The people of the Okavango Delta


Meet the ethnic groups who have called the Delta home for generations.


The stunning Okavango Delta isn’t just diverse in terms of animal and plant life. Five different ethnic groups have called the delta home for generations. Each has their own distinct culture and separate language.

The Hambukushu are a Bantu speaking people known as the “The Rain-makers of Okavango”. They are a matrilineal agricultural people who grow maize, pumpkins and watermelons. They are known for brick-making, bee-keeping and the reed trade. Their best-known skill is basket weaving: in particular their traps which the women use to catch fish.

The Wayeyi migrated into the area in the 18th century and, while they are also Bantu-speakers, their language was affected by the San people who speak in clicks. The Wayeyi traditionally traded tobacco for iron from the Lozi people, so they could make spearheads and metal tools. They are also credited with bringing canoes to the Okavango Delta.

The Dceriku are an agricultural Bantu people who engage in mixed economies of agriculture, growing sorghum and millet, as well as hunting and fishing on the delta.

The Bugakhwe and ||anikhwe are closely related groups of bushmen. They both speak a form of Khwe, the local name for the Khoi language. Both groups are hunter-gatherers who fish and hunt in the delta region. The ||anikhwe prefer to use the riverine resources, while the Bugakhwe happily hunt and gather on the land and in the water. Both are related to the Khoisan-speaking people of the African bush. Their religion, unlike that of their neighbours who revere ancestors, focuses on trickster gods and a reverence of the inherent power of the natural world.

Other ethnic groups such as the Herero and the Tawana have joined the five principal groups over the last two centuries, all using the abundance of the delta to establish themselves in the region.

Visiting the Okavango Delta, you can see how these groups each live with each other and with the natural resources. Each uses the delta in a slightly different way, but all benefit from its remarkable biological diversity.

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