If you ever visit Bo-Kaap, you will not be able to overlook the colourful houses on the quaint cobblestone streets. People come from far and near to see these colourful houses that range from canary yellows and sky blue to bubble gum pink and lime greens. This area in Cape Town is a photographer’s delight and there are infinite possibilities when it comes to capturing the colourful neighbourhood.
If you are wondering when and why did the dwellers of Bo-Kaap start to decorate and enhance their houses in vivid, bright colours, you can never really guess since there are many origins to this ritual!
Some believe that the bright colours were in celebration of the former slaves' emancipation since the neighbourhood traces its origins back to the 16th to 17th centuries when Dutch traders transported people from Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia as slaves to the Cape of Good Hope.
Others think that since many of the new homeowners didn’t have much money, they simply used colour to decorate as this was the cheapest way to bring some personality to their houses.
The most commonly believed theory is that the colours of Bo-Kaap are in honour of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting wherein at the end of Ramadan, the Eid al-Fitr celebration takes place where it is customary to wear bright colours – a tradition that may have transferred over to the houses themselves. A lot of residents repaint their homes at the end of Ramadan each year as part of the celebration – meeting with the neighbours in advance to make sure the same colour isn’t used twice.
It is also speculated that it has a lot to do with the self-reinvention of South Africa as the Rainbow Nation. Some feel that when the Bo-Kaap community residents bought their houses from the city council, they decided to decorate their own homes with bright colours as a celebration of their new-found freedom and as an expression of long-subdued individualism.
Today, Bo Kaap is a place that every tourist must visit when in Cape Town and walking tours of the colours of Bo-Kaap area are readily available. If South Africa is the “Rainbow Nation” then Bo-Kaap must be the rainbow since this place is truly a gem!