Botswana’s tourism capital lies on the southern fringes of the Okavango Delta. Despite recent modernisations, Maun carries the feeling of a dusty, frontier town. Maun is the gateway into the Delta for many tourists and often into Botswana. The busy airport receives direct flights from Johannesburg and Gaborone.
Maun is the administrative centre of Ngamiland District and the seat of power of the Batawana people. The Batawana are an offshoot of the Bangwato of Serowe. Following a chieftainship dispute in the late 18th century, Kgosi (chief) Tawana and his people left Serowe and settled in Ngamiland. First establishing their capital at Lake Ngami, then Toteng, Tsao and finally, in 1915, in Maun. Ngamiland District comprises a fascinating variety of ethnic groups: the Hambukushu, Basubiya and Bayei – all with central African origins. These groups know the Okavango intimately, having expertly exploited and utilised its abundant resources for centuries. Cultural groups also include the Banoka – the River Bushmen, the Okavango’s original inhabitants – the Bakgalagadi, and the Baherero. The Herero people originate from Namibia. Women of the tribe can be seen wearing brightly coloured Victorian-style dresses as they stroll along the town roads or sit outside their traditional rondavels.
Frequently, the ‘people’ side of the Okavango is overlooked, with tourists merely using Maun as a transit point to the Delta. However, exploring the villages along the western fringes of the Delta and into the panhandle is worth the time and effort. Those that make this additional effort find it becomes a real highlight of their travels in Botswana.
The dramatic surge in the numbers of tourists coming to Botswana in the 1980s brought equally dramatic changes to Maun. Safari companies abound, and their signposts dot the sandy parking lots. Modern malls, shops, hotels and guesthouses have sprung up everywhere. Now virtually any food item – from champagne, French cheeses, and chocolates down to commonplace necessities – can be purchased easily.
Meanwhile, the timeless Thamalakane River meanders lazily through the town, setting the scene and mood for what lies ahead