Table Mountain is perhaps the most iconic feature on the horizon of the city of Cape Town, South Africa. Despite being named one of the “New” 7 Wonders of Nature, Table Mountain has an ancient history steeped in mystery – and it’s for this reason that there are many myths and legends surrounding it.
Van Hunks and the Devil
One of the most notable myths of Table Mountain is the story of the devil and Van Hunks (a local legendary pirate), who create the “table cloth” on Table Mountain. As the story goes, Van Hunks arrived at his usual spot high atop the mountain, only to find a stranger sitting below his favorite tree.
Being an unsociable sort he grudgingly started a conversation, and eventually challenged the youngster to a smoking competition (boasting that only he could smoke his tobacco without feeling sick). The young man accepted and the two of them lit their respective pipes, puffing away at the tobacco Van Hunks had brought.
They continued from sunrise until dusk, at which point a crowd had gathered below to marvel at the tobacco clouds covering the mountain. Van Hunks was starting to get tired, as was the young man he was with, and as the youngster bent forward to cough, his hat fell off. Van Hunks started in fright, as he saw two horns peaking-out from below the youths hair and realised it was the devil he had challenged and won against.
Not content with being beaten, the devil created a clap of thunder and they both disappeared from sight. Now, whenever the cloud creeps over the top of the mountain, people say that it is the devil and Van Hunks going at it again.
The Governor’s Son
Another myth is of a Governor’s son, who was tricked into playing the silver flute of a leper who had a grudge against his father. When the son developed the same incurable disease, he was cast out of his home, and lived out the rest of his days on the mountain slopes in solitude, with only the silver flute that had brought his ill-fate. To this day, some people claim that in the early evenings, they can hear the haunting strains of a flute melody echoing down the mountain.
The last well-known legend is that of the African god Tixo (God of the Sun) who, along with the goddess Djobela (Earth Goddess), conceived a son named Qamata who created the world. The Great Dragon of the Sea became jealous and tried to prevent Qamata from creating dry land, but the wily son called on his mother Djobela to help him.
At her son’s request for assistance, Djobela gave life to four giants who were placed at the four-corners of the earth, with the largest being at the Gateway to the South. After many battles with the Great Dragon the giants fell one-by-one, and each of one had the same final request: to remain guardians of the earth. Djobela granted their request, and turned them into mountains. The mightiest of all was Umlindi Wemingizimu, who became the watcher of the south (Table Mountain).
Spirits and Sprites
The famous theosophical author, Geoffrey Hodson, believed that there were spirits, sprites, enlightened beings as well as gods hiding out on Table Mountain. Should you be a believer, or someone with a good imagination, then a few places you might spot them are at Kirstenbosch gardens, Skeleton Gorge, and Cecelia Forest.
Table Mountain means many things to many different people, and these are just a few of the myths and legends that surround this majestic landmark. Most locals use it simply to navigate their way through the twisting streets of the city – but there will always be an element of mystery around this steadfast landmark of Cape Town. Let us know if there are some other local myths and legends about the mountain we may have missed.
Main image credited to Ula Gillion (Flickr)