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Kramat festival, a 150 year history

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This Easter weekend, hundreds of Muslims will descend upon the Sheikh Yusuf Kramat in Faure, Macassar, to pay homage to him as well as partake in an annual festival on the grounds below. For the Muslim population, the Sheikh Yusuf Kramat is an important spiritual shrine. The Kramat of Sheikh Yusuf, which looks like a miniature mosque, is located on the summit of a vegetated sand dune above a settlement.

Inside there is a bed of embellished quilts, under which Sheikh Yusuf is buried. There is also a plaque indicating that Sheik Yusuf, his 49 followers and his family were the first to read the Holy Qur’an in South Africa. It is said that through his first holy teachings the first true Muslim community developed in the Cape.

The tradition of visiting the Kramat over the Easter weekend period is said to date back hundreds of years where the Muslims of the Cape were allowed four days off to travel the long road towards Macassar to visit the shrine.

Ebrahim Rhoode, a historian from Cape Town suspects that this festival dates back hundreds of years, since the late 1700s. Rhoode says that he has evidence that dates back to 1829 indicating that there was already a Kramat erected by Muslims of the Cape.

“A book written by a traveller named Andre Van Rensburg spoke about the enigma of the burial place of Sheikh Yusuf which drew people to his burial site,” Rhoode explains.

“Back in the 1700s, Cape Town was alive with Muslims and in 1853 a traveller coming to the Cape from Caledon rode past the Kramat and noted that the area around the Kramat was full of caravans, the house and cart type packing up to make their way back to the central cape town. He found a lot of waggons of all sizes and makes filled with Malays dressed up beautifully.”

Thus, Muslims living in the Cape travelled the long sandy roads all the way to Faure in order to visit the grave site of the famed Sheikh.

“There was no road leading to Somerset West, the first road was only made in 1845,” says Rhoode.

He believes the Easter weekend was chosen because it is and always was a long weekend where most people were given leave for the few days.

“There is no religious significance but it is merely so because of the length of the days so they came to pay homage to sheikh Yusuf and at the same time have a leisurely time at the Kramat,” Rhoode continued.

“People would dance and music would play, dit was haraam, maar hulle het lekker ge dance onder die tuang se neus,” added Rhoode laughing.

Two residents of the Kramat area known as Tietie and Mama say that as children they would always partake in the festival.

“Our mother always made us new outfits because we were the residents of the Kramat so we stood out,” said Mama whilst reminiscing about the past.

These two sisters moved over 80 years ago to Macassar when their father was asked to be the Imam of the mosque that he built under the Kramat.

The sisters spoke about games that were played at the festival and how everyone had a jovial time. They mentioned that year round the Kramat was a very quiet place so having the festival there once a year brought some liveliness to the otherwise lonesome town.

“People used to bring chickens and tie it to the tree so that later they can be slaughtered, nowadays people bring ready-made chickens, it is really fancy now,” says Tietie, who sat on her porch overlooking the tents that were starting to come up on the field in front of her.

One camper who asked not to be named has been camping there since a little girl. She believes the festival has changed a lot over the years.

“Ever since the radio started broadcasting from the event, lots more people attend it and it’s a completely new crowd that comes here,” the camper explained.

“Sometimes the youth gets out of hand, but they must understand it’s a Kramat area and people should respect it.”

The festival is taking place this weekend and whilst people no longer need to travel by horse and cart, the festival still fills up every day of the long weekend with activities and shows bringing Macassar alive. VOC

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