Saturday, 23 June 2012

Bo-Kaap - uniquely Cape Malayan, delightfully colorful

On Saturday 16/6/12 (I'm still getting used to this way of writing the date), we toured Bo-Kaap, another neighborhood in Cape Town that is full of history, rich culture, and friendly people. Bo-Kaap is a mainly Cape Malay community, where the people are descendants of the Southeast Asian slaves that were brought over to South Africa during the Dutch rule. The term 'Cape Malay' is kind of misleading, as the slaves were not only from Malaysia, but also from Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. Since we have been in South Africa, we have visited many different townships and communities. Though each has their own culture and history, a connecting thread between all is that the people are very close, warm, and welcoming (even to loud, foreign American students!).

The iconic colorful houses of Bo-Kaap.
This is 1 of the 50+ pictures I took of them.
Ilyas, our tour guide who was born and still currently resides in Bo-Kaap, first took us to the slave lodge museum, right next to Parliament. The slave lodge was where the slaves resided; Ilyas also showed us the area where slaves were sold (it is now a busy, urban street corner). We then walked up to Bo-Kaap, which is located on the slopes of the mountain above the city center. Thank goodness it was a warm and sunny day, otherwise I am not sure I would have made it up those steep streets.

We first visited one of the numerous mosques in Bo-Kaap. Way back in the day, there was only one mosque in Bo-Kaap. Because everyone in the neighborhood went to that mosque, the community was very tight-nit. Today, there are numerous mosques, so the sense of community isn't as strong as it once was. Visiting the mosque was a great experience, as I have never been in one before. It was quite beautiful. As we left the mosque, we witnessed a wedding that was taking place outside. It really reinforced the sense of community of the neighborhood.
One of the many mosques in Bo-Kaap. 
The carpet faces toward Mecca. 
We also visited the Bo-Kaap museum, which is converted from a house that dates back to the 1760s. Before we began the real walking part of the walking tour, Ilyas took us to a corner market, which smelled AMAZING. Since I really love Southeast Asian cuisine (Indian is my favorite), standing in the market and smelling all of the wonderful spices was so much fun.
I wasn't as keen on the pigeon food however.
Armed with bottles of water, we began walking through Bo-Kaap. All the houses were so colorful! Ilyas told us that the Cape Malay people think of painting their houses in the same way women consider picking out a dress to wear to a party; no one wants to wear the same dress. So, no two houses can be painted the same colors. This was especially significant during apartheid, when the government placed restrictions on the Cape Malay people, who were classified as Colored. Painting their houses was a way they could express themselves. Bo-Kaap also participates in the Carnival street festival that takes place on January 2nd. This carnival allows every community in Cape Town to celebrate their individual cultures and unique music.
Unique Cape Malay culture is even reflected in the houses' steps.
Ilyas, our tour guide, showing us drawings.
Though Bo-Kaap is very different from the other townships that we visited, such as Soweto, it has its own culture that is truly fascinating. Not to mention, the houses are absolutely beautiful. I hope to return soon, especially to that spice shop that was unfortunately closed. I just can't get enough of spices. 
Beautiful Bo-Kaap houses and Table Mountain.
Christina Li

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