People Living Along The Okavango River And Delta – Part 1

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The Okavango River and Delta does not only sustain wildlife, it also sustains human life. The Okavango River Delta and its immediate environs, otherwise known as Ngamiland or North West District has a human population of about 249,602 people. Over 95% of the people who live in the Okavango River Delta directly or indirectly rely on the natural resources found in the wetland to sustain their livelihoods.

The human population in the Okavango River Delta is very unevenly distributed, with vast areas unpopulated. The major areas of population concentration occur along the main road from Maun, via Sehitwa to Shakawe which is apparently the Okavango River. The Okavango River Basin has an ethnically mixed population with groups such as the Basarwa, Bayei, Bakgalagadi, Bambukushu, Basubiya, Batawana, Baherero and many others.

The oldest inhabitants of the Okavango Basin are the Basarwa, a collective name used for several groups of Khoisan-speaking peoples. Evidence based on Early and Middle Stone Age implements found at sites on or near margins of the Okavango Delta indicate that man has inhabited the southern periphery of the delta for about 10,000 years or more.

These shows that the Basarwa groups have relied on the resources found in the Okavango River ecosystem for many centuries. The Basarwa of the Okavango region are of different types, for example, they are those who lived along the floodplains and rivers of the Okavango Delta and those who lived in the sand belt areas. The Basarwa of Khwai are an example of the group that lived along the floodplains of the Okavango River and Delta while and those of Mababe lived in the dry and sand belt areas. Both Khwai and Mababe are found in the in the lower parts of the Okavango Delta. 

The Basarwa of Khwai are believed to have inhabited the Okavango Delta as early as 800 A.D. This group lived through hunting, fishing, and gathering along the rivers and distributaries of the Okavango River. As a result of their way of life, they have been collectively referred to as BaNoka, meaning people of the river or the so-called “river Bushmen”. The Banoka simply moved from one part of the river to the other according to game and fish movements. Khwai Village is also composed of Basarwa who came to the place in 1963 led by a headman called Kgwere.

Residents of the sandbelt were predominately hunters and gatherers. The Basarwa group in Mababe are also Known as Basarwa ba Setsiga or Matsegakwe, that is the people of the dryland. The Basarwa, though normadic in nature, have always moved away from the delta during summer seasons when there was an availability of natural resources in the dryland area and into the delta in the dry seasons.  

These movements indicate the important role that the Okavango River and delta played in the socio-economic livelihoods of the Basarwa. The seasonal movements promoted the sustainable use of the Okavango Delta resources. That is, while they were away from a particular place for a season, the natural resources in the area would recuperate or regenerate. Therefore, the Basarwa are the earliest inhabitants of the Okavango River and Delta and they used natural resources found in the area sustainably. Such natural resources include wildlife and veld products.

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