The Okavango Delta has long been one of the world’s most remote, sparsely populated regions.
Among the few peoples to inhabit this land, the Banoka, hunter-gatherers, have lived here since the Late Stone Age. Some 300 years ago they were joined by the Bayei, a Bantu tribe fleeing conflict to the north. The two tribes have since coexisted peacefully and have shared technology and hunting techniques. The Banoka, or river Bushmen, were adept at trapping while the Bayei became skilled fishermen and hippo hunters.
Other groups include the Herero people of the southern delta, descended from refugees fleeing unrest in Nambia. Pockets of San Bushmen inhabit the west, pushed there by the expanding Batswana clan.
Another tribe, the Hambukushu, were Bantu farmers who settled in the northern delta and specialised in hunting elephants. They have long been famous for their beautiful hand-woven baskets.
The 19th century European colonisers used the delta as a hunting area. Only over the last 50 years has it experienced substantial development and population growth, spurred by tourism.
Botswana’s British colonial history has led to the adoption of English as its official language, with Setswana as the national language. Individual tribes maintain their mother tongues, whether Bantu or Khoisan.
The Okavango Delta has been under the political control of the Batawana (a Tswana sub-tribe) since the late 1700s. Most Batawana, however, have traditionally lived on the edges of the delta. Small numbers of people from other ethnic groups such as Ovaherero and Ovambanderu now live in parts of the Okavango Delta, but they are not considered as original delta peoples.
There are also several small groups of Bushmen. These were decimated by diseases in the middle part of the 20th century, and most of the remaining members have intermarried with other groups.