National Geographic : 1942 Aug
Busy Corner-the Cape of Good Hope (the Union's House of Parliament), a tur baned Indian snake charmer usually sits en tertaining office workers during the noon hour. Others of his kinsmen work in hotels. Over half of the city's population, how ever, is of European extraction. You hear them speaking English and Afrikaans. Shop signs and markers on parking places, as well as official papers, are in both languages. Colorful and numerous are the Malay peo ple. Muezzins daily call more than 30,000 of the faithful to prayer from 30-odd mosques in the city. The first Malays were brought here in 1652, the year of the settlement of the Cape. Others came from time to time as slaves or as exiles. In early days the Malays were servants to the Dutch officials. Now they are coopers, tailors, and gardeners (Plate VIII). When I asked a cabby one night if he was a Malay, I got the reply: "No, I'm a Chris tian." Later I learned that the term "Malay" has become synonymous with "Moslem," be cause most of the people have maintained a religious link with Mecca through pilgrimages there. They have also acquired considerable Arab blood. With Dr. I. D. du Plessis, lecturer in Neth erlands and Afrikaans literature at the Uni versity of Capetown, I visited some of the mosques and talked with their sheiks, one of whom had spent eight years in Mecca. We also attended a ceremony in which Ma lay men sawed at their arms with sharp swords and jabbed skewers into their flesh while an orchestra tom-tommed excitedly. We missed one of the most brilliant of the city's sights, a Malay wedding, since the people were prepar ing to enter the month-long fast of Ramadan. Dr. du Plessis became interested in the Malays through his research in old Dutch folk songs. Curiously enough, the Malays, losing their own language and close contact with their homeland, acquired much lore and many folk tunes from the early Dutch settlers. And today, at songfests, weddings, and even for the radio, these musical people sing old Dutch songs in their original form! Malays Sing of the Alabama One song intrigued me, as well it might. Imagine Malays singing "Daar kom die Ala bama" (There comes the Alabama) ! "It's about the Confederate cruiser Ala bama. You might call it the Emden of your Civil War," explained Dr. du Plessis. "The Malays of the day were much impressed when that famous raider, built in England, chased the Federal Sea Bride under full sail toward Capetown. The Sea Bride was captured before she could make port, and thousands sat on Signal Hill to watch the prize of war being towed into Table Bay." The Alabama operated around the Cape twice during her two adventurous years of raiding. She ranged from the Atlantic to the China Sea to take toll of more than sixty ships. "This is not our only American contact," added the doctor. "The American-educated South African Negro minister, Dr. Francis Gow, has trained our colored folk to sing Negro songs of the United States. We hear them at concerts, choral competitions, and at the serenades during the 'Coons' Carnival.' " At New Year's time a carnival board of the Cape Coons arranges a gay, gaudy celebra tion for the Capetown colored people. Clad in fantastic costumes, they strut, dance, and make merry in street processions, an official ball, and serenading parties. It's like a Rio de Janeiro carnival in miniature.* Among the groups you'll find those who call themselves by such names as the "Radio City Coons" and the "Blues Minstrels!" And don't be surprised, as I was, to see colored folk put on blackface minstrel acts, with faces sooted and lips painted white, and with such songs as "Old Folks at Home," "Old Black Joe," and "01' Man River!" Cape of Storms Becomes Good Hope During the Cape's upside-down winter months of June, July, and August I looked askance at a publicity slogan, "See Sunny South Africa." Torrents of wind-whipped rain deluged the Peninsula. It was the worst season in living memory. Surely Bartholomew Diaz had no windier or wetter time when he discovered it in 1488 and called it Cape of Storms. I said as much to a friend one water-soaked evening in late August. With heroic pose he declaimed in the words of King John II of Portugal, "No, rather let it be called Cape of Good Hope!" Next morning Good Hope it was. During the night the clouds had been whisked away; the sun shone gloriously in an intense blue sky. There was a Neapolitan softness in the air. Springtime was returning. After a few cautious retreats, it came in full conquest. Flowers began to peep from rock crannies and spread on the hillsides (Plate V). Gold and white daisies started nodding to lavender mesembryanthemums. Acacias flaunted their massed yellow branches at the Cape's popular white "chinkerinchee." Pincushion, yellow, and platter-sized red pro * See "Rio Panorama," by W. Robert Moore, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, September, 1939.