I've just added a Cape Town New Year's Carnival Frequently Asked Question page to this site. You'll see a link on the right side of the screen or you can just click here to read it. Surprisingly little research has been done on the Cape Town Carnival, especially compared to Carnivale, in Rio de Janiero, and Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. I wanted to create an easily accessible resource for tourists, journalists, academics, and anyone else interested in this lesser known, but absolutely brilliant festival. (I'll add a gallery of my Carnival photos soon. In the meantime, you can see a selection of the photos by clicking on "Cape Town Carnival," under Categories, over there on the right.) Update: The gallery is up. Click here, at the top of this page, or over on the right.
Tweede Nuwe Jaar Parade, Cape Town, South Africa, 2 January 2008.
As you might have guessed, I'm working on a book--a photo book--about the Cape Town Carnival. If all goes according to plan, it will appear in mid-2010, published in South Africa by Random House Struik and in the United States by the University of Virginia Press.
Update 2: My photo-essay about the Cape Town Carnival, One Love, Ghoema Beat, now has a publication date--May 2010, just in time for the football World Cup. Check back for further information, and click here to see a preview.
In putting together the FAQ, I've relied, in part, on my own research and on my experiences during the three years I've spent as a member of a Carnival troupe. Just as importantly, however, I've turned to a terrific book about the Carnival, written by my friend Denis-Constant Martin: Coon Carnival: New Year in Cape Town, Past and Present. It's by far and away the best thing ever written on the Carnival. It was published in 1999, but copies are pretty easy to find. Any good used bookstore should be able to locate a copy for you, and it's in many university libraries.
Yes, that word "Coon" in the title of Denis's book is a problem. In the American context, the word is very offensive, a derogatory term for African-Americans. In the South African context, however, it does not carry racist overtones. Many members of Carnival troupes refer to themselves as "Coons." Nevertheless, Carnival organizers, government officials, and people who work in tourism have moved away from the term, preferring "minstrel" or "klops," its Afrikaans equivalent.