07 Sep 2014
Table Mountain, the Legend of the Watcher of the South
Cape Town is certainly one of the world’s most picturesque destinations. But as beautiful as the Mother City and her surrounding beaches and vineyards are, it’s Table Mountain that grabs everyone’s attention. With its near vertical cliffs and famous flat-topped summit over one kilometre high, Table Mountain forms a dramatic backdrop to Cape Town’s City Bowl.
There are always geological explanations for the creation of natural landmarks, but the mythological reasons are so much more interesting. Table Mountain has been likened to a fabled fortress, a sleeping goddess, the stairway to heaven, a guardian of Cape Town, and the Watcher of the South. More than a mountain, this iconic Cape Town landmark is the central character in many legends.
While you can’t beat the uninterrupted view of the “Watcher of the South” from your mountain-facing room at the Table Bay Hotel, this mythological story about Table Mountain’s creation will definitely give you a new perspective.
In the beginning
According to African legend, the Sun God Tixo and the Earth Goddess Djobela conceived Qamata.
Qamata created the world by forming dry land over the oceans. Nganyamba, the Great Dragon of the Sea became jealous over this land, and fought with Qamata to prevent its creation. During their ensuing fight, Qamata was crippled.
Because of his injuries, Qamata couldn’t protect his created land from the jealous wrath of Nganyamba. His mother, Djobela, aided him by creating four gigantic beings to guard and protect each corner of the earth: north, south, east and west.
The Goddess placed the biggest and strongest of the giants – Umlindi Wemingizimu – at the gateway to the south where Cape Town now lies.
The giants fought many terrible battles with Nganyamba, and were killed one by one by the Dragon of the Sea. In their final moments, they each appealed to the Earth Goddess to transform them into mountains, so that even in death, they could guard the world.
And so, the greatest giant of all, Umlindi Wemingizimu became Table Mountain, the benevolent Watcher of the South.
According to local oral tradition, former residents of District Six also liken the mountain’s profile to that of a sleeping giant, while fishermen from this community still refer to Table Mountain as d’Klipman (The Rock Man).
With such legendary beginnings, it's no surprise that other strange tales cling to Table Mountain:
Antjie Somers was a slave who worked herself to death. According to legend, she came back to avenge her hard life in the guise of a gnome-like spirit with poltergeist tendencies, and tormented those who did her wrong while she was alive.
The saying: "Be good or Antjie Somers will get you," is still used in the Cape today to induce good behaviour in children.
The Ghost of Verlatenbosch (Bush of the Forsaken)
This tale surrounds a governor’s son, who was infected with leprosy by a vengeful citizen with a grudge against the governor.
According to the legend, the boy was tempted into using a flute that belonged to an old leper, whose shrunken lips produced the most beautiful tunes. When the Governor’s son contracted incurable leprosy, he was forced to live in isolation in a lonely hut in the forest where he died.
Locals say that when evening falls, the haunting sound of this flute is heard in the breeze that whispers through the trees on the slopes of Table Mountain.
According to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui, Cape Town is the perfect city for Light Beings. This is because of its auspicious configuration in the shape of an armchair: Table Mountain protects the rear, while Lion's Head and Devil's Peak act as the armrests. The city itself sits in an energy-filled bowl to the front, and the wealth-creating properties of water and Robben Island serve to slow down the qui (energy) before it hits land, making Cape Town the ultimate Feng Shui city.
Light Beings are apparitions that have been described as shimmering and wavelike layers of energy that dazzle the eyes. Several locals have confirmed seeing these beings, and agree that given the right place, right time and a little imagination, you may well be able to see them for yourself.