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The history behind this Colourful Bo-Kaap suburb
Cape Malays (Afrikaans: Kaapse Maleiers, Malay: Melayu Cape) are an ethnic group or community in South Africa. The name is derived from the former Province of the Cape of Good Hope of South Africa and the people originally from Maritime Southeast Asia, mostly from Netherlands East-Indies (present-day Indonesia) a Dutch colony for several centuries, and Dutch Malacca, which the Dutch held from 1641 – 1824. The community's earliest members were enslaved Javanese transported by the Dutch East India Company. They were followed by slaves from various other Southeast Asian regions, and political dissidents and Muslim religious leaders who opposed the Dutch presence in what is now Indonesia and were sent into exile. Malays also have significant South Asian (Indian) slave ancestry. Starting in 1654, these resistors were imprisoned or exiled in South Africa by the Dutch East India Company , which founded and used what is now Cape Town as a resupply station for ships travelling between Europe and Asia. They were the group that first introduced Islam to South Africa.
The Bo-Kaap Museum is situated in one of the oldest urban residential areas in Cape Town. The earliest development of the Bo-Kaap area, which became known as Waalendorp, was undertaken by Jan de Waal in the 1760s. The house that today incorporates the museum building is the only one built by him that retains its original form. It dates to 1768.
Although the Bo-Kaap has over centuries been home to people of various origins and religions, the area is closely associated with the Muslim community of the Cape. The ancestors of the majority of the Muslims in the Cape arrived from 1658 onwards as slaves, political exiles and convicts from East Africa and South East Asia (India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka). The first mosque at the Cape, the Auwal Mosque, was built in the neighbourhood in 1804 and is still in use, although much altered over years. By the beginning of the twentieth century roughly half the population in the area was Muslim.
The history of the Bo-Kaap reflects the political processes in South Africa under the Apartheid years. The area was declared an exclusive residential areas for Cape Muslims under the Group Areas Act of 1950 and people of other religions and ethnicity were forced to leave. At the same time, the neighbourhood is atypical. It is one of the few neighbourhoods with a predominantly working class population that continued to exist near a city centre. In the mid-twentieth century, most working class people in South Africa were moved to the periphery of the cities under the Slum Clearance Act and neighbourhood improvement programmes.
Over the years the Bo-Kaap has been known as the Malay Quarter, the Slamse Buurt or Schotcheskloof.
The Bo-Kaap Culture
Famously responsible for the delicious Cape Malay samosas, a Cape Malay traditional dish that witnessed a South Asian influence. The Indian influence in the Cape Malay culture is essential due to generations of widespread intermarriage and union between the two communities.
The founders of this community were the first to bring Islam to South Africa. The community's culture and traditions have also left an impact that is felt to this day. Adaptations of traditional foods such as bredie, bobotie, sosaties and koeksisters are staples in many South African homes. The Muslim community in Cape Town remains large and vibrant. It has expanded greatly beyond those exiles who started the first mosques in South Africa.
Malay Choir Competition
People in the Cape Malay community generally speak mostly Afrikaans but also English, or local dialects of the two. They no longer speak the Malay languages and other languages which their ancestors used, although various Malay words and phrases are still employed in daily usage.
This cultural group developed a characteristic 'Cape Malay' music. An interesting secular folk song type, of Dutch origin, is termed the nederlandslied. The language and musical style of this genre reflects the history of South African slavery; it is often described and perceived as 'sad' and 'emotional' in content and context. The nederlandslied shows the influence of the Arabesque (ornamented) style of singing. This style is unique in South Africa, Africa and probably in the world.
Cape Malay music has been of great interest to academics, historians, musicologists, writers and even politicians. The well-known annual Cape Town Ministrel or Carnival street festival is a deep-rooted Cape Malay cultural event; it incorporates the Cape Malay comic song or moppie (often also referred to as ghoema songs). The barrel-shaped drum, called the 'ghoema', is also closely associated with Cape Malay music.
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