The great cleft in Table Mountain is known as Platteklip Gorge, or Platteklip Kloof. At the foot of the gorge is the suburb of Oranjezicht. This was the estate of the Van Breda family, worked by hundreds of slaves. The double-storied house was haunted, and the ghost photographed in 1900. The building was demolished in the nineteen-fifties, but the ruined bandstand, and the oak trees, may still be be seen. A shadowy ghost has been seen among the trees. Another ghost, a member of the Van Breda family, rides about on a white horse. Oranjezicht is one of the places where a loyal slave is said to have hidden her master's children in a oven, to protect them from rampaging slaves.
On the higher part of the Oranjezicht estate is an area called Verlatenbosch ("forsaken bush"). A leper is said to have lived here, waited on by servants. According to one version of the story, a disgruntled burgher obtained a flute infected with leprosy, and left it where the governor's son would find it. His plan worked, and the boy became a leper. Whatever the reason, as night approaches, ghostly flute music may still be heard in Verlatenbosch and Platteklip Gorge.
Above Verlatenbosch, the Platteklip or Fresh River flows around granite boulders. Here, after carrying their loads from as far away as Bo-Kaap, Malay women washed their families' clothes. And here, one of these women lost a magic ring.
This woman was the wife of Abdol Malack, a respected Islamic scholar. As a matter of fact he was a Hafiz, a man who had memorised the entire Koran. He had studied in Mecca, and before he came home, his late teacher had bequeathed to him the ring. Though plain except for a stone the colour of milk, Abdol found that when he wore it, no blade could cut him. He even had to remove the ring to allow a barber to cut his hair.
When he returned to the Cape, the power of the ring was witnessed by many people. However, when he married, Abdol gave the ring to his beloved wife. To her surprise, she found that while wearing it, she could not even slice a loaf of bread. One day, while she was doing the laundry, the soap loosened the ring, and it was lost. Abdol Malack was still living in the middle of the twentieth century, in his house on Dorp Street, on the border of Bo-Kaap. As for the ring, observant hikers may still find a small treasure.
Above the spot where the magic ring was lost, near the confluence of the Platteklip River and the Silver Stream, are the ruins of the mansion De Grendel van de Platteklip ("The bolt of the Platteklip"). The ruins are haunted by the spirit of a slave named Jaftha, and are also a favourite haunt of the demon Antjie Somers. A little above the ruins is the flat rock which gives its name to the gorge.
The Platteklip Gorge is the easiest route to the top of Table Mountain, except for the cableway. Along this route, Lady Anne Barnard made the ascent with a party of friends, and so much beer that it had to be carried by six slaves. A stream in the gorge is another of the places where she is said to have bathed in her birthday suit. She haunts the castle, so why not here?
Whether you reach the summit by foot or by cable car, the top of Table Mountain is a must for visitors to the Cape. Apart from the amazing views, you are sure to be charmed by the hyraxes, also called dassies or rock rabbits. The "coneys" of the Bible actually refer to these animals, for their range extends to Egypt and the Holy Land. The closest relative of these placid animals is the elephant.
If you are in Cape Town when the Southeaster blows (usually in the summer of the southern hemisphere), you will see a layer of cloud just covering the top of Table Mountain. This is the "tablecloth". In the eighteenth century, a Dutch pirate called Van Hunks retired to Cape Town, thinking that his successful life of villainy had left him safe and comfortably rich. He took to climbing what is now called Devil's Peak, to relax at Breakfast Rock and enjoy the view. His pleasure was increased by his pipe smoking, and, like Blackbeard, he was inordinately proud of the quantity of smoke that he could inhale without getting sick. One day, a cloaked stranger appeared, and challenged him to a smoking duel. Van Hunks may have won, but no unrepentant sinner really beats the Devil. When Van Hunks realised who the stranger was, both of them vanished in a puff of smoke. Every year, Van Hunks is forced to repeat his duel, and the quantity of smoke produced becomes the "tablecloth".
According to the sixteenth century Portuguese poet Camoes, the mountains of the Cape Peninsula are the body of the titan Adamastor, the southern equivalent of Atlas, the titan imprisoned in North Africa. Both were punished for their part in the war between the gods and the titans. In the Lusiads, the epic poem celebrating Portugal's achievements, Adamastor takes the form of a storm cloud, and warns the seafarers seeking a route to India of the terrible risks that they are taking by entering his domain. Bartholomew Diaz, the commander of the first such expedition to round the Cape, was accompanied by the Italian Bartholomew Columbus, brother of Christopher. Terrified of the unknown dangers, Diaz's crew threatened mutiny, and Diaz was forced to turn back before having sailed far up the eastern coast of Africa. Diaz died during a subsequent voyage, in a shipwreck off the coast of Southern Africa, proving Adamastor right.
If you browse web sites pertaining to the Cape Peninsula, you may come across the story of Umlindi Wemingizimu, "the watcher of the south". Apparently, Table Mountain is one of four giants turned into stone by the earth goddess Djobela, to serve as guardians of the dry land created by the god Qamata. The other giants became mountains protecting the west, east and north of the continent from the sea dragon Nganyamba.
Unfortunately, I believe that this story is a modern creation, perhaps with the understandable motive of having a legend about the Cape Peninsula which precedes European settlement. The idea of a giant turned into stone bears a striking resemblance to the Adamastor story. Also, Table Mountain's striking appearance is only noticed when approached from the direction of the nearby sea. It is neither particularly high nor particularly far south, compared to other South African mountains.
Characters in the tale may genuinely occur in African folklore, but the names are of Bantu origin. On and near the Cape Peninsula, the first European settlers found people nowadays classed as the Khoisan race, divided into three nomadic cultures. They were the Strandlopers (beach walkers), who gathered shellfish; the Khoikhoi (once called "Hottentots"), who herded livestock; and the San, or "Bushmen", who were hunter-gatherers. The nearest Bantu peoples lived hundreds of miles to the east. Tragically, Khoisan legends specific to the Cape Peninsula do not seem to have survived European colonisation. Fortunately, Khoisan legends collected from other areas give an idea of the kind that they may have been.
Although this site is mainly devoted to stories about particular places, I think that in the circumstances, Khoisan beliefs do deserve a mention here. Some of the following is summarised from Penny Miller's book, Myths And Legends Of Southern Africa. (Penny Miller is an artist as well as a writer, and if I could keep only one book out of all of my library, it would be hers.)
The Khoikhoi believed in a giant who became a sky god, called Tsui Goab ("Wounded Knee"). Tsui Goab began his existence as an ordinary man called U-tixo, or Tikqua, who became a powerful shaman and chief. He battled against an evil chief called Gaunab, or "Destroyer". He repeatedly overcame evil, in the form of Gaunab, but sometimes died. However, with each resurrection or reincarnation, he grew in physical and spiritual stature, until he became the sky god and supreme being. In the final struggle against Gaunab before his ascension, U-tixo sustained the permanent scar which gave him the name Tsui Goab. Gaunab still lives in darkness, and brings death to men. Tsui Goab, however, brings renewal, life, light and rain. No doubt, some will find parallels with other religions.
In the Cape, if you come across an old pile of stones, it may be a cairn identifying a site sacred to Heitsi-Eibib. Heitsi-Eibib is a mischievous character, comparable with Puck. After adding a stone to the cairn, a Khoikhoi man would cover the back of his head with his hand while walking away, so that Heitsi-Eibib's suggestions would not enter his mind.
Afrikaners call the praying mantis "Hottentotsgod" or "hotnotsgod". (Sometimes the final "d" is replaced by a "t", and even when it isn't, it is pronounced as "t".) The mantis was not particularly sacred to the Khoikhoi, however. (To be fair, "Hottentot" was sometimes used generically to refer both to the Khoikhoi and the Bushman.) The Bushmen regarded the mantis as a titan, a Prometheus, in fact, who brought life and fire to them. Their chief deities are the sun, the moon, and an all-pervasive spirit called Kang, or Dxui. (According to some sources, Kang, or Kaggen, is the name of the mantis being.)
Incidentally, Khoikhoi literally means "men men" or "men of men". One explanation for the name "Hottentot", is that the Khoikhoi encountered by early European travellers danced and performed a song of greeting, in which the word "hautitou" was prominent. Another explanation which has been offered, is that because the Khoikhoi sometimes repeated words or syllables for emphasis, the Dutch thought that they were stammering. The meaningless word "Hottentotten", the old Dutch plural of "Hottentot", is supposed to be a Dutch invention to imitate the sound of the stammering. The two explanations are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
"San" is now the politically correct term for the Bushmen, but is actually the derogatory name for them used by the Khoikhoi. Personally, I prefer the name "Bushmen", as nobody who admires people skilled in bushcraft could use it in any uncomplimentary way. Modern transliteration of indigenous names has increased their mispronunciation by laymen. The Khoikhoi called the Bushmen "Sankhoi", and early European travellers sometimes called them "Sonqua". For the layman, "Sonqua" probably gives a better approximation of the right way to pronounce the names.
Most of the surviving legends of the Cape Peninsula originated in the community, now mostly Islamic, of so-called "Cape Malays". They are actually descendants of slaves and exiles from Madagascar, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, India, Indonesia and Malacca, but Khoisan people were sometimes married by escaped slaves. It is therefore possible that some of the Cape's folklore has been translated and modified from indigenous Khoisan legend. The character of Antjie Somers, for instance, is, in its less malevolent form, comparable with that of Heitsi-Eibib.Back to Blog