Bo-Kaap meaning “upper-Cape” is, as the name suggests, situated above the city on the slopes of Signal Hill. This multicultural community has a rich heritage and is considered the centre of Cape Malay culture in South Africa. It is easily recognizable by its quaint cobble-stoned streets and brightly painted houses built with a unique mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture. On this 2-hour Bo-Kaap Tour, accompanied by local resident of the Bo Kaap community, we will navigate this charming neighborhood that has managed to maintain much of its distinctive character despite the influx of “outsiders” now buying up property in this sought after location. We will learn of priests, convicts, slaves and even princes who lived in this community very much linked to the establishment and spread of Islam at the Cape. From museums, to mosques, to Malay kitchens selling their unique cuisine, we will experience the sights, sounds and tastes of this colorful suburb.
The Birth of Islam at the Cape
We start our Bo-Kaap Tour outside the Iziko Bo Kaap Museum, the oldest building in the area still in its original form, dating back to 1768. Although we won’t go inside, it’s an important place to begin our narrative as our docent gives an introduction to the history of Bo-Kaap. The neighborhood was originally built by artisans, some of whom were convicts, political exiles, and later, freed slaves brought to the Cape by the Dutch East India Company from Malaysia, Java, Ceylon, Africa, and India during the 17th century. Many of them were practising Muslims, leading Bo-Kaap to subsequently become the heart of Islamic teachings. After the abolition of slavery, many freed slaves moved into Bo-Kaap, rejecting the religions of the Dutch and English as Islam grew in popularity. We will talk about the theme of slavery and how the intermarriage of various descents led to a distinctive Cape Muslim culture.[For more on the discussion of slavery, venture out to Simon’s Town to delve into the subject on our Simon’s Town Tour
We will pursue our discussions further on our Bo-Kaap Tour as we walk the narrow streets in order to visit the city’s first recognized mosque. Auwal Mosque holds special significance to the local Muslim community as does its founder, the city’s first Imam, Tuan Guru. Our docent will help to paint the fascinating picture of the life of Tuan Guru picture of life, who lived in this enclave in the 17th and 18th centuries. Our docent will give an introduction to the history of the mosque, its link to slavery and apartheid and its symbol amongst the Cape Malay community. We may have the chance to enter the mosque in between prayers to see a copy of the Quran, written from memory.
The Malay Quarter
We will take some time to stroll along Chiappini Street with its vibrantly painted houses. We might stop to discuss the traditional Cape Muslim style architecture and the relevance of the rainbow colored houses, which is said to be partly linked to Ramadan and the celebration of Eid. Taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of Bo-Kaap, we’ll listen for the muezzins calls to prayer, smell the scent of spices; cinnamon, clove, and ginger wafting in the air, and watch the locals as they go about their day. We will discuss the multi-faceted heritage of Bo-Kaap which is reflected in its festivals, dance, music, and food.
Cape Malay Cuisine
No Bo-Kaap Tour would be complete without sampling some traditional Cape Malay cuisine. As the final part of the tour we will examine the origins and tastes of this neighborhood. We may sample delicious spicy mouthfuls from street vendors to discover favorite dishes like samoosas or koeksisters. We will also visit a family-owned and run spice shop, Atlas Trading Company, which has been in operation since 1946. Here, we will discover the spices of the East along with other delicious products typically used in both Cape Malay and South African cooking. (For more on Cape Town flavor, try our Cape Town Food Tour
At the end of our Bo-Kaap Tour we will leave with a greater sense of what life must have been like for the early settlers living in this community. We will better understand the origins and development of Islam at the Cape and how the Cape Malay community with its distinctive culture and cuisine came to call the Bo-Kaap their home.
Is this walk able to accommodate those with allergies or dietary restrictions?
We do our best to accommodate everyone as much as is possible. The best thing to do is let us know when you book if anyone in your party is a vegetarian or has allergies or dietary restrictions. We can warn your docent, so that they can try to make alternative arrangements. There is just a small snack involved, not a full meal.
Where do we meet? Where does it end?
The tour begins and ends in the small neighborhood that is Bo-Kaap. Your confirmation email will have the exact meeting point details along with a map, and 24 hour phone number for any last minute issues.