Discover the history of the Okavango Delta


Find out more about why this area has attracted hunter gatherers for 100,000 years


05th February 2019

Red Carnation Hotels

The Okavango Delta – which surrounds Xigera – was formed 50,000 years ago, when a massive earthquake caused the Okavango River to spill out into the desert. For the 2 million years prior to the quake, the river had flowed into Lake Makgadikgadi, a vast body of water that dried up after the river stopped flowing into it, and is now the region known as the Makgadikgadi Pans. The interesting part of this story is that humans have inhabited the delta region for around 100,000 years, meaning that this geological event happened while people lived in the area.

One of the most important sites in the delta is the Tsodilo Hills in the northern part of Okavango, where the river is still in its bed, before the fan of the delta. More than 4000 rock carvings and paintings adorn the walls and caves of the hills, with the various ethnic groups of the region claiming them as their ancestral heritage.

The water made the area a perfect place to live, with abundant food for hunter gatherers. The first people to live in the area were likely the ancestors of the Bugakhwe and ||anikhwe. Later, Bantu people such as the Hambukushu and Wayeyi moved into the region, bringing farming and livestock, establishing semi-permanent settlements.

The people of the Okavango Delta moved their settlements fairly frequently, due to flooding and finding suitable farmland. The Tawana arrived in 1800, but moved their capital eight times before finally settling in Maun in 1915. Maun lies south of the Moremi Game Reserve, named after the Tawana chief Moremi III.

Okavango Delta

In the 1960s, the government moved some groups out of parts of the delta, in order to preserve nature, an unpopular move with the people of the area.

In 1963, the wife of the King of baTawana created Moremi Game Reserve to protect their land from exploitation. Excessive farming and hunting was banned, leading the Tawana to leave the protected area in order to further preserve it. The reserve continued to expand and now covers one third of the entire Okavango Delta.

More Hambukushu people came to the region in the 1960s and 70s to escape war in Angola, forming the Etsha settlement to the west of the panhandle. Most people moving into the area today settle in Maun.

The fertile lands of the Okavanga Delta have attracted humans for thousands of years. Thanks to environmental protections, future generations will be able to enjoy the beauty of the region as it is sustainably managed.

Image credits: all images courtesy of Red Carnation Hotels.

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