Walking into the colorful Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town is like going from black and white to amazing Technicolor. The sun peeked through the clouds compounding the dazzling effects of the bright colors gracing the homes and businesses; I felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz.
The Bo Kaap, in the shadow of Signal Hill, is the heart of the Cape Malay population in Cape Town. Smells of delicious foods fill the air and the call to prayer rings out five times a day in a delightful melody of penance. The earliest members of the ethnic group known today as Cape Malay arrived as slaves and were brought to Cape Town from Southeast Asia by the Dutch. Future generations including (now) Indonesian Muslim leaders were sent into exile and forced to resettle in South Africa. Cape Malays also have a South Asian or Indian heritage, and it was their influence that brought Islam to South Africa. Over time their cultural, and culinary adaptations became ingrained into daily life in South Africa, especially the food and especially in Cape Town.
The bright colors that are now emblematic of the neighborhood is a more recent phenomenon, starting in the 90s after the end of apartheid. Painting the homes in bright, cheerful colors was a way to express happiness and joy and has developed into a tradition throughout the neighborhood. Owners may paint their homes whenever they want to, just as long as there’s variety on the street.
Walking through the neighborhood is a must for any visitor, especially when you combine it with a delicious Cape Malay cooking experience.