The Legend of Van Hunks
Devil’s Peak was originally known as Windberg by the first settlers. The mountain supposedly acquired its current name from the folk tale about Captain Jan van Hunks. He was a prodigious pipe smoker who lived at the foot of the mountain in the early 1700s. Apparently Jan van Hunks was a pirate who had retired from an eventful life on the high seas and decided to take a wife and settle at the Cape.
In order to attain greater smoking pleasure and to escape his wife’s sharp tongue he would ascend the slopes of the mountain where he would settle down at his favourite spot to enjoy his fumious habit. One day, as the old pirate approached his usual position, he was startled to see someone else sitting exactly where he normally sat. The stranger was a tall, lean man – cloaked in black – sporting a broad-brimmed hat that covered most of his face. Van Hunks was totally astonished when the man greeted him by name. Not wishing to appear impolite, he sat down next to him and they began to talk. The mysterious stranger asked the retired pirate if he could spare him a little tobacco. Van Hunks started to boast about his tobacco and the fact that he was the only man who was able to smoke a large quantity of it as he did. Like Blackbeard he was inordinately proud of the amount of smoke that he could inhale without getting sick. The stranger replied that he could easily smoke as much, if not more, than the old pirate. Angrily, an indignant Van Hunks challenged the man to a smoking contest. He placed a huge pile of his tobacco between them and they filled their pipes and the competition began.
It was not too long before huge plumes of smoke enveloped them and started creeping up the mountain. All day long the contest continued – some folks say that it actually went on for days. The town’s people glanced up and marvelled as huge clouds of smoke billowed up and over their Table Mountain. Eventually the whole mountain was covered as clouds of smoke poured over the mountain. Van Hunks became tired, hot and frustrated but he noticed that his strange competitor was not looking too happy himself. Still the contest continued. Suddenly, unable to continue, the sombrely dressed man leaned forward and his black hat was dislodged. Startled, Van Hunks backed off in fright.….. he was faced by none other than the devil himself! The reality of what he had done suddenly dawned on him – he had beaten the devil in the contest. The devil was furious at having been beaten by this audacious mortal. Suddenly there was a bright flash of lightning and Van Hunks and the lean stranger vanished into the smoke leaving behind a scorched patch of ground.
Legend has it that the cloud of tobacco smoke they left behind became Cape Town’s famous “table-cloth” – the white cloud that spills over Table Mountain when the south-easter blows during summer months. Every year, Van Hunks is forced to repeat his duel, and the quantity of smoke produced becomes the “tablecloth”.