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Cape Minstrels

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook


Once a year in early January, thousands of Cape Minstrels take to the streets of Cape Town, South Africa, to parade and perform a 300 year old traditional that is steeped in history.


The Cape Minstrel Carnival stems from the early slave era of Cape Town when imported Malay slaves were given only one day off from work each year. To celebrate this fact they would dance and sing in the streets and paint their faces. One of the present day rituals stems from the early 1600s as they paint their faces so that their 'masters' could not recognise them.


The slaves where brought as early as 1654 by the Dutch East India Company from Indonesia to work in the port city used by the European settlers as a major trading post. Today thousands of minstrels from different troupes gather in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town to parade their new uniforms and celebrate the New Year.


The Bo-Kaap area of the city is also known as the Malay quarter and is a mostly Muslim area that was once one of the original farms of the settlers and is now an area of brightly colored houses that is a major tourist attraction.


Bright colors abound as the huge troops of Minstrels parade through the tiny streets of Bo-Kaap, singing, dancing and trying to ultimately win the prize of best troupe. The troupes all have names like The D6, Transylvanian's, Happy Boyz and Glamor Boyz as they take over the streets in huge groups with lead singers and dancers at the front and the band section of the troupe in the middle.


As each New Year is marked and celebrated the origins of the Bo-Kaap and the Muslim slaves are not forgotten by the locals during the Minstrel parade.