How Did Table Mountain Get Its White Tablecloth?

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What, according to local myth, causes clouds to cover Table Mountain in Cape Town like a white tablecloth? How has this tablecloth made the mountain so famous? What or who gave rise to the stories surrounding this unique event?

Two of the most popular explanations for this phenomenon, which only occurs during Spring and Summer, are:

  • It’s an animal skin the god Mantis uses to smother mountain fires, according to the ancient San people.
  • It’s a result of a smoking contest between the devil and a Dutch pirate named Van Hunks.
  • A third explanation – the scientific one –  is not as interesting as the myth about the smoking competition.

The Legend of the Pirate and the Devil

Van Hunks

Legends have it that Van Hunks used to be a regular sailor sailing the seas. Ships used to stop at the Cape of Storms whenever they could to restock on supplies. Well, one year Van Hunks returned to the Cape a different man. Instead of the raggedy, poor sailor, he was garbed in fancy, rich clothes. He carried himself with great confidence and pomposity.

Soon rumors spread that Van Hunks had become a pirate. Van Hunks, being a natural loner, enjoyed his own company far more than those of others. He loved to smoke his tobacco pipe all alone atop the windy peaks of towering Table Mountain. It looked like a giant granite tower over the established Dutch settlement at the foot of the mountain.

Van Hunks avoided people in town for his reasons. Some townspeople claimed he was afraid of being caught by those he had robbed at sea. Others said he didn’t want to pay those to whom he owed gambling debts. Whatever the case may be, Van Hunks preferred to sit and smoke daily on the mountain.

One day, while he was on the mountain, a strange fellow joined him. He asked Van Hunks if he could smoke with him, to which the pirate grudgingly agreed. Soon, the two were smoking like crazy, with Van Hunks easily blowing the biggest puffs. It was then that the small man offered Van Hunks a bet.

He told Van Hunks that he bet he could make more smoke than him. Van Hunks, who was a betting man, wanted to know the stakes of the bet. “Well, if you win, you get to keep your pirate riches,” said the man. “If you lose, your soul belongs to me!” It was then that Van Hunks realized the strange man was none other than the Devil himself!

Being extremely confident of his smoking prowess, Van Hunks readily agreed. And the battle began in earnest. The two smoked so much and so furiously that soon, the entire top of the mountain was covered. In fact, the smoke started to drift over the sides of the mountain like a white waterfall.

As the day started to turn into twilight, the Devil finally gave up in disgust. He left in fury, leaving a proud, laughing, and still-smoking Van Hunks as the winner. To this day, whenever the mountain is covered in a tablecloth of clouds, Capetonians have a saying. “It looks like Van Hunks and the Devil are once again smoking up a storm.”



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2 thoughts on “How Did Table Mountain Get Its White Tablecloth?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kaya. Yes, Table Mountain and Cape Town itself is a great place to visit. The best times would be during September when it’s Spring in Cape Town, or during the summer (which can get pretty hot) from December to February. Table Mountain offers hiking trails or you can go up the mountain with the cable car.

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