Bo Kaap: The History Behind the Cape Malays of Cape Town

Culture Facts

Where: Bo-Kaap District, Cape Town, South Africa
Former slaves from the East Indies, Muslims who’s language forms the roots of Afrikaans
Discover: The exotic culture epitomised in the tropical Cape Malay Curry


The Cape Malays are the only cultural group of their kind globally. They are a long standing people of South Africa who originally came as slaves, political prisoners or exiles from the Dutch East Indies and were brought from countries as spread out as India to Eastern Indonesia. They came to be called Cape Malays as they all spoke Malay, an important trading language at that time.

Cape Malays are also known as Cape Muslims. They were tied by a common language, religion and presence of important political and religious figures. The culture has endured centuries and some of the worst abuses of the Apartheid regime. Their interaction with the Dutch produced a ‘kitchen’ Dutch that was the beginnings of the Afrikaans language.

Where to Meet the Cape Malays

The Circle of Karamats around Cape Town is made up of tombs of twenty five saints from the Muslim community. One important exile is Tuan Guru from Tidore. He spent thirteen years on Robben Island and copied the Koran from memory in a very accurate reproduction and also helped Establish the first Mosque.

If you are in Cape Town you should make time to visit Bo-Kaap, which is the Malay quarter. A tour by a local resident is well worth it. You should also sample a Cape Malay curry which you can get all over South Africa and represents the exotic origins of this unique culture. The curry is rich in spices and fruits, particularly dried apricots.

More Information

The Bo Kaap or Malay Quarter in Cape Town, South Africa
A great and concise guide to this intriguing area of Cape Town. Great links to all the relevant sights in the area.

The Story of the Cape Malay
This is a nice little piece on the history of this cultures origin. It focuses mainly on the Cape Malays from Indonesia but still has plenty of useful information.

By Electra Gilles

Main image courtesy of Cape Town Tourism