Friday, January 7, 2011

Minstrel Carnival

As a tourist guide I'm often lucky in the sense that I'm at the right place at the right time. This was the case on 4 Dec 2009, when Cape Town was in a "festive mood" because that day, the Soccer World Cup Team-Draw took place [SEE: all my entries on this blog about the World Cup from Sun, 6 June to Wed, 14 July 2010].

Similarly I was in Cape Town (= right place) when this year's Minstrel Carnival "took to the streets" (= right time) on 3 January 2011.

The Cape Town Minstrel Carnival begins on New Year's Day and continues into January. Also known as "blackface" minstrelsy in the USA - in reaction to the horrors of slavery - in Cape Town the minstrels are known as Kaapse Klopse = minstrels are grouped into klopse (= clubs - in Afrikaans/Dutch), or "troupes".

The participants are coloured people (= Cape Coloureds) who typically are descendents from various mixed relationships between the original European settlers at the Cape, "imported" slaves and/or indigenous Khoikhoi. The Kaapse Klopse (= minstrels) often carry colourful umbrellas and each troupe is accompanied by a band = an array of musical instruments.

The inspiration for (or history of) this festival dates back to the late 1800's when a ship docked in Cape Town with travelling minstrels on board, who painted their faces black and entertained the sailors but also toured South Africa = "Hier kom die Alabama" (= a song) refers to this occassion/ship.

So this event became a legend & now is a yearly festival celebrated in the heart of Cape Town. It specifically starts on New Year's Day to commemorate that once, it was the (Cape) slaves' only day off!

Although Capetonians also call it the "Coon Carnival", local authorities have recently renamed the festival "Cape Town Minstrel Carnival". The street parade is only a part of the festival.

Black faces are no longer "the order of the day", and instead faces are "decorated" in a more colourful or artistic way, also in contrast to a time when traditionally, the festival represented the coloureds' grievances against white supremacy.

The richness and spirit of Africa is evident in the festival, so it's sad to note that in recent years, political interference seems to also be "the order of the day". Police were ordered to "tone down" the noise and some marchers were threatened. Similarly political intervention was responsible for "redirecting the route" and that this year, the street parade had to take place on 3 January, and not on the 2nd, because that day was a Sunday (or sabbath).

Exhausted? 3 January 2011 certainly was a blisstering hot day in Cape Town!

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