exiled King of Tambora at the Cape, remained behind, and two of the Shaykh’s followers requested the Cape authorities for permission to stay at the Cape. The tomb of Shaykh Yusuf is situated at Zandvleit, Faure, in the Cape. It was rebuilt [as it stands today] by Haji Sullaiman Shah Mohammed, a Muslim philanthropist of Cape Town, in 1927.


2 Responses to “The Assimilation: Enslavement (1652 – 1699)”

  1. Fadia said


    I have continuously searched the internet for more information regarding Sri Lankan Malays family roots. I have come across some useful information but not the one Im searching for..
    Im actually trying to find the roots of my family name as well as my mother’s maiden name…and i was hoping if you have any information as to where i could find the details and the list of names of the exiles from Java.
    I would greatly appreciate a response, no matter how negative it is. 🙂

  2. Macassarian Descendant said

    I am very keen to know the number and names of Macassarian royalty and nobility, for example the Macassarian princes who you mention arrived at the Cape, were sentenced for opposing Dutch rule, and housed in stables at the Castle of Good Hope. How many members of royalty or nobility from Macassar were brought to the Cape in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, who were they and what happened to them?

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