People Living Along The Okavango River And Delta – Part 2


All other ethnic groups (e.g. Bantu-speakers) found the Basarwa already living in most parts of the Okavango Delta. The Wayeyi and HaMbukushu were the first groups to arrive in the Okavango from 1800 from Zambia. The Wayeyi settled along river channels, islands, and the margins of the Okavango Delta. Some of the Wayeyi groups settled at Tubu, from where they expanded southwards founding settlements like Gumare and Nokaneng. The Wayeyi group under Matsharatshara settled near Sankoyo.

The HaMbukushu to emigrate from their home at Katima Mulilo to the Kwando Valley in north-western Botswana. They settled at Gabamukuni, Sepopa and Shakawe areas. The wars in Southern Angola resulted in further migrations of about 4,000 HaMbukushu into areas around Gumare. More groups of Angolan HaMbukushu joined their neighbours in the Mohembo/Shakawe area. The Botswana Government resettled the HaMbukushu in a 260 square kilometers area between Gumare and Sepopa along the Thaoge River (one of the three main distributaries of the Okavango River). The 3 HaMbukushu villages established in the Okavango River Basin are thus named from Etsha 1 to 13. Etsha is a Sesarwa name referring to “water in a small pan”.

The HaMbukushu are primarily agriculturalists, practicing dryland-farming methods. Molapo (floodplain) crop farming along the Okavango River is one of the economic activities that the HaMbukushu are practicing. The HaMbukushu also take advantage of the surrounding Okavango environment to collect edible plants, fish, small game, and insects which add to their diet. The Bambukushu also became involved in craftmaking. The trees, grass, and the reeds of the Okavango supply the craft producers with the necessary raw materials for handicraft production. The economic potential of this handcraft industry was to be copied by the Wayeyi women near Etsha who joined their HaMbukushu counterparts and increased basket production.

The history of Ngamiland would be incomplete if the role played by the Batawana in the area is over-looked. The Batawana are an off-shoot of the Bangwato of the Central District of Botswana. They seceded in the 19th century and immigrated to Ngamiland District. There, the Batawana state was superimposed on the hitherto stateless societies of the area. The most important characteristics of the period before the arrival of the Batawana in Ngamiland District was the absence of a unitary state and the prevalence of small-scale communities with diversified social and political structures. None of these entities was powerful enough to impose its rule on others. They co-existed in a peaceful and balanced manner and were relatively autonomous until their incorporation into the Batawana State in the early 19th century. After staying in several settlements such as Lephephe and Toteng, the Batawana finally built their capital at Maun in the 1900s.

The Batawana changed the land use of the Okavango from a predominately hunter-gatherer and arable economy to include livestock farming. While the Batawana practiced crop farming, pastoral farming was the backone of their economy. Pastoralism was further promoted by the arrival of the Baherero who arrived in the Okavango in 1904/5 fleeing from German colonial wars in present day Namibia. The Baherero settled in the areas to the west of the Okavango Delta in villages of Sehitwa and Nokaneng. The Bakgalagadi settled north of Tsodilo Hills and Shakawe and Gabamukuni between the 1820s and 1840s. The Bakgalagadi relied on game, which roamed the scrub savannah and parts of the sandbelt as well as around the Okavango Delta. This therefore demonstrates that the Okavango River Basin has sustained and continue to sustain human life.


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