Massacre_of_Francisco_de_Almeida_1‘The massacre of Viceroy Francisco d’Almeida, 1510’ by Angus McBride, 1984. Courtesy of the Castle Military Museum, Cape Town. Today local activists refer to it as the Battle of Goringhaiqua.


Knot of Stone is a tale of murder and intrigue in which a restless Dutch historian and a jaded Afrikaans academic find themselves drawn together after the chance discovery of a five-century-old skeleton at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town. Was the victim a sailor, soldier, explorer or cattle trader? Was it an ambush, a mutiny or an assassination? Watch our video-introduction below:

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What’s the book all about?
Knot of Stone
 is a work of historical detection in which two unlikely travel companions, Sonja Haas and Jason Tomas, find themselves drawn together after uncovering a mass-grave at the southern tip of Africa. Their search for fresh evidence leads the reader ever further north to ancestral burial sites, remote mountain sanctuaries, sacred springs, medieval monasteries and rare museum artefacts. Via several roadside encounters, including the startling revelations of a sangoma (a healer empowered by the ancestors), the two travellers reconstruct the past and their own identities, with divergent consequences. As the book’s main focaliser, Sonja’s inner conflict reflects her passage from doubt (tormentoso) to hope (esperança), echoing the transition from a Cape of Storms to the Cape of Good Hope. Like Sonja’s search for herself, this story is ultimately a tale of self-discovery. To follow her journey in South Africa, click Unravel the clues.

Why this title for the book?
Knot of Stone is a unique story about an obscure murder that reset the stage for our modern world. Viewed against an age-old East-West/North-South balance of power, the characters follow the slow emergence of a united Europe in relation to a divided Africa. Like the complex, intricate and elegant strands of a Gordian knot, they unravel the lives of those who altered the course of western history. To read about the meaning of the book’s title, see Why tie a knot in stone?

Cantino World Map, earliest surviving map showing Portuguese Discoveries. Courtesy Biblioteca Esternse, Modena, Italy.

Knot of Stone is published in the UK & US. Order a copy online.
Click here for a Dutch or Portuguese review of Knot of Stone.

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15 Responses to Home

  1. Busy reading my copy. Highly recommendable!

  2. Ron Martin says:

    Was it ambush, mutiny or assassination? Neither. It was his own arrogance and, consequentially, his underestimation of the cowherders whom he thought were mere disorganised savages… anyway, they showed him, didn’t they? The events leading to 1 March 1510 may have had many catalytic influences, but two stark facts are evident:

    1. The Khoi-Khoi killed the great Dom Francisco d’Almeida and his seasoned soldiers by applying nothing less than their own brand of military strategy.

    2. This victory kept the Portuguese away from our shores for nearly a century.

    Don’t take the pride in our heroes and their achievements away from our people, simply to satisfy some clever conspiracy theory. Europeans have already taken everything else.

    • If any clever conspiracy exists, then it is the story that emerged in Lisbon after Almeida’s murder. I do not exclude the fact that Almeida was killed by your people, Ron, so take pride in his death, by all means, as I merely wish to assert that Almeida (once dead and stripped of his clothing) was “ritually executed” by his compatriots when they returned to the beach later that afternoon. It was a symbolic gesture—a ceremonial act of sorts—and its memory the stuff of dreams, prophecies and sangomas. See the book for details. (KoS pp.33, 325-328)

    • The skirmish at the Cape was serious, yes, since it altered the course of South Africa’s history, irrevocably. Furthermore, had it not been for the murder of Almeida and his party, the entire sub-continent may well have fallen under Portuguese (Catholic) control and followed a fate similar to that of South America. See my blog on why South Africa isn’t Brazil.

  3. I love to read your book… everything is strangely beautiful about its name, its look, your illustrations and use of words… I’d love to read it.

  4. Today we revisit the events of 1 March 1510, the Almeida/Khoena Conflict.

  5. Today, for the second year in a row, the South African government has chosen to frame Heritage Day in terms of the ANC’s liberation struggle and the role played by its freedom fighters. The same theme was used for official celebrations on 24 September last year. I find this not only repetitive, but rather retro, coming two decades after the country’s first democratic elections. Moreover, making colonial encounters look like racial conflicts is simply shortsighted. So, in case we forget it again this year, the murder of Almeida need not be blamed on the Khoisan alone.

  6. Alecia Ray says:

    I’ve been hearing about this and am really looking forward to reading it! I heard it is a true story? Wonder why we are just now coming out? Hmmm, I guess there are many more stories like this that we haven’t heard about too…

  7. Hi Nicolaas, the account of Almeida’s post-death ritual is very intriguing. Your website’s banner image reminds me of the Manueline decorations, such as the janela de Tomar in Portugal, one of the strangest pieces of sculpture I’ve ever come across. Would like to know more.

    • You’re very alert, Bernard, recognising the carved knot on my website pages. It is the signature image for my novel, and appears on the book cover too. This knot, however, can be seen on Belem Tower in Lisbon. Please see my blog for more information on its location and symbolism: Why tie a knot in stone?

  8. I plan a trip to the cinema when the film is made. The soundtrack is curious, where did you find it?

    • The soundtrack is by a good friend Nellis Du Biel, formerly from Cape Town, now living in Berlin. The song is based on a poem written by his brother Anton and entitled The bar at the end of the world, recorded 1997. Coincidentally, the lyrics describe the scene with uncanny insight:

      The fire of the roses has blazed to the core
      as the sailors of sunlight
      have drowned on the shore
      but the wounded and the dying
      whose rest never comes
      rolls on through the ages
      to the beat of the drums.

      For more album details, see The bar at the end of the world.

  9. Mike Etienne says:

    Nice video. Nice old footage.

    • The original footage was shot on a 8mm camera by my father as we sailed into Cape Town harbour aboard a Union-Castle steamship in 1963. This is also my earliest recollection of Table Mountain.