Botswana’s tourism capital lies on the southern fringes of the Okavango Delta, and still, despite recent modern developments, the town carries the feeling of a dusty, frontier town. For many tourists, Maun is the point of entry into the Delta with direct air connections from Johannesburg, Windhoek and locally Kasane and Botswana Capital, Gaborone.
Maun is the administrative centre of Ngamiland District and the tribal seat the Batawana tribe. The Batawana are an off shoot 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, then 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, who know the Okavango intimately, having expertly exploited and utilised its abundant resources for centuries. There are also the Banoka – the River Bushmen, who are the Okavango’s original inhabitants, the Bakgalagadi, and the Baherero, who originate from Namibia, and whose women can be seen wearing brightly coloured Victorian style dresses as they stroll along the town roads.
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; and now virtually any food items – from French Champagne, French cheeses, and chocolates down to common necessities can be purchased locally.
Meanwhile, the timeless Thamalakane River meanders lazily through the town, setting the scene and mood for what lies ahead.