KAVANGO REGION

With its magnificent woodlands and perennial boundary rivers, the Okavango and Caprivi contrast sharply with the other more arid regions found within Namibia. Here one finds large swathes of tall woodland, riverine forests, floodplains and reed-lined channels. A stunning variety of birds and animals are attracted to this diversity of habitats, some of which are not found in any other part of the country. It is also home to the last of the San people (Bushmen), who supplement their traditional lifestyle with cattle herding and subsistence farming. The Kavango Region is dominated by the Okavango River and its broad flood plains, which makes the area considerably greener than the rest of Namibia. The river forms a natural border between Namibia and Angola for more than 400km and is the lifeline to the Kavango people. The people make a living from fishing, tending cattle and cultivating sorghum, millet and maize. The Kavango people originate from the large lakes of East Africa moving south to this area between 1750 and 1800. Today the Kavango Region consists of five tribes each led by a traditional chief and assisted by a traditional headman. With a population of approximately 120 000 people over a surface area of ca. 44 000 square kilometre, Kavango has a population density of less than 3 inhabitants per square kilometre, more than the National average, but still low. Considering the fact that 95% of the total population live in a narrow strip of 5-10 km on the river terrace along the River, vast areas of the region are not populated. As in most parts of Namibia, lack of water makes human existence impossible in these unpopulated areas. Together with its magnificent river and its thickly wooded savannah, the people of Kavango are the real treasure of Kavango. The Kavango region is a malaria area, and travellers must consult with their doctors on malaria precautions before entering the area.

Rundu is the capital of the Kavango region and is situated on a high bank above the majestic Okavango River overlooking the derelict settlement of Casai in Angola. The San / Bushmen were the first inhabitants of the forests that line the majestic Okavango River area, following the game species’ migrational patterns and living on either side of the river. In the 15th century these Bushmen were joined by Bantu speaking tribes that migrated southwards from central Africa, and who settled along the river’s edge. Most of the Bushmen in the Kavango area were removed to the Tsumkwe area once the Odendaal Plan was implemented in 1962. The remaining Bantu speaking people, the largest tribes being the Mbukushu and the Kwangali, mainly stayed on the Angolan side of the river. Since the beginning of the 20th century many of these people have transferred themselves onto the Namibian side, due mainly to the unrest and later guerilla wars experienced in the southern parts of Angola. The Nyemba and Chokwe tribes, exclusively living on the Angolan sides, have also sought refuge on Namibian ground and refer to themselves as Namibians rather than Angolans.

Rundu served as a pick-up and drop-off point for farmers who employed the local inhabitants, but also citizens of bordering Ovamboland, to work on their farms on a 3-month contract basis. The town has since grown into a multilingual capital city of the Kavango region with about 25 000 inhabitants. The first houses in Rundu where built for black workers, but as the town grew, it saw the construction of modern houses and buildings as well as private doctors, a post office, a variety of banks and modern shopping centres. The Kavango people are famous for their handicrafts fashioned from Teak and other tree species found in the area. The Mbangura Woodcarvers’ Cooperative shop is well worth a visit, as it gives the visitor a deeper understanding of the traditions and cultures of the Kavango people. Guests also have the possibility to visit a traditional Kavango Village on the C45 road towards Nkurenkuru. This road is currently under construction as it is being tarred – by 2014 this road is expected to have been completely tarred, enabling visitors and locals to combine the Ovamboland and the Kavango area by tar road. But even excluding visits to these more formalised markets, it is exciting to just travel through the area and take note of all the informal craft sellers on the side of the road. With their interesting kraals cattle roaming freely, this is Africa’s unfettered spirit.