Feb 22 2010, 1:13pm

A bunch of girls just whistled at me from the sidewalk--"Djy girlie!" I flipped them off and, in response, they all stuck their tongues straight through the looming gaps in their front teeth. One even spat at me, the missile having an uncanny speed and distance. On occasions like these, my mind automatically makes the jump to gauging the blowjob potential of these toothless beauties, but the "Passion Gap" phenomenon has been around long before the young Cape Coloured generation discovered the AIDS-free paradise of oral pleasure.

Cape Malay's ex-slaves have been pulling out their front teeth in back alleys for a few centuries now. The absence of teeth originally served as a visual "fuck you" to their former Dutch and British masters, who would usually determine a slave's worth by their dental health, and as a symbolic way of taking back control over their own bodies. Since then, the Passion Gap has mutated into a weird Cape fashion, leaving the rest of South Africa puzzled and bemused at the scores of people who are willing to risk the collapse of their entire dental line just to get rid of their front teeth.

Most dentists now refuse to perform the Passion Gap procedure, but it hasn't diminished the number of young kids who can pop out their fakes and give you the toothless salute. From Cape Flats gangsters and Hout Bay fishermen to premier league goalkeepers, Passion smiles continue to flash all across the city, either tributes to ancestral traditions or bizarre takes on beauty. Welcome to Cape Town's own cultural enigma.

Jacobus, Kensington

"Ja! Is vir passion, naai. Om lekker te vry my bru. Hulle gly deur die tande en jol in die wange, my bru. Jy verstaan? I'm going to put other teeth in my mouth, my bru. Gold teeth. Real gold teeth."

John-Paul, Hangberg

"I took it out about two years ago, it's all out. I wanted to put gold in. Ooh, it's very nice. The women likes it for kissing; likes it a lot."

Jack, Woodstock

"I had beautiful foreteeth. I did it after a fashion statement. I was just naive man – I was young and stupid. I really don't know if the girls liked it. I thought I was a shark – a woman shark, whatever they call it. It cost me about R50 for four."

Rasta, Kraaifontein

"There's a lot of people that is just pulling their teeth out for style you know, or to look beautiful, or to make themselves nice. But me I can't say actually why my teeth they take them out. Kissing, for me there's no difference about when you have teeth or not teeth in. It just depends how you do it. If you do it by love, or you do it by, you know."

Archie, Kensington

"It's not for passion, nuh uh. They were going vrot. There was a lot of pain, so the dentist pulled them out."

Gerald, Hout Bay

"If a person eats too much snoek, then he takes his teeth out. If I eat a piece of snoek, then I can spit the fish bones out of here. Eat the meat, and spit the bones out."

Joey, Saldhana Bay

"My girlfriend, she liked it with no teeth. You can't eat everything the other guys eat, like peanuts and that stuff, you can't eat that. It cost R900 for all the injections in Namibia. I want to do the bottom also, and I get false teeth. Then I don't look too old."

Gaironisa, flower seller

"The first time I took them out it was for love and it was for passion – for attraction as well. It's nice for French kissing – lovely stuff. My husband's got his front teeth out, but of course! The bottom is fleshes to fleshes, the top is also fleshes to fleshes. I tell you it's lovely. I have had it since I was a pickanin'. I was about 13 and I wanted to smile for the guys. Nowdays the dentists don't take it out if it's not rotten, cause they advise that your permanent teeth is better."

JC, Hangberg

"This is the Capetonian style. When I kiss, it's like licking a woman - lekker with the tongue. You can see we're from Cape Town, all of us we take out the front because we put in gold, for the Friday night. The kids also they take out when they're about 12, 11, 13, uh, 16. It feels duidelik, lekker, nice."

Pictures by Sydelle Smith