Maung – ‘The Place Of River Reeds’

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Floods of the Okavango River finally arrived in Maun last week. The name Maun is derived from the Seyei word ‘maung’, which translates ‘the place of river reeds’. Before the arrival of Batawana, Maun was a small Yei village. Bayei or Wayei settled in the area around Ngami and the Okavango Delta around 1750.

The Bayei immigrated from the Lozi tribe in Zambia and moved into Ngamiland around the 1750. It is therefore not surprising that that a small Bayei village called Maung was situated in what is present day Maun. It is also not surprising that the Bayei name-Maung refers to ‘the place of River Reeds”. For generations, river reeds have played a significant socio-economic role in the lives of the people of Ngamiland, especially Bayei.

The fact that Maun or Maung refers to “the place of River Reeds” and was a Bayei village suggests that the Thamalakane River was a key livelihood option of the people who lived in the area. Research has shown that wetlands such as the Okavango sustain livelihoods as households harvest wetland resources (papyrus, reeds, grasses) and engage in traditional fishing in rivers around them.

Traditional communities settled around rivers because resources from the river or those livelihoods activities associated with rivers such as fishing, hunting and veld products collections (e.g. waterlily or tswii collection) have supported livelihoods for generations. In addition, river channels such as the Thamalakane River have been used for transportation purposes using dug-out canoes by the local people for generations.

While Maun was a traditional Bayei village, in 1915, it became the capital for Batawana. The Batawana are an offshoot of the Bangwato of Serowe. Following a chieftainship dispute in the late 18th century, Kgosi Tawana I and his people left Serowe and settled in Ngamiland. First establishing their capital at Lake Ngami, then Toteng, Tsau and finally, in 1915, in Maun.

Before Maun became the modern town of today, it had a reputation as trophy hunting area and cattle rearing place. There were widespread cattle farming and hunting operations around Maun. Again, hunting in the area was possible because of the floods of the Okavango River. Wild animals become attracted to areas where there an abundant water supply throughout the year.

In modern times, Maun has developed swiftly, quickly shaking off its old-town character. Today, Maun is proudly home to approximately 85 000 people. Maun has become a unique and attractive combination of old and new living. Maun is a stunning metropolitan town that lies along the banks of the Thamalakane River. It has become the heartbeat of tourism development in Botswana. The dramatic surge in the numbers of tourists coming to Botswana since the 1980s brought equally dramatic changes to Maun.

These includes safari companies, modern malls, shops, hotels, and guesthouses have sprung up everywhere in Maun. In addition, it has become the administrative headquarters of north western Botswana. This therefore shows that Maun has become a hallmark for transformation. Originally, it was the home of the Basarwa (San), later, it was a small Bayei village called Maung from around 1750, it later became the Batawana capital in 1915, during this time, Maun became a trophy hunting Centre. Presently, Maun has become the tourism gateway to the Okavango Delta and Administrative headquarters of the North West District. Meanwhile, the timeless Thamalakane River meanders lazily through the village and town of Maun.

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