One of our more colorful group excursions so far took us to Bo-Kaap, a small district near the historical center of
that has long been the heart of the local Muslim community. Our pleasant tour guide, Bilqees – who has been active for a number of years in preserving the neighborhood’s character and history – began by showing us the site of a tree that long stood above the block on which the city’s slaves were bought and sold. Many of those slaves were brought to the Cape from Cape Town India and Eastern Africa, and some were lodged in the slave lodge, which has been restored and is now a handsome museum. As they were forcibly brought here, though, the slaves often brought a number of traditions with them, and one can still see the traces of that history in the prominence of turmeric in the local cuisine, in the heterogeneous Afrikaans dialect, and in the several minarets that rise above Bo-Kaap. Bilqees led us toward the most famous of those, and we were soon standing in the cool prayer hall of the Auwal – or first, in Arabic – mosque, which began to host services in the late 1700s. A few minutes later, she took us to a local grocery, where she showed us a range of spices for sale, and we then walked along a street of brightly painted facades to a locally famous quarry, where an early imam had delivered a number of sermons to the local faithful despite Dutch prohibitions regarding public preaching. Finally, we were invited into the home of a local woman, who had prepared a generous lunch of curried chicken, rice, and a custard with a dash of cinnamon. We left with full stomachs and a much better sense of the neighborhood, which may occupy a relatively small area on maps of Cape Town, but is clearly a rich and deeply significant site in the city’s history.
~ Guest blogger: Kerr Houston (Lisa's husband)