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Star Lore

Mensa is a small constellation in the southern hemisphere. It was one of fourteen new constellations in the southern sky, introduced by French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in 1763.

The Southern Hemisphere Constellations of Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille

In 1750, French astronomer Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille set up a small observatory at the southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. Here, within four years, he observed 9,766 stars.

Lacaille returned to France in 1754. His catalogue, called Coelum Australe Stelliferum was published in 1763.

It contained fourteen new constellations. One of them was named after the Table Mount where de Lacaille conducted his observations.

The other thirteen symbolized the Age of Enlightenment. They were named after scientific instruments and artist's tools, including some unfamiliar ones like Fornax Chemica (the Chemical Oven).

Ian Ridpath explains, why de Lacaille chose those particular stars to commemorate the Table Mount:

"Mensa contains part of the Large Magellanic Cloud ... which gives Mensa the appearance of being capped by a white cloud, like the so-called ‘table-cloth’ cloud that is sometimes seen over the real Table Mountain ‘at the approach of a violent south-easterly wind’ (‘à l’approche d'un vent violent de sud-est’), as Lacaille put it."
[End Ian Ridpath quote]

In the first 1756 version of his Planisphere, de Lacaille called the Mensa constellation Montagne de la Table. In his 1763 star chart, he Latinised the name to Mons Mensae.
The "Table Cloth" on Table Mount

In 1844, following a suggestion by English astronomer John Herschel, the name was further shortened to Mensa.

Sources: Wikipedia, Ian Ridpath, University of St. Andrews,

While the stars of Mensa are too faint to be part of any star lore, the Table Mount, after which the constellation is named has a rich mythology rooted both in the myth of local people and the tales of sailors.

For example, Bartolomeu Dias, the first European navigator to round the southern tip of Africa in 1488 saw the mountain as a mythical anvil for storms.

Source: Wikipedia

Creation Legend of the Xhosa

In the legends of the Xhosa people, the world was created by the God Qamata, the son of Sun God Tixo and Earth Goddess Djobela.

In the beginning, there was only ocean. Qamata formed the first dry land over the oceans. Nganyamba (or Inkanyamba), the Great Dragon of the Sea tried to stop Qamata's creation.

While fighting Nganyamba, Qamata was seriously injured and crippled. His mother Djobela came to the rescue and created four gigantic beings to guard and protect each corner of the dry land. however, the giants too were killed one by one by the Dragon of the Sea. In their final moments, they each asked Djobela to transform them into mountains, so that even in death, they could guard the world.

The biggest and strongest of the giants – Umlindi Wemingizimu was placed at the gateway to the south.

Until this day, locals call the Table Mount the "Sleeping Giant" and the fishermen at the cape refer to the mountain as d’Klipman (The Rock Man).


Qamata © Mvelinqangi

Inkanyamba; Source:

The Legend of Adamastor

In 1572, Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões wrote an epic poem abouth the Portuguese voyages of discovery.

Os Lusíadas is written in Homeric style, mixing legends and history. One of the key characters is Adamastor, the spirit of the Cape of Good Hope - a giant who manifests himself out of a storm amd who protects the gate to the Indian Ocean from invading Europeans.

One of the central pieces of the poem is the standoff between Adamastor and Vasco da Gama. While some see Adamastor as a protector against colonialism, others interprete the completion of da Gama's voyage and his defeat of Adamastor as the triumph of the Renaissance over the Middle Ages.


Adamastor and da Gama's fleet

The Legend of Jan van Hunks and the Devil

Another local legend is based on the "smoky" clouds on top of the mountain.

Jan van Hunks was a "retired" dutch pirate and an avid pipe smoker. His favorite spot to sit and smoke his pipe was the top of Windberg, the mountain top just east of the Table Mount.

One day, he met a stranger who challenged him to a smoking contest, which lasted for days. The smoke of the two men's pipes clouds built up and formed giant clouds.

When Van Hunks was about to win the contest, he realized that the stranger was actually the Devil but before he could do anything, there was a bright flash of lightning and both Van Hunks and the devlish stranger vanished into the smoke and left leaving behind nothing but a scorched patch of grass.

The mountain is now called Devil's Peak, and whenever the smoky clouds form on top of Table Mount, locals say that Van Hunks and the devil are going at it again.


Van Hunks and the Devil © Alistair Gaylard

Smoke on the mountain;

In the 2019 NameExoWorld project, in which each country on earth could name one star and one exoplanet, the first star (and planet) in the constellation Mensa received a proper name.

Australia used two words from the Boonwurrung language to name the star HD 38283 and its planet HD 38283 b.

The star was named Bubup, meaning "child"; the planet's name is Yanyan, meaning "boy."

The Boon wurrung people are an Australian Aboriginal nation, living in what is now Victoria.

Many astronomers and historians consider Aboriginal Australians the world's first astronomers, as their rich oral history has preserved star lore dating back 40,000 years. (See our Australia section for details).

Source: NameExoWorlds Approved Names
Bubup Wilam Child and Family Centre,
Melbourne, Australia; Source:

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