SOUTH AFRICAN MYTHS & LEGENDS

Devils Peak Table Mountain

Van Hunks & The Devil

Jan van Hunks, a Dutch pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his colorful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain. He often walked up the mountain where he settled down to smoke his pipe.  One day, as Van Hunks walked towards his usual position, he was startled to see someone else sitting exactly where he normally sat.  It was a strange looking man, dressed all in black, with a large hat pulled down over most of his face.  Not wishing to appear impolite, he sat down next to him and they began to talk. Van Hunks started boasting about his tobacco and the fact that he was the only man who could smoke as much of it as he did. The other man replied that he could easily smoke as much as Van Hunks.  Van Hunks was angry at this and challenged the man to a smoking contest. He placed a huge pile of his tobacco between the two of them and they filled their pipes and lit them.  After several days, Van Hunks finally defeated the stranger, who unfortunately turned out to be the devil.  Suddenly, thunder rolled, the clouds closed in and Van Hunks disappeared, leaving behind only a scorched patch of ground.  Legend has it that the cloud of tobacco smoke they left became the “table-cloth” – the famous white cloud that spills over Table Mountain when the south-easter blows in summer.  When that happens, it is said that Van Hunks and the Devil are at it again.

The Lion’s Share

One day the lion, the wolf and the fox went out hunting together.   They caught a wild ass, a gazelle and a hare.  The lion spoke to the wolf, “Mr. Wolf, you may divide the venison for us today.”  The wolf said, “I would have thought it best, sire that you should have the ass and my friend the fox should take the hare; as for me, I shall be content to take only the gazelle.”  On hearing this, the lion was furious. He raised his mighty paw and struck the wolf on the head.  The wolf’s skull was cracked, so he died.  Whereupon the lion spoke to the fox, “Now you may try and divide our meal better.” The fox spoke solemnly, “The ass will be your dinner, Sire, the gazelle will be your Majesty’s supper and the hare will be your breakfast for tomorrow morning.”  Surprised, the lion asked him, “When did you learn so much wisdom?” Said the fox, “When I heard the wolf’s skull cracking.”

The Hole in the Wall

Near Coffee Bay is a prominent rock formation with a big hole in the middle, which has become a symbol for the Xhosa of a great historical tragedy, the “Great Cattle Killing”.  It is a unique structure with a huge detached cliff that has a giant opening carved through its centre by the waves.  The local Xhosa call this place “izi Khaleni”, which means “place of thunder”.  At certain seasons and water conditions (high tide) the waves clap is such a fashion that the concussion can be heard throughout the valley.  A young girl called Nongqawuse had seen a messenger from the realm of the ancestors at a waterhole.  She told her uncle Mhlakaza about her vision.  As he was an important Xhosa priest, his social rank granted a great impact to the prophecy he derived from his niece’s vision.  He announced that soldiers who were incarnations of the souls of dead Xhosa warriors, would arrive on the 18th of February over the sea, come onto land through the “Hole in the Wall” and defeat the hated British. But, he continued, the Xhosa had to make a sacrifice to help the warriors by destroying all their cereals and killing all their cattle. After the victory, there would be food in abundance for everybody.  The Xhosa followed the instructions in his prophecy and killed their whole stock of cattle. Following the massacre, some 40000 Xhosa died of starvation. There is a memorial situated near Bisho in the Eastern Cape.  The inscription reads “HERE REST MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN – INNOCENT VICTIMS OF THE 1856/7 CATASTROPHIC CATTLE KILLING”.

Two Roads Overcame the Hyena

A very hungry hyena went out on the Tanzanian plains to hunt for food.  He came to a branch in the bush road where the two paths veered off in different directions. He saw two goats caught in the thickets at the far end of the two different paths.  With his mouth watering in anticipation, he decided that his left leg would follow the left path and his right leg the right path.  As the two paths continued to veer in different directions he tried to follow them both at once. Finally he split in two. As the well-known African proverb says: Two roads overcame the hyena.

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