On the history trail: colorful Bo-Kaap

It was my first neighborhood in Cape Town when I lived there for a month in 2014 during my trip around the world: the small scale, beautiful neighborhood on the slopes of Signal Hill: colorful Bo-Kaap.

The Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter is a former township situated above the city center.

It’s the historical center of Cape Malay culture, and the heart of the Muslim community in Cape Town.

Several Mosques are located in in the area. Every evening at sunset I heard the call of the muezzin, for prayer.

On Friday, a little procession walked past my house in Chiappini Street.

I hadn’t expected a Muslim community here, and looked into the history of the area – vising the small but fine Bo-Kaap Museum, that tells you about the history of the area, and its inhabitants.

Slave trade origins

It’s origin lie in Dutch colonial slave trade. The Dutch East India Company brought slaves from Malay – today’s Malaysia and Indonesia, but also from India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar and Africa – over to their trading post on the Cape.

Simplistically, they were all referred to as ‘Malays‘ – hence the name of the area.

I love seeing these connections in human history, and its echos hundreds of years later. Even though it is a sad story and history, today it adds beautifully to Cape Towns diversity and richness of cultures.

The Bo-Kaap museum is located in one of the oldest houses in the area that is still in its original form, dating from the 1760s.

The early Muslim settlers, many of whom were skilled tailors, carpenters, shoe makers and builders, build up their own community. today the area is predominantly Muslim.

Which is also a heritage from the Apartheid era, when the Bo-Kaap was declared an exclusively Muslim residential area, and other people were forced out, in the name of racial segregation.

Today the area is known mostly for its beautiful colorful houses. It’s like walking through a rainbow.

It is also very quiet, without much through-traffic. Steep cobble-stone streets lead up the slopes of Signal Hill, where every day at noon the noon-canon is fired.

The area is highly sought after today, and gentrification starts to have its effects, as the original inhabitants can’t afford to stay anymore.

We’ll see how the neighborhood develops.

I loved to take a stroll through these streets on such a bright sunny day.

Blinded by the colors.



Watch these reports for more information on the Bo-Kaap:


Al Jazeera: Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap suburb fights for its heritage

Cape Town TV: Bo Kaap Heritage