Klein Constantia: Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe ShahOn the 24th January 1667, the ship the Polsbroek left Batavia and arrived at the Cape on the 13th of May 1668, with three prisoners in chains. They were Malays from the West Coast of Sumatra, brought here after their defeat at the Castle of Soeroesang in 1667. One of them was incarcerated on Robben Island, while the other two were sent to the Company's forest at Constantia.
Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, the last of the Malaccan Sultans, was one of the two. He was regarded as Orang Cayen, a title which means 'man of power and influence'; and viewed as particularly dangerous to the interest of the Company.
The Malaccan Sultanate, from which the men came, was founded by the Sumatrian prince, Megat Iskander Shah during the fifteenth century. Megat Iskander Shah was a refugee prince who, after seeking protection from the Chinese, made contact with the Muslim Arab traders who were then appearing in South-East Asia. He adopted Islam, under which banner he embarked on an extensive military campaign in the Indonesian islands and established the first notable Malaysian Empire. By the end of the fifteenth century, Malacca was not only the greatest military power in the Malaysian peninsula, but also the centre for trade and Islamic missionary activity. The areas in which the Malaccan Sultanate had established its influence, presented the strongest resistance to Portuguese imperialism. Despite this, the entire Malaccan empire was gradually captured, and by 1511 only the city Malacca and some strongholds in Sumatra remained. The arrival of the Dutch compounded the problems of the Sultanate. This did not stop Malacca from encouraging rebellion in the areas captured by the Dutch. the Dutch attacked and subsequently captured the city in 1641. But Malaccan resistance continued. They still held the fortress at Soeroesang from which they launched sporadic attacks on the Dutch. During these attacks the bravery of the young Sultan, Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, was recognised by his followers, who saw him as a Saint, leading them in a Holy against the enemies of Islam.
In 1661, the Dutch decided to attack Soeroesang, but the capture of the fortress was effectively averted. Another attack followed in 1667, and after a fierce battle, Soeroesang fell. The Sultan, Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah, and his two religious advisors, were captured. His execution would have made him a martyr, and thus an inspiration to his people to continue the war. The three were thus banished to the Cape becoming the first political exiles here.
Oral history related that Sheikh Abdurahman Matebe Shah soon befriended the slave population he met at Constantia, teaching them the religion of Islam. He died here in either 1682 or 1685, and was buried on the spot, near the river where he took his ablutions, meditated and said his prayers. His shrine is at the gateway to Klein Constantia. It was contained in a wooden shrine quaintly situated amongst the trees, adjacent to a stream of running water. Visiting the shrine was a unique experience. One felt as if one was in the living presence of history, standing in a sacred spot filled with a spiritualism. The place has a serene atmosphere, with the tranquility sweetly complemented by the running water and the chirping of birds. The cramped little shack, with its small window and grave inside, was a wonderful place.
But the old building became dilapidated and a new structure was created. In the process some of the trees were sacrificed. It is a beautiful edifice, designed by one of Cape Town's leading architects, Gawie Fagan, and constructed by The Cape Mazaar (Kramat) Society.