Cape Town has many myths and legends, which is no surprise for a city this old. Many of these stories are related to weather and predicting it. This is often called weather lore, a combination of folkore and weather forecasting, and Cape Town has no shortage of weather lore.

Here are some of the Cape’s best tales.

Van Hunks and the Table Cloth 


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The clouds that fall over Table Mountain, called the table cloth, have been subject to legend for centuries. The San people believed the cloth was an ”animal skin” of the Mantis God who was smothering out a blaze at the top of the natural wonder.

However, the most popular tale is that of the pirate Van Hunks and his smoking contest with the devil. Every time the cloud comes over, those two are battling it out again.

In more recent times, seeing the cloud cover creep over the mountain means you’re about to experience quite a bit of wind down in the city bowl. Just a wisp of cloud peeking over Devil’s Peak, however, is the warning that south-easter is on the way.

Red sky warnings


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This legend doesn’t just belong to South Africa and has actually been cited in some old works, such as Shakespeare and the Bible. The rhyme goes, “red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in the morning sailors’ take warning”. This means that if sailors spot a red sky during sunset, they would expect good sailing weather the next day, whereas a red sky sunrise would indicate stormy weather approaching.

This was carried to the Cape by sailors who used her as a refreshment station and later settled down at a port. What is interesting about this legend is that it is scientifically sound.

A red sunset occurs because the sun is setting through a high concentration of dust particles, meaning high pressure system which is usually followed by good weather. On the other hand, a red sunrise means the high pressure system passed through during the night and is being followed by a lower pressure system which will bring rain and stormy weather conditions.

Lion’s Head’s lonely cloud 


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A common tale is that if you spot a single cloud covering over the top of Lion’s Head, then you’re soon to be in for some rainy weather. The North-Westerly winds bring rain to Cape Town and the cloud indicates a north-westerly drift in the upper atmosphere.

The treacherous Cape of Good Hope 


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The Cape of Good Hope, also called the Cape of Storms, has claimed many ships over the years because of the dangerous stormy weather conditions and sharp jagged coastline. The Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camoes explained this treacherous path as the wrath of the Greek Titan Adamstor.

The tale goes that as punishment for coveting a nymph, the Titan was turned into a jagged mountain at the southernmost tip of Africa. Upset at his fate and brooding for millennia, Adamstor was jealous of the freedom he saw as the Portuguese ship carrying Vasco da Gama rounded him. In retaliation he vows to torment all ships that pass him, taking the lives of their sailors along the way.

“I am that vast, secret promontory,” Adamastor tells Da Gama, “you Portuguese call the Cape of Storms.”

Birds calling in the weather 


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Many farming communities in the Cape were brought up on stories of certain birds calling in different kinds of weather. The Bokmakierie or Bushshrike is believed to announce this change. Afrikaans farmers believed it heralded bad weather coming in the afternoon when it called before dawn and continued into the morning. A XhosaCa belief is that the change from a regular call to a trill meant that rain was imminent.

While many may now consider them nuisances, with their honking call grating, Hadeda Ibis or Hadeda were also thought by the Xhosa to bring a good harvest if they were seen continually flying overhead, indicating favourable weather for crop growth.


Library of Congress

Cape Town folklore or weather predictions

How to read Cape Town’s weather and embrace it

Cape of myths: the story of Adamastor 

Folklore weather forecasting 

Picture: @nasreenroberts/ Twitter

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