For my last few hours alone, before meeting up with my other half, I decided to join a walking tour to discover Bo Kaap. There are free walking tours in Cape Town, they depart from the Green Market Square in the morning and the afternoon. You have all the details here.
Bo Kaap, or Above the Cape, also known as the Malay quarter is historical the place where all the slaves lived. The first developments in the area were undertaken in 1760. The Asian slaves (so Indian, Sri Lankan, Malay, Indonesian), later known as the Cape Malay – even though they were not all from Malaysia – settled down in Bo Kaap. During the Apartheid, this area was declared a Muslim only zone and people with other religions and ethnicities were forced to leave the area. This was quite a unique case as most working class people were forced to leave Cape Town and live in the suburbs.
The first interesting thing as you we entered Bo Kaap was the first mosque. It is the oldest mosque in South Africa. Now I cannot completely remember the story, however here is what I can: There is was no other religion authorised in Cape Town in the 18th century so there was also no other religious book apart from the Bible. Abdullah Kadi Abdus Salaam, more known as Tuan Guru knew the Koran by heart because he was very devout. He was sent to Robben Island (the same prison as Nelson Mandela) for political reasons. When he came out he entered the house that later became the Mosque and didn’t come out for days. When he finally appeared he had written down the whole Koran. Islam was permitted in 1804 and that is how the first Koran made its way to the Cape and Tuan Guru became the first Imam. The funny part of this, is that ever since, when there is a new Imam coming to Cape Town, he will read this Koran and check for mistakes. The story goes that never has such mistake been found. If you are lucky and knock on the door at the right time, you might be invited in to see the Koran.
We then had a little stroll in Bo Kaap. Looking at the all the house of different colours. It is a very interesting place and also getting very sought after. Our guide explained to us that houses here are not very big but are much more expensive than other places around Cape Town.
I didn’t have the time to indulge, but apparently there is one restaurant not to miss when you are in Cape Town. It is famous for their cape curries and the Malay version of koeksister (a traditional South African sweet) – a honey infused deep fried dough. I didn’t taste koeksister, but the guide did tell us there different versions of this ‘dough type fried cake’. I could imagine that a Malay version means more spices, but I might be mistaken.
Our guide then led us up a small alley to show us some street art. He told us many funny stories here. For example that all slaves wore exactly the same clothes: shorts and short sleeved shirts – when they had learned Dutch (or Afrikaans I suppose) they were then allowed to wear a hat, to show that they were more educated than others – they could decide which kind of hat to wear, so it was very mixed. He also told us about the only day off per year the slaves where allowed: the 2nd of January. That day is still celebrated today and has turned into a Carnival sort of day. In the times it meant the slaves dressed up like their ‘owners’ and behaved like them, but not in a very serious way. All these small things you can see on these paintings.
We walked around a bit more. Our guide let us know that it is a very safe neighbourhood during the day but it is a good idea to be out for sunset. He also told us that the colours of the houses are very random – there are lots of stories going around (that it shows the trade of the person living there, or the status… ) but none of them are true apparently. The only truth is that they have to keep their facades well maintained and colourful, in the same design as the others. No possibility of going all funky and having small flowers or other designs on the facade!
The tour stopped opposite the Bo Kaap Museum. It is a free walking tour, but these guys live on tips. So if you do join one, and really I wished I could have done all of them, don’t forget to give a note or two, it’s really worth it and they do an awesome job!
I went to have a look at the small museum which is a nice addition to the tour. There is also the famous cemetery to see, I didn’t because it was time for me to leave the city centre of Cape Town and join an other universe of the Mother City: The One and Only Cape Town and The Victoria and Albert Waterfront.