Okavango Delta Peoples of Botswana
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About the Okavango Delta Peoples

Okavango Man and WomanThe Okavango Delta peoples consist of five ethnic groups, each with its own ethnic identity and language. They are Hambukushu (also known as Mbukushu, Bukushu, Bukusu, Mbukuschu, Ghuva, Haghuva), Dxeriku (Dceriku, Diriku, Gciriku, Gceriku, Giriku, Niriku), Wayeyi (Bayei, Bayeyi, Yei), Bugakwe (Kxoe, Khwe, Kwengo, Barakwena, G/anda) and Xanekwe (Gxanekwe, //tanekwe, River Bushmen, Swamp Bushmen, G//ani, //ani).

Okavango HarvestThe Hambukushu, Dxeriku, and Wayeyi are all Bantus who have traditionally engaged in mixed economies of millet/sorghum agriculture; fishing, hunting, and the collection of wild plant foods; and pastoralism. The Bugakwe and Xanekwe are Bushmen who have traditionally practiced fishing, hunting, and the collection of wild plant foods; Bugakwe utilized both forest and riverine resources while the Xanekwe mostly focused on riverine resources.

The Hambukushu, Dxeriku, and Bugakwe are present along the Okavango River in Angola and in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, and there are small numbers of Hambukushu and Bugakwe in Zambia as well. Within the Okavango Delta, over the past 150 years or so Hambukushu, Dxeriku, and Bugakwe have inhabited the Panhandle and the Magwegqana in the northeastern Delta. Xanekwe have inhabited the Panhandle and the area along the Boro River through the Delta, as well as the area along the Boteti River. The Wayeyi have inhabited the area around Seronga as well as the southern Delta around Maun, and a few Wayeyi live in their putative ancestral home in the Caprivi Strip. Within the past 20 years many people from all over the Okavango have migrated to Maun, and in the late 1960's and early 1970's over 4,000 Hambukushu refugees from Angola were settled in the area around Etsha in the western Panhandle.

The Okavango Delta has been under the political control of the Batawana (a Tswana sub-tribe) for several hundred years. Since most Batawana, however, have traditionally lived on the edges of the Delta, were traditionally savanna pastoralists, and were few in number they are not included here. Small numbers of people from other ethnic groups such as Ovaherero and Ovambanderu now live in parts of the Okavango Delta, but since the majority of the members of those groups live elsewhere and the habitation is recent they are not considered as part of the Okavango Delta peoples. There are also several Bushmen groups represented by a handful of people. These groups were decimated by diseases of contact in the middle part of the 20th century, and most of the remaining members have intermarried with the Xanekwe.

As seen above, there are myriad spellings of the names of each of these ethnic groups. The spellings of ethnic group names I use here are those used by most members of those groups whom I know. Also, I use the term Bushmen because most English-speaking Bugakwe and Xanekwe I know use that term in referring to San peoples. It may very well be that as members of those groups become more involved in the pan-San movement in southern Africa another term may become favored.

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