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The Malay, ‘king of slaves’

At the other extreme was the Malay, described as the ‘king of slaves’. More quickly than any other group, the Malays learnt the skills of almost all the trades practiced at the Cape. When freed, many prospered commercially. Against this, however, they were regarded as temperamental and dangerous. ‘Running amok’ was something to be feared.

In my quest for connection to  Malay descendents in SouthAfrica, I have found few varied interesting topics. Since I am a novice at journalism, I have segregated these topics into four categories.

1) Bo Kaap Malay


One of the most picturesque quarters of a beautiful city is Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap. The Bo-Kaap has a special – and controversial – place in the city’s history. In the 18th century, it was home to a large proportion of the slave population (slaves or bonded workers) brought to the Cape from areas of Dutch overseas influence namely India, Indonesia, Suriname and Malaysia by the Dutch East India Company; and it has remained the home of their descendants for generations since.

The word “Bo-Kaap” means “upper Cape Town” – the neighborhood lies on the slope of Signal Hill. Once known as the “Malay Quarter”, the area was in fact the home of a predominately Muslim population. The Bo-Kaap has the most mosques of any neighborhood in South Africa (thirteen), and its Ouwal Mosque, established in 1798, is the country’s oldest. There are three traditional Muslim burial sites. The Bo-Kaap is easily accessible from the Cape Town City Bowl, which is the central business district of the city, and is just a few minutes walk from De Waterkant and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.

The vivid history of the Bo-Kaap is captured and displayed in a dedicated cultural museum within the district itself. Over the years in combination with the original Dutch settlers, the Bo Kaap Malay merged and melded and in due course laid the foundations of the unique Cape/Dutch, or Cape/Malay culture. The Cape Malay has over the years tended to be most obviously manifest in architecture and cuisine, and as a result of their influence, curry dishes are widespread in South Africa. The neighborhood remains a unique, wonderfully colorful place to visit.

2) The Malay, the ‘king of slaves’

A Mosque at the Malay Quarters

A Mosque at the Malay Quarters

For a few years from 1724 a slave station was maintained at Delagoa Bay. Coming from different continents and cultures, the slaves had little in common. They rarely formed a strongly united group with common aims. The mortality rate was extremely high, nevertheless their numbers increased not through procreation but due to the continued importation of slaves. Groups, and even families, were broken up and scattered at auction sales – there being no obligation on a buyer, for instance, to purchase a mother as well as her children. Although slaves formed a large part of the population of the Cape, they were never accepted as being true members of the community. Slaves from Madagascar and the African coast were the least valuable, although when Guinea slaves were first introduced they fetched 100 rix-dollars apiece, as opposed to the 50 paid for a Malagasy. Generally they were set to the hardest work, such as collecting firewood, for which they might have to search all day in order to collect just enough for a household’s needs for the next day.

At the other extreme was the Malay, described as the ‘king of slaves’. More quickly than any other group, the Malays learnt the skills of almost all the trades practiced at the Cape. When freed, many prospered commercially. Against this, however, they were regarded as temperamental and dangerous. ‘Running amok‘ was something to be feared. On one occasion an Eastern slave, in utter desperation and beyond caring, rushed through the streets, dagger in hand, slashing at everyone in sight and eventually stabbing himself to death. By Law Muslim slaves were not allowed to practice there faith.

frespak2.JPG (12876 bytes)

2) Rooibos Tea Industry

Pronounced “roy-boss” and means “red bush” in Afrikaans. Studies have shown this tea is comparable to green tea in the amounts of polyphenols it contains. It shows anti-mutagenic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activity. Rooibos is totally pure and natural. It contains no colorants or preservatives.

According to local folklore of the Western Cape-based Rooibos Tea Industry, Malay Slaves extracted the ‘tea’ brew from the ‘rooibos’ herb used by Khoisan tribes in the region for centuries. Thus, it is claimed that ‘Malay’ slaves established the practice of extraction on a small scale, which was later commercialised by German missionaries in the region such as at Wupperthal mission village, today.

3)   Noon Gun Tea Room

“Noon Gun Tea-Room and Restaurant is a home-based family concern situated on the slopes of signal hill, just below the noon gun, overlooking the city of Cape Town. Experience the breathtaking views of Table Mountain, Table Bay Harbor, the Waterfront and Blouberg Strand while enjoying our delicious Cape Malay cuisine. We welcome you to experience our traditions as it has been over three centuries. Our foods are spicy and aromatic, yet not hot… if however you prefer hot, please advise your waiter. Alcohol is not part of the Malay culture and is therefore not permitted.”

4)   An Interview with a local film producer

GM: Hi!

Bla! Bla!

Film Producer:

Good day,

This sounds like a really good idea. You should read more on the history of the Cape Malays as they’ve contributed significantly to Cape Town and South Africa. Islam has its roots in the Malay political prisoners and exiles brought here and its influence has spread far and wide. There is a Bo Kaap page on facebook where people from the area belong to and you could try there as well.

Otherwise, I am from the Bo Kaap and you’re more than welcome to speak to me

GM: Thanks for your prompt reply!

Bla! Bla! Bla!

Film Producer:

Bahasa melayu has been lost as a language a long time ago. The Malays at the Cape however contributed to a new local language called Afrikaans. You’ll still find words like Terima Kasih, piesang, baie and other such words in use but like I said its been assimilated a long time ago. Cape Town is a port city and as such people from all over the world came here and married or intermingled. The result is a mixed population. The Malay term was also used by the previous apartheid government as a way and means to segregate people and calling them Cape Malay. The truth is however that very few of the slaves and political exiles came from Malaysia proper but rather more from Indonesia and Jakarta where the Dutch ruled at the time. Islam became the common denominator amongst these slaves and political prisoners and this gave rise to a very strong Muslim community. Many of the shops in Cape Town and South Africa cater to the Muslim population and you’ll find halaal food all over. So often people think that Nelson Mandela was the first political prisoner held on Robben Island but this is not true. Sheigh Adul Qadi Abdus Salaam was a prince from the island of Tidore and he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 10 years from 1778 – 1789. While here he wrote a copy of the Quran from memory and also founded the oldest mosque in South Africa, the Auwal mosque.

There are some cultures and traditions that can somehow be traced back to Malaysia or the Archipelago and these are still strongly adhered to. I was in KL on a TV shoot last year and we attended a wedding. It was very similar to the Cape Town wedding I’ve attended.

GM: Thanks for your insight.

Bla! Bla! Bla!  Bla! Bla! Bla!

Film Producer:

I know P Ramlee and some of his work. Cape Malay is not considered derogatory but rather just not right. It was a name that was given by the apartheid government and many people view it with contempt. Don’t get me wrong, the term is often still used its just that people want to be known rather as Cape Muslims than Cape Malays.

GM: Thanks a lot!

Bo Kaap Malay article will be ready in few days time. Don’t forget to visit.

Do keep in touch and best of luck in your undertakings!


Film Producer:

Its been a pleasure.

Terima Kasih


More reading link to:

Malay:King of slaves

Sheigh Adul Qadi Abdus Salaam,M1,M1


Filed under: History Reveals, Malay Descendants,

2 Responses

  1. mamamaz says:

    Colorfulnya rumah 🙂 I like…..
    A: Pls do come to my house
    B: Where is ur house?
    A: At jalan *****. The one with purple paint.
    Next to the orange and yellow paint house

    🙂 🙂

  2. peacebuy says:

    Itulah, tempat kampung orang Melayu kat Bo Kaap, Cape Town. Mereka ini, kebanyakannya very ‘maju’ and suka berniaga. Sayang dah tak ingat cakap Melayu lagi. Tunggu ada you tube about Cape Malay’s contribution to the development of Bo Kaap area. Boleh connect with Bo Kaap Malay di facebook group!


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