You’ve probably been to Cape Town, South Africa or seen photos on the internet and wondering what this coloured neighborhood of Bo Kaap (Malay Quarter) is about, who lives there, and what’s the story behind the colours.
Let me introduce you to Bo Kaap also known as Malay Quarter.
Bo Kaap region in Cape Town is deeply rooted in Malaysian, Indonesian, Sri Lankan, Indian and African cultures mainly from the slave trade in the 16th and 17th centuries perpetrated by the Dutch colonial rule. Located on the slopes of Signal Hill and above the city centre, this area is defined by the colourful houses, cobble-stoned streets, the smell of Asian spices and Mosques calling out for prayers.
When the Dutch brought in Asians as slaves, due to the cruelty and hardship inflicted on them, the slaves who were majorly Muslims established close bonds with one another clinging to their unique culture and tradition.
In 1950, the Apartheid government passed a law, the Group Areas Act which led to Muslims being segregated at Bo Kaap.
How did this Muslim-only neighbourhood end up with kaleidoscope-coloured exterior?
In part of celebration of Eid, the Muslim communities painted their houses with bright colours like red, pink, purple, yellow, green, orange etc. Neighbors would agree on what colors to use so as not to have a clash of shades.
The name was changed from Cape Malay (which means Malaysian descent) because not all slaves were from Malaysia but also other areas of Southeast Asia and Africa.
Top Things To See and Do in Bo Kaap (Malay Quarter) Cape Town
1. Free Walking Tour
Every day at 10:00, 13:00 and 16:00 Hours, the City Sightseeing South Africa offers complimentary walking tours in the Bo-Kaap area starting from their office on 81 Long Street. These walking tours are guided in English and last approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
Other companies offering complimentary walking tours in the Bo Kaap area include Niesel Tours from Green Market Square at 14:00 and 16:20 Hours with no prior reservation required.
To make the best out of this trip, wear comfortable shoes for walking on the old cobble-stoned paths. Even during summer, Cape Town gets very windy therefore it’s advisable to bring a light jacket.
All these Free walking tours are on tip basis so be nice and tip your guide.
2. Bo Kaap Museum
Located on 71 Wale Street, Bo Kaap area, this museum was established in 1978 as a satellite to the South African Cultural History Museum and furnished as a house depicting the lifestyle of 19th-century Muslim family.
Bo Kaap Museum is under the management of Iziko Museums which is a merger of five national museums.
Museum charges are as below, all in South African Rands:
|Children 6-18 years||10|
|Family Ticket (2 adults + 2 children)||50|
3. Cape Malay Food
Cape Malay cuisine, as the name suggests is a fusion of traditional Western Cape food and Malaysian/Asian influences.
Popular Cape Malay dishes include fish, spicy curries, spiced stews with the rich aroma from the mixture of ingredients like chilies, onions, tamarind, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, fresh coriander, saffron among others.
Rotis (chapati) and flatbreads are popular accompaniments for stews and curries.
There are a few cooking classes offered for Cape Malay cuisine in Cape Town; The Bo Kaap cooking tour in Bo Kaap, Andulela Cape Malay Cooking Class in Hout Bay are the popular ones.
4. Marco’s African Place
Great food and African marimba music are the two words I can use to describe Marco’s African Place.
Located in 15 Rose Street, Marco’s African Place was the first black-owned restaurant in Cape Town, established in 1989 by Marco, with a 220-seater restaurant opening its doors in 1997.
Marco’s African Place opens daily from midday to 11 PM and it’s advisable to make reservations (+27 21 423 5412) as the places can get crowded.
Game meat served is Kudu, Springbok, Ostrich, Crocodile, and Impalas. Make a point of trying at least one.
5. Auwal Mosque
Auwal Mosque was the first Mosque in South Africa built in 1794. It’s located on 43 Dorp Street and was commissioned by an Indonesian Prince.
The Bo Kaap area being mostly Muslim dominated, there are several Mosques although Auwal Mosque stands out.
Fun Facts About the Bo Kaap Area, Cape Town
- Bo Kaap has been known by many names- Waalendorp, Slamse Buurt, Scotcheskloof, and Malay Quarter.
- The area is home to South Africa’s oldest Mosque
- It is one of the oldest residential areas in Cape Town
- During Apartheid, the Bo Kaap area was declared a Muslims-only area by the Apartheid Government under the Group Areas Act of 1950 and people from other religions pushed out
Since Apartheid ended in 1994, non-muslim communities can now live in Bo Kaap. This has led to a surge in property taxes pushing out Muslim families who are not able to pay.
Hopefully, the area manages to hold on to the colour and culture it’s best known for, not just the paint job.