Cape Town draped in color for 'slave' carnival

Story highlights

  • Cape Town hosted Saturday its annual minstrel carnival celebrating the New Year
  • Revelers donned colorful costumes as they danced to the beat of marching bands
  • The street party celebrations are deeply rooted in the culture of the Cape Malay population

Glittering jackets, pounding drums and faces covered in bright paints -- welcome to Cape Town's New Year carnival celebrations.

Thousands of lively performers dressed in eye-catching costumes paraded Saturday through the South African city, dancing and singing as throngs of cheering spectators swelled the streets to revel in the carnival atmosphere.

More than 70 minstrel troupes -- sporting panama hats and colorful bow-ties, as well as carrying umbrellas and waving parasols -- set the city center alive as brass bands and singers entertained the crowds to the beat of ghoema drums during this year's "Tweede Nuwe Jaar" ("Second New Year) parade.

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"(It) may be compared to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro, or the Notting Hill Carnival in London," says South African Michael Hutchinson, author of "Bo-Kaap: Colourful Heart of Cape Town" and "Mixit - Voices of the Bo-Kaap."

The annual street party, which usually takes place on January 2, rather than January 4, came after months of preparations for the participating troupes -- each group of dancers, singers and performers had to prepare their own colorful uniforms and practice their performance routines well in advance.

Rooted in slavery

The vibrant open-air celebrations, which are deeply rooted in the local Cape Malay population's culture and traditions, have been shaped by varied influences over the years. Yet, it is widely believed that their origins can be traced back to the dark days of slavery during South Africa's colonial period.

"The story goes that Tweede Nuwe Jaar was the day on which the Malay slaves were given time off, because their masters celebrated on New Year's Day," says Hutchinson.

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In 1830s, slavery came to an end and the former slaves took to the streets to celebrate their freedom. These emancipation celebrations were apparently merged with the New Year festivities, creating a tradition that grew stronger in the following decades.

It is also understood that the carnival's current form has been influenced by the songs, costumes and performances of African American minstrels who arrived in Cape Town in 1860s to entertain crowds. The first edition of the carnival in its current form took place in 1907 and while the festivities were severely restricted during apartheid, the carnival has been growing in popularity in recent years.

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Saturday's festivities were just one part of the wider carnival. The celebrations will continue in the following weeks as thousands of onlookers are expected to attend competitions to determine the best troupes, choirs and bands.

Click through the gallery above for a taste of this year's street party atmosphere.