CAPRIVI REGION

The Caprivi is almost entirely surrounded by foreign countries. Its only domestic border is a short connection in the west with the Kavango, which however is so similar to the Caprivi, that both these regions are described as one. In the northwest, the Caprivi borders the Cuando Cubango Province of Angola. In the north, it borders the Western Province of Zambia. In the south, it borders the North-West District of Botswana. In the far East, it borders Zimbabwe by a very small strip of land.

The Caprivi is a heavily tropical area, with high temperatures and much rainfall during the December-to-March rainy season, making it the wettest region of Namibia. The terrain is mostly made up of swamps, floodplains, wetland and woodland and home to some 450 animal species, including lion, elephant, leopard and buffalo, making Caprivi one of the most sought after game viewing destinations in southern Africa.

The wildlife is protected by several unfenced nature reserves, such as Bwabwata, Mudumu, Lizauli, West Caprivi Game Park, Mahango / Buffalo Game Reserve, and Nkasa Lupala National Park (previously known as the Mamili National Park); animals travel freely across the unmarked border with Botswana, where the Chobe National Park lies. The strip is also a prime bird-watching area, with over 430 different bird species (almost 70 percent of bird species found in Namibia) being recorded here. With its magnificent woodlands and perennial boundary rivers, the Okavango and Caprivi contrast sharply with the other more arid regions found within Namibia. Here are large swathes of tall woodland, riverine forests, floodplains and reed-lined channels. The Caprivi Region is dominated by the river systems of the Kavango, Kwando and Zambezi which make the areas considerably greener than the rest of Namibia.

The rivers form natural borders between Namibia and its neighbouring countries for more than 500km and are not only the lifeline to the Fauna and Flora, but also to the rich diversity of people who have lived here for hundreds of years and who moved here from the large lakes of East Africa between 1750 and 1800. Even today the Caprivi region consists of traditional tribes, each led by a traditional chief and assisted by a traditional headman, and day-to-day business has not changed much since they arrived here. Together with its magnificent rivers and its thickly wooded savannahs, the people of Caprivi are the real treasure and a reminder of the Africa which once was.
The “Lozi” are the largest tribe in the Caprivi, and, before borders were demarcated, inhabited the land we nowadays know as Caprivi, South East Angola, northern Botswana and South Western Zambia. With colonisation many families were split up by the demarcation of borders, which is especially evident during the festive season when a great amount of Namibian people travel to Zambia to visit their estranged families. The Lozi people speak Silozi, which is still the most common indigenous language of the Caprivi and understood and spoken by many.

Other tribes found in the Caprivi, to a lesser extent, consist of the Mafwe people (translated as “nature people”), inhabit the regions ranging from South-Eastern Angola down along the Kwando River to the Mudumu National Park. Mafwe people speak Sifwe.

Masubia make up the largest part of the Sub-ethnic groups after the Lozi, and are found in the Eastern Caprivi as well as the southern provinces of Zambia. Masubia people’s dialect is called Sisubia.

The Mayeyi and Mbukushu people live in the very southern tip of the Caprivi, around the Mamili National Park, and constitute the smallest tribes. Even though the two tribes are found in the same areas, they have separate little villages, where the Mayeyi speaks Siyeyi and the Mbukushu speak Mbuku.
The People of the Caprivi are mostly subsistence farmers who rely on their immediate environment to survive and make a living. Their staple food, as in other parts of Namibia, consists of a porridge they make from Mahangu (a sort of grain), which they plant and harvest every year. All the tribes in the Caprivi own cattle, chicken and goats to satisfy their need for meat, eggs, skins etc. Fish is an important protein that they catch directly from the river, while they also plant vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, chomolia and marog. They prepare these by cutting it up very finely, cooking it for a few minutes and then frying it in a bit of oil. This is eaten with porridge. Seasonally naturally occurring fruits, vegetables and insects are eaten. During the rainy season the women collect different “veldkos” such as wild pumpkins (Marakkas). Mangos and Pawpaw trees are very common and an important source of vitamins (interesting to note that the paw-paw and mango trees were introduced by missionaries, they never occurred here naturally). Just before the rains start, the Caprivi heat becomes excruciating. This heat, combined with the first few drops of rain and the resulting humidity, tell the cicadas that is time to appear. Classified as the loudest beetles on earth, the cicadas may appear suddenly in their hundreds of thousands on one day! At night these cicadas flock to lights, where they are harvested as protein rich foods, cleaned and fried in butter. The traditional mode of travel on the river is with MOKOROS, wooden canoes made mostly out of the trunks of the sausage trees because the wood is light, easy to carve and water tight. Due to increased deforestation and conservation efforts in the Caprivi, the traditional tree may not be harvested anymore and the people either have to make use of different wood or try and maintain their old mokoros as long as possible.
Traditional Governing & Court Systems:
The Caprivi people foremost abide by traditional law, but are subjected to the law of the Namibian constitution as well. Their traditional sense is extremely powerful and still very much reliant on their chief, their beliefs in different gods as well as their belief in their traditional medicines and natural healers.

The people are “governed” by the Kutha - the “governing” body of that area, which abides by the traditional law of the ethnic groups. A lot of petty crimes get sorted out by the traditional Court, where the Kutha decides on the punishment once someone has been found guilty. Punishments typically consist of paying damages to the plaintiff, fees to the Kutha, community service etc. For larger crimes, the people fall under the law of the Namibian constitution, meaning that the traditional law is no longer valid.

Kuthas are compiled out of the Litunga (Chief King) of the region, the Ngambela (Royal Advisor), the Natamoyo (Second Advisor), three senior Indunas (High Officers) , six junior Indunas (Officers) and some secretaries.

Thus, if a person has a problem and needs to address the Kutha, he will first approach one of the Junior Indunas. This Induna listens and reports to one of the Senior Indunas, who decides whether the problem is viable for the Kutha to address. The Induna in turn will report to Natamoyo, who will eventually report to the Ngambela. The Ngambela will then inform the Chief. The Chief will then decide on a date where all can be present to address the problem in a Kutha-Meeting, which works just like a normal magistrate’s court, where the plaintiff will put his problem, witnesses will be there etc.

Should the Kutha need to relay information to the people living in the Caprivi, the Litunga (Chief King) will give this message to the Ngambela, who will relay the message to the Natamoyo. He will then speak to the Senior Indunas, who in turn will tell the Junior Indunas. The necessary people will then be contacted and informed in order to get the message out to the public, in respect to importance. The Ngambela and Natamoyo will speak to the governor and councillors of the normal State Governmental Institutions, the Senior Indunas will speak to the Highest of local village chiefs, and the Junior Indunas will contact the normal village chiefs. The chiefs will then inform the people from the villages.

Ethnic Kutha: Every sub-ethnic group has their own Kutha. If the Kutha for that group cannot resolve a problem, it is referred to the Royal Kutha. The Lozi people that are not part of one of the sub-ethnic groups, refer their problems directly to the Royal Kutha.
Some interesting Customs:

As a manner of respect, Lozi People will clap their hands (Curled hands, not flat hands) and bend their knees slightly. Ladies may not wear pants when they are going to be in the presence of Indunas, the Ngambelo, Natamoyo and especially the Litunga. They have to wear a sitenge (stêng-gê) (wrap-around cloth) over pants should they be wearing pants in an emergency. Ladies also may not look the Litunga in the eyes.
Attractions of The Caprivi Region:

The name Popa Falls conjures up images of a raging waterfall, so it is little wonder that first-time visitors are disappointed when faced by a profusion of gentle rapids with a total drop of 4 meters. The falls are majestic, however, especially at daybreak, when the sunrays break through the surrounding foliage, illuminating the fine mist rising from the surging water. Magnificent riverine forests that are inhabited by a rich and varied bird life surround the falls and the walking paths leading up to the waters edge.

Mahango National Park is Namibia‘s smallest park, situated a short drive south of Popa Falls, on the border with Botswana. Driving the route through the park will take approximately half a day and should rather be attempted in a 4x4 vehicle, although a 2x4 route is available in the park. The dry season is also the best time to travel into the park for game viewing (May to October), for birders it is however advisable to visit the park during the rainy season when the breeding season is on the go and the diversity of colours are at their best. The Mahango Game Park is an excellent destination for bird watching. It has three different habitats: the Kavango River, the flood plains, known as omurambas and woodlands, so a wide spread of species can be seen.

The Mahango Game Park has a high number of elephants, as well as fair numbers of antelopes which are scarce or not seen in other parts of Namibia. These include the roan and sable antelope, tsessebe and the red lechwe. The park is also home to a number of sitatunga, however these antelopes are very scarce, and sightings would be excellent luck. Part of the park borders on the Kavango river, so the possibility of seeing animals such as crocodiles and hippos are very good.

Bwabwata National Park is the new name for the Caprivi Game Reserve that covers some 200km between the Kavango and Kwando Rivers. This beautiful region of Namibia boasts amazing birdlife, varied wildlife and stunning wetland scenery. Since 2011 this fascinating area, together with all the other national parks found in the Caprivi, but also the bordering national parks of Botswana, Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe form part of the Transfrontier Conservation Area - this exciting development is Namibia's newest park and covers an amazing 278,132 km² making it the world's largest conservation area.

Mudumu National Park: Covering an area of 101'000 hectares of mainly woodland territory, this little park is centred around the Mudumu Mulapo, an ancient fossil river course. The Kwando River forms a natural boundary in the west for about 15km, while the rest of the park stretches eastwards for another 40km. Proclaimed in 1990 as a sanctuary for the areas dwindling wildlife, game species are now increasing significantly and include elephant, buffalo, roan, sable and also impala. Mudumu is furthermore the best place in Namibia to see the shy oribi, a small antelope that favours open grasslands. The river and adjacent habitats are inhabited by crocodile, red lechwe as well as the sitatunga, an extremely shy antelope found exclusively in papyrus swamps. One of the park’s main attractions is the excellent birding it offers, with a checklist exceeding 400 different bird species. A four wheel drive vehicle and a sense of direction are essential as the tracks are rough and unmarked. It is always very advisable to travel the park with a GPS. During the summer rainy season the clayish soil tracks are often impassible, even by 4x4, when the park should rather be explored by boat.

Nkasa Lupala National Park used to be called the Mamili National Park. Although game is not abundant as in Namibia’s other game parks, the park is home to Namibia’s largest buffalo herds and offers visitors a true wilderness experience. Apart from the new Nkasa Lupala Lodge recently built close to the entrance gate of the park, there are no facilities and very few people have discovered this very wild tract of land. Cradled by the V-shaped arms of the Kwando-Linyanti River, the 32’000 hectare park was set aside in 1990 to protect and conserve Namibia’s largest wetland, the Linyanti swamps. This is the area that also mostly resembles the Okavango Delta of Botswana further southwest. From its origins in the highlands of Angola, the Kwando River flows in a southeasterly direction for nearly 1000 kilometres. It then quite unexpectantly makes a 90° turn to the northeast to follow the Gumare fault and becomes known as the Linyanti River (further east in Botswana the same river is called the Chobe River) The annual floodwaters of the Kwando-Linyanti reach the area in August and September, inundating the floodplains and flooding the relic channels. Predators include lion, leopard and spotted hyena, while crocodile and hippo abound in the river. The success for viewing game differs, but the best season to view game is generally June to November.

Lake Liambezi has a strange history. Less than 50 years ago there was no lake. In 1958 the Zambezi rose to the highest levels ever recorded and flooded the entire eastern portion of the Caprivi, pouring into a broad depression located south of Katima Mulilo and thereby creating a lake now known as Lake Liambezi – even referred to as a “lake”, it hardly has water. An interesting (and possibly true) theory as to why Lake Liambezi dried up after the floods of 1958, is the poaching of abundance of hippo. This apparently caused the channels (which were always kept open by the hippo) to close-up thus preventing water from flowing into the lake and so, ironically, deprived the local population of a plentiful supply of fish. Even with the high Zambezi floods in 2007 and the 2008 Kwando Flood the lake received very little water at all - giving more proof of the hippo-theory. In 2010 the lake did receive quite some water and even flooded the C49, making a journey from Kongola to Katima Mulilo impossible.