Words by Fiona McIntosh
Photographs by Shaen Adey
As part of his land reclamation scheme, Qamata tried to create more and more dry land above the waves, a massive task in which he was severely hampered by the interference of the fearsome sea dragon, Nganyaba.
Qamata's mother noticed he was struggling so she created four giants to help him keep the sea at bay - one in the north, one in the south and one each to the east and west. After many fierce battles, which obviously enabled Qamata to create a sufficient amount of dry land, the giants were turned to stone and continued to keep watch over the land.
The southernmost of them, Umlindi Wemingizimu - The Watcher of the South - became Table Mountain. It would appear that he is doing his job admirably as, over the centuries, Cape Town has remained safe from the sea dragon ever since.
The northern part of the world has a different creation myth. The sky, Uranus, and the earth, Gaea, together had a number of children, among whom were the Titans who ruled the earth in an atmosphere of mutual distrust. Brother fought brother and fathers ate their children in a doomed attempt to hang onto power.
Eventually Zeus, with the help of Poseidon and Hades, managed to overcome the Titans and banished them - some to the gloomy underworld of Tartarus, some to a British Island in the far west (probably the Outer Hebrides) and one, poor old Adamastor, to the southern end of the world, where he was imprisoned in stone. You guessed it - Table Mountain.Now, your average battle-hardened Titan finds it a bit boring to spend a few millennia sleeping under a blanket of fynbos. So Adamastor, in order to give his life some meaning, took it upon himself to protect the continent of Africa. And, sure enough, after a few thousand years, he found himself going head-to-head with the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama (if the sixteenth century adventurer and poet, Luís Vaz de Camões can be believed).
Da Gama did great battle with Adamastor, who tried to prevent him from rounding the Cape by throwing up storm after storm and terrifying the superstitious sailors into the bargain. The many interpretations of this story are more interesting than the story itself. As told by Camões, it was a rollicking adventure celebrating the bravery of the Portuguese sailors. As seen by many more contemporary scholars, it is an allegory of the attempt of modern people and their technology to overcome nature, and the doomed effort of nature to resist.
Still another way of looking at the story is as a racist and colonial epic. The 'virtuous' Christian Portuguese sailors successfully subjugate a heathen nation and place the whole continent of Africa (and incidentally the East) under the fledgling imperial yoke of Portugal and, of course, the Catholic Church.