Cape Town Feature

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Its All Bells, Whistles—and Umbrellas!

One of the greatest celebrations in Cape Town is the annual Cape Coon New Year Carnival, also known as the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival or, more simply, as the Coon Carnival. (Although the term "coon" does rankle some South Africans, it's more accepted in Cape lingo than it would be in the United States or Great Britain, and hence remains the popular name of the festival.) The origins of this January festival date to the early colonial period, when this was the one day of the year that slaves were given time off. The tradition continued even after the emancipation of slaves and is the most visible reminder of a way of life that saw its finest flowering in District Six. Today thousands of wild celebrants take to the streets in vibrant costumes—complete with matching umbrellas—to sing moppies (pronounced a somewhat guttural more peas, they're vaudeville-style songs), accompanied by banjos, drums, and whistles. The celebration lasts one or two days.

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