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Agulhas named after Fernão de Magalhães?

Agulhas, Bontebok, Table Mountain, Tankwa Karoo, West Coast
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caroline V
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Agulhas named after Fernão de Magalhães?

Unread postby caroline V » Tue Jan 13, 2009 8:26 pm

I have always had a problem with the name AGULHAS. Somehow the needles business doesn’t sound right and I am told that the compass doesn’t behave any differently there anyway. Neither do the rocks there look vaguely like needles!
I was reading an old book with an account of the first circumnavigation of the Earth masterminded by Ferdinand Magellan, and I noticed that the Portuguese form of the name is Fernan de Magalhaes or Fernão de Magalhães or Fernand de Magaglianes.
Could this not be the origin of the funny name of Agulhas? Magalhaes is really similar to Agulhas - or L’Agulhas as the curious custom of spelling it goes.
Magalhães got himself killed along the way, in 1521, just before they swooped around Africa in a starving state, so maybe they named the southernmost tip after him? Then someone read Magalhaes wrong later on and asked a Portuguese deck hand what that meant and he thought is might be “needle”. And from then on we have wondered what the heck needles have to do with the southernmost tip of Africa!
Last edited by caroline V on Tue Jan 13, 2009 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Agulhas named after Fernão de Magalhães?

Unread postby restio » Tue Jan 13, 2009 8:59 pm

Interesting theory, caroline V! :D
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Re: Agulhas named after Fernão de Magalhães?

Unread postby vanalder » Tue Jan 13, 2009 10:22 pm

Here's an opinion:

Cape Agulhas
Britannica Concise Encyclopedia

Cape, southernmost point of the African continent. Its name, Portuguese for "needles," refers to the rocks and reefs that have wrecked many ships. The cape's meridian of 20°E is the official boundary between the Indian and Atlantic oceans.

For more information on Cape Agulhas, visit


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Re: Agulhas named after Fernão de Magalhães?

Unread postby onewithnature » Wed Jan 14, 2009 2:06 am

Nice take, caroline V. Your theory sounds equally valid, although the three books I have at home all talk about the Cabo das Agulhas, meaning "Cape of Needles", derivation.

I also enjoy that area and I find it quite strange to stand with one foot on the Atlantic side of the theoretical divide of the oceans, and the other foot on the Indian ocean side. I'm not sure why it's strange, but it is. Often misty there, and the sea is certainly wild.

Yes, it always saddens me when I see previously pristine areas desecrated by human encroachment. The making of profit comes first, then follows conservation and preservation. It's everywhere, and since I can't stop the inexorable march of human "progress", I simply concentrate on enjoying to the fullest the areas that are still untouched.

Who knows, based on recent name changes in this country (which I consider an irresponsible waste of good funds), one day the name "Cape Agulhas" may be changed to suit political objectives? Then the true meaning of "needles" may take shape!

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Re: Agulhas named after Fernão de Magalhães?

Unread postby Blougansie » Tue May 26, 2009 5:01 am

I have been holidaying in Aghulhas for 37 years, Often take the boat out from Aghulhas and go past the lighthouse , towards Blougansie , Suiderstrand areas. It's really treacherous waters and one can imagine having had to sail around these waters in the olden days in ships that were'nt that manuverable and not that well equiped with todays technology. Viewed from the ocean the jagged rocks really do resemble needles and the waters of the Cape of Good Hope always beckoned a lot if fear with the old sailors. The cross currents have over millenia shaped these rocks into these unique shapes and forms, which due to the geology of the area , is quite unique. This along with its vegetation of Renosterveld , fynbos component makes it even more unique in the world.
What is interesting to note about the area , is that it was severly depleted of its beautiful indigenous forest , for that matter all of our Southern coastal belt. I have seen photographs of Aghulhas of the early 1900's and the landscape has changed completly - this due to Agriculture and forestry practices. When one studies the mileons of tons of treestumps that were drifted down the Breederivier one gets a rough idea how much damage had been done.
Nevertheless , it remains one of the most beautiful and interesting places as far as ecology , people , history and our coast is concerned. Only a few remnants of the formerly abundant Milkwoods in Aghulhas has unfortuanatly remained.
Well done to Sanparks for doing an excellent job in the area.
Thanks / Cheers
(ps. The magnetic declination varies considerably around the Aghulhas area every year - and the compass sometimes behaves quite eratic , sometimes daily - Furthermore the lie of the land , because it makes a point out to sea , makes keeping track of where you are at sea sometimes quite dangerous if you do not know the area , currents and sea in the area. I once had to put out anchor and wait out the morning mist in the Suiderstrand area when we went looking for geelbek there. Ja , so unless you really know the area and sea well , dont attempt stuffing around at sea there) ppss - It is sad that areas that locals and holidaymakers retreated to and could enjoy for years wil be taken up by the campsite , but considering the enormity and success by which Sanparks have managed to restore some other areas that were really badly overgrown with aliens , back to pristine veld , certainly gives them my go-ahead on their plans . Closing down unsightly little two-track spore and general cleanlines (less rubish next to the roads and high water mark in the areas have also improved greatly) Also the removal of old fences etc etc... As long as they give us locals a little discount then it will be cool!!!

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