by Ginger Mauney
Clusters of dome-shaped huts made of wood and forming a village, a young man walking with a herd of cattle, fishermen casting nets into the water from elegant mokoros… these are glimpses into the traditional lifestyles of people in Zambezi. These images are readily seen, but not as easily understood.
Fortunately for tourists in Zambezi, there are several options that offer a greater understanding of the lives of the area’s indigenous people.
Guests at Impalila Island Lodge are encouraged to embark on a walk to a 2 000-year-old baobab tree.
Should they have the inclination to climb it, they will be rewarded with a bird’s-eye view of the meeting place of two rivers and four countries. Along the way, experienced guides will present information about the medicinal and spiritual value of the island’s flora. The route ends at a traditional fishing village.
With most of its staff coming from the community, Impalila Island Lodge maintains a good relationship with the local community. Impalila pays the village a per-person rate for each guest and has established a community development fund that is jointly managed by the lodge and the community. Money from this fund has been used for schools, a clinic, a nurse, medicines and ablution blocks and the general upkeep and development of the village.
For over 100 years the Ijambwe fishing village has existed on the floodplains of East Zambezi. A few years ago the managers at Chobe Savanna Lodge introduced a project that would provide their guests with an insight into the lives of people in this active fishing village, while at the same time benefiting the villagers.
Visits to the village include providing guests with opportunities to witness and photograph villagers as they build a traditional house, prepare food, tend cattle, plant crops and fish in the river with traditional nets and reed baskets. These are villagers at work, living their everyday lives in a real village, not putting on a show in a staged setting.
Guests are welcome to donate money towards community development projects. With such donations, a water pump, water pipes and taps have been installed, thus reducing the risk of crocodile attacks on women collecting water from the river. A boat has also been purchased, allowing villagers to deliver their fish catches to the market at Kasane and transporting elderly people to Kasane to collect their pensions.
Next to Camp Kwando in the village where most of their staff comes from, the villagers have created a traditional village where they demonstrate various fishing and hunting techniques and many of their everyday activities to guests. During a visit, the Medicine Man shows how different dances are used to combat certain illnesses and cure other problems. Most of these traditions have been passed down through the centuries, and the experience of sharing them with tourists to Namibia today gives them a different, modern meaning.
Built in 1992 by Lianshulu Lodge and handed over to the community to run independently in 1993, Lizauli Traditional Village offers a guided tour through the culture and history of the people in this part of the Zambezi. Open to the general public, the tour is conducted in the local language, Lozi, and then translated into English.
Inside the large, open reed structure, guests are taken to the various sites that make up a traditional village. At the ‘house of the grandmother,’ a woman sits outside weaving a basket, an activity that grandmothers teach the younger generations, while explaining to them about life, love and marriage.
At the ‘house of the headman or chief’ calabashes and baskets for fishing and carrying chickens are displayed and their uses are explained. A tanned animal skin lies across the bed, and the guide tells guests that before retiring at night, the headman may relax by playing a traditional mouth organ. Demonstrating how to play the thumb piano, mouth organ and hippo caller has tourists enthralled. Visitors are invited to try to play these instruments themselves, raising fits of laughter.
With dances and demonstrations of traditional tools and implements, information about village life and traditions is imparted in an active, lively way. The tour ends at a shop stocked with baskets and other curios made by local community members, who are paid for what they sell at the end of each month.
Twenty years down the line, Lizauli Traditional Village is a well-known and well-loved stop for tourists to the Zambezi.
This article appeared in the July/Aug ‘06 edition of Travel News Namibia.