Coming Home, A Family History Story from South Africa
by Munadia Karaan
Until the last five years, I've always had trouble calling myself a proud South African. After all, what have I had to be proud of in a country that had disowned me because my skin pigmentation was too dark? The only thing of value I had to hold onto was my faith and the fact that I came from a proud people who had been brought here as slaves and political prisoners. That made me feel like a visitor in a country that had not accepted me for what I was, even if this was the only home I have ever known. Ironically, it was in finding my true cultural roots, that I discovered a new pride in being South African.
The colonial Cape was one of the only parts of Africa where slaves were imported from elsewhere. Many people referred to these slave descendants as "Malays", despite the fact our slave roots are diverse and do not necessarily include Malaysia. Some slaves spoke Malay, which was a common means of communication in South East Asia and is the same base language as Indonesian, but no Cape slaves or political exiles came from the area of modern Malaysia. About a third came from India and Indonesia, a third from Madagascar and a third from Mozambique and its hinterland.
But in the 305 years since the first so-called Cape Malays were brought to the Cape as political prisoners, there has been little contact with the countries of our origin. While the Malaysian government was quick to capitalise on our so-called links to their country since the birth of the new democratic South Africa, centuries have passed since we had any contact with our original homelands. Which is why it was particularly thrilling for me, a fifth generation "Cape Malay" to find my way back to the village where my forefather supposedly came from.
Tracing our family's roots was not the easiest of tasks though, since the history has been documented mostly by word of mouth and many of the elders are no longer around. So absolute accuracy is virtually impossible and I have had to accept the loopholes that remain in the family history we were able to piece together.
Tradition has it that our great- grandfather, Oupa Moosa Karaan, came from a village called Krian in the Mojokerto region on the island of Java, Indonesia. He was a young man with a wife and daughter, Zuweeda, whom he left behind in the old country. We surmise that he may have been forced to flee Java after revolting against the Dutch and made his way to the Cape around 1875 on an English ship, the Silvercleave, captained by one McLaughlin.
Perhaps it was his refugee status that forced him to stay on the outskirts of civilisation with fellow Muslims in Kalk Bay, as opposed to Cape Town where there was a bigger Muslim community. He later met one Imam Railoun, religious leader in the small fishing village of the Strand. Upon meeting someone from the old country, it was customary in those days to invite them into your home, as the old Imam did. It was this invitation that brought Oupa Moosa to the Strand around 1880.
He remarried and had a family here and later took over the religious leadership from Imam Railoun for the local Muslim community of the town - a vocation my family is still involved in. Although Oupa Moosa settled here, the old man always had a craving to return to his homeland, but was never able to do so before his death in 1935. It was up to me, five generations and 124 years later, to fulfil his dream.
Continue on to Part Two
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Munadia Karaan is a freelance journalist with some 12 years experience in print, broadcast and corporate journalism.
She holds the position as news editor and presenter at a community radio station in Cape Town, South Africa, and also acts as an investment consultant - just for added variety!