Legend of the Hole in the Wall

2012-09-25 09:08

South Africa is home to many mysterious natural wonders - a flat-topped mountain, giant natural potholes and God's very own window to name a few. But the Hole in the Wall in Coffee Bay on the Wild Coast could be argued to be one of the most intriguing of all.

This unique structure is a huge, detached cliff with a giant opening carved through its centre. Known as "izi Khaleni" in Xhosa, during certain seasons the waves crash through the hole so violently that the area becomes a "place of thunder".

No one knows exactly what created the near perfect opening in the dense cliff face, but many theories do exist. From the scientific to the more mythical, the Coffee Bay Hole in the Wall has many stories to tell...

The scientific explanation

The Hole in the Wall lies at the mouth of the Mpako River and is made up of dark-blue shale, mudstones and sandstones of the Ecca group. Each layer has been estimated to be over 260 million years old, and over the many years has been coated in a dolerite sheet.

Because of the cliff's location, it has also been exposed to breaking waves for millions of years. Over time these waves slowly managed to eat away at the softer layers beneath the dolerite to eventually separate the cliff from the mainland. The waves then went to work on the remaining rock face, slowly eroding away whatever soft layers they could, forming the hole that we can see through today.

Xhosa mythology

While the scientific explanation for the formation of the Hole in the Wall may be sound, it hardly does justice to mythical atmosphere that surrounds this wonder.

The Xhosa people have a far more intriguing story to tell. Their local legend tells the tale of a young girl who lived in a small village near the sea. Near her village was a landlocked lagoon that was blocked from the ocean by a sheer cliff face. Her people often told stories of people who lived in the sea, completely human except for supple wrists and flipper-like hands and feet.

One day, while walking near her village, the young girl spotted one of these semi-deities. The sea-person was struck by the human girl's beauty and was determined to win her heart. But the people of the village were aghast at the idea of the match and the girl's father forbade her to ever see him again.

Deeply offended by the villagers' reactions, the sea people vowed to help the young lovers be together. One night, as the tide rose, they gathered on the ocean-side of the cliff-face. With the help of a huge fish, they repeatedly rammed the rock until they broke through. All of the sea people swam through into the lagoon, singing and shouting with joy.

The villagers hid in fear and the young girl and her lover took the opportunity to disappear into the night - never to be seen again. Some people say that you can still hear the singing and joyous cries of the sea people if the wind blows exactly right...

The Great Cattle Killing

Some stories that surround the Hole in the Wall are less joyous and more ominous. Many years ago, a young girl called Nongqawuse was at a waterhole when she saw something strange. A messenger from the realm of her ancestors had come to give her a message.

She immediately went to her uncle, an important holy man, and he interpreted her vision to be a great prophecy. He saw that the souls of long dead warriors were returning, travelling over the sea and coming through the Hole in the Wall to release them from British control. They would finally know the purpose of the Hole in the Wall and be free again. But, the living would have to assist the warriors by sacrificing all their cattle.

Sadly, the warriors never came and many, many starved to death, leaving the remaining people too weak to fight when the British arrived...



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