The many colours of Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.

  • Wednesday, 09 October 2019
  • Linda Chivell

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Bo-Kaap (an Afrikaans term meaning “above the Cape”) may be a riot of vibrant colour and one of South Africa’s (and the world’s) ‘Most Instagrammable Places’, but there is much more to this friendly inner-city Cape Town community than just gorgeous good looks.

These coloured houses, painted in hues best described as pastels on steroids, are home to a fascinating history and a community with deep cultural roots.

In 1760s Bo-Kaap, established by the Dutch colonialist Jan de Waal, began life as a series of undistinguished rental houses – all painted an immaculate white. The houses were built to accommodate Cape Malay slaves who had been exiled by the Dutch to the Cape from the Dutch East Indies (Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia) in the late 1600s. Legend has it that de Waal insisted all the walls be kept white, or the slaves would find themselves summarily evicted. When slavery was abolished in 1834, and the Cape Malay slaves were able to purchase their homes, the sense of freedom must have been overwhelming. The result? Homes and occupants disposed towards joy. And bright colours.

As for why so many different colours? In keeping with their reputation for being a community with strong ties and friendships forged through decades of slavery and hardship, we’re told that residents and neighbours get together to discuss who is painting which house what colour, thus avoiding colour clashes or neighbouring houses painted the same colour.

You can find Bo-Kaap above Long Street and Cape Town city centre, nestled in the foothills of Signal Hill. A five-minute walk from the city centre, and a 10-minute drive from the V&A Waterfront, the easiest way to access the beating heart of Bo-Kaap is to walk along Wale Street to the Bo-Kaap Museum.

There are also guided walking tours, some of which include a Cape Malay cooking course hosted by local women in their own homes. Keep in mind that visitors should dress conservatively and respectfully, in keeping with Muslim custom.

Duran Proper is the founder of Proper Trips, specializing in tours in and around Cape Town, South Africa

Read more about Bo-Kaap here



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