Filmmaker: Lloyd Ross

Every year on January 2, the streets of Cape Town, South Africa come alive when the city's mixed-race population celebrates the so-called Coon Carnival. 

Elsewhere in the world, the word "coon" is regarded as deeply offensive, but in Cape Town it has been reclaimed by this community celebration.

The word came to the city in the late 19th century with the black-faced American minstrel troupes. The carnival's roots go back to the emancipation of slaves in 1834.

The local so-called "coloured population", who are descended primarily from Asian slaves and political exiles, but also from indigenous African peoples and white settlers, took this imported riot of music and costume and mixed it with their own diverse cultures to create a unique New Year tradition.

Cape Town's Coon Carnival has its origins in the minstrel troups of the 19th century

Making up a majority of the city's working class, the slaves' descendants formed social and sports clubs to strengthen their sense of identity and community.

The participants are mostly poor, but their culture is arguably one of the richest in South Africa, and the carnival is a vibrant affirmation of their unique cultural heritage.

Marching through their local communities is just as important to the members as the competition, as it brings music and colour to these often poor areas.

It also keeps kids away from gangs, and drugs. For many kids, alcohol and drug abuse shadow their lives from birth. The rates of fetal alcohol syndrome are some of the highest worldwide. 

High unemployment rates combined with poverty add to this to give the youth little prospect of bettering themselves.

The groups want to show them that there is a better way to enjoy themselves than taking drugs and drinking alcohol. 

The minstrel troups provide hope to many who have little else to look forward to -with membership of a troup comes a sense of pride and worth.

Cape Town Carnival follows two troupes through planning and practice to the competition phase, where they will compete in a number of different events, and passions run high.

Cape Town Carnival can be seen from Sunday, January 2, at the followong times GMT: Sunday: 0830, 1900; Monday: 0330, 1400, 2330.

Source: Al Jazeera