|Way, way back, when Cape Town was but a mere little dorpie at the very far end of the World. That is how this story would have to start. Look around you, at all the brightly coloured houses and the steep narrow roads, none of it were here at that time. This was a wild patch of land, well beyond the borders of Kaapstad, the little Dutch Settlement at the foot of Africa. Only many years later, when the British would come into power, would the name of the town be changed to Cape Town.
It was the year 1751. Yes, that’s it, 1751. That’s the year Ryk Tulbach became the Governor of the Cape. A man of his calibre was not often found amongst men in authority in that time. Mild, just and honourable, he was in all of his dealings. Kaapstad entered a golden age under his watch. Round about the year of 1755, Vader Tulbach, as the Burghers now started calling him (Meaning Father Tulbach), granted a small stretch of land at the foot of Seinheuvel to Alexander Coel, a member of the council of Justice.
Slowly but surely the small town of Kaapstad edged its boundaries outwards as more Burgers settled here. Even the Slave Lodge had to be renovated and enlarged to accommodate the increased number of slaves that arrived by ship. Mr. Coel sold the land beneath Seinheuvel to Jan de Waal in 1760. De Waal was the Koster van De Groote Kerk. The area was still beyond the boundaries of the town. Mijnheer de Waal approached the Burgher Council, declaring his intention to build several small huurhuisjes (houses for rent) on his newly acquired property. They duly granted him an adjacent block of land along with their blessings for his venture.
And so, it began. A few small houses, all flat roofed and single storey, all of them painted in handsome white, sprung up on what we now know as Wale street. And the area soon became known as Waalendorp. Many of them were rented to immigrant artisans and craftsmen from Europe. Freed blacks and freed slaves also took up residence here as the rent was rather affordable.
Let us fast forward the story somewhat to the year 1834. By now the British were the new Government in town. The British Empire formally abolished slavery in all its colonies in August of that year. Suddenly there was increased pressure for modest housing. Freed slaves flocked to the Bo Kaap in their numbers. They took over houses from the immigrants who had begun to move to the suburbs South of Cape Town. Most of the freed slaves were of Malaysian and Indonesian descent. Gradually the area’s name changed from Waalendorp to Malay Quarter. An unwritten rule that all houses in this area had to be white was lifted. To celebrate and to express their freedom the residents took to paint their houses in joyous bright colours. That tradition remains to this very day.
The Bo Kaap is rich in history. If the whole story has to be told, this listing would go on forever and a day. So, now it is up to you, Geocacher, to head out there and explore this area. Experience the culture and the sounds, and be drawn by the aroma of fresh coffee that drifts from the street cafes. Maybe treat yourself to the best Bobotie you’ve ever tasted in one of the little restaurants. You may even want to pop into the Bo Kaap Museum. (71 Wale Street) to learn more about the history of the area. Walk the cobbled streets and imagine what life must have been like back in the days when Kaapstad was nothing more than an upstart dorpie at the very far end of the World.