Maun - 90th Anniversary
Colourful history of the "Place of Reeds"
It is a town world-renowned for many things – from big game hunting, wildlife, bush and desert safaris, heavy drinking, bachelors, and parties to being the gateway to the wonderful Okavango delta.
The beginnings of Maun started with dissent among the tribal elders of the Batawana.
Maun was not always the capital of Ngamiland. Before 1915, the capital gravitated between Tsau, Nokaneng and Toteng, depending where the water was more plentiful but eventually it was necessary to put down roots, and after long debate, settled on Maun as the ideal place.
In the end, it took British officials running the affairs of the then-Bechuanaland Protectorate to convince the chief of the need to stay in Maun, even though the tribe once packed up and left for the Boro, where they established a temporary capital.
This magnet for rural people eager to find work has been described in many different ways, from being “a place too far from civilisation,” tsetse fly infested (in its early days but now eradicated), rumbustious, the last frontier, and “a dreadful hole”, to the far more delightful and appropriate, the Place of the Reeds.
This is our Maun.
Ninety years as the capital of the Ngamiland region, Maun has developed from a very small village into the bustling place it is today. It is still regarded as an urban village, but now the North West District Council (NWDC) that administers this vast region has agreed Maun needs town status.
It is argued that Maun has a growing population (at last count 94 698) and is the shopping Mecca for the whole of Ngamiland and the northern part of Central District. Some tribal elders and early settlers bemoan the passing of village life into town life but accept the inevitable in a changing world.
There are also numerous small to medium-sized industries that have sprung up over the past few years, many in the last two to three years, providing much-needed employment to an impoverished region where village life dominates in the bush and on the wetlands of the delta as it has for centuries past.
The rest is history . . .
The stories and events depicted in this special supplement have been culled from many sources, none more important than the manuscript “A Place of Reeds – Maun”, by Dr Malgorzata Dziewiecka (Gosia Welfing). We are greatly indebted to her for the use of her work and the encouragement she gave in the compilation of this record.
Our thanks also to the Maun branch of the National Library, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Dougie Wright, John Allott, Klaas Boll, Lorna Palmer, Ronnie Kays, Moira Borland, Lee Ouzman and many others for their time and for the loan of photographs of our heritage.
Not least, we wish to thank our advertiser
Not a successful capital at first!
The Historical Dictionary of Botswana describes Maun in its early years as not being a very successful capital centre due to tsetse fly that was “keeping people away.” The tsetse was eventually eradicated in the 1930s and 1940s and, after that, Maun began to thrive and develop to what it is today.
Records show that in 1936 there were just 600 people living here, and this figure reached 4 359 by 1964. There were fewer people in Maun proper than in Shakawe at the same period.
Population growth has been a feature of the area's development. In 1971, Maun had a population of 9 614 that grew to 13 925 in 1981, an annual growth rate at the time of 4.5%. By 1991, it was 26 769 and today, Maun and surrounding villages are home to 94 698 (2001 census). Maun is the largest settlement in the Ngamiland district and is classified as a primary centre in terms of the National Settlement Policy.
Maun was declared a planning area with effect from April 18, 1995, when it became mandatory that a statutory development plan had to be prepared within two years.
There were however earlier attempts at planning. The first was in 1981 with the Maun Village Development Plan, largely in response to a need for provision of a planned and comprehensive water supply. It was revised in 1986 but Maun village had not been declared a planning area at that time and there the development plan was not statutorily backed in regard to implementation and control. The preliminary draft of a development plan published in 1993 was again only advisory and finally the correct planning authority was declared in 1995.
‘Resemblance to a normal human community was fleeting'
The legendary Harry Riley at the wheel of his open tourer in Maun.
The rest of the partyare unidentified. Note the fashions of the day!
A Bechuanaland Protectorate Police patrol in the bush of Ngamiland (circa 1930s)
The history of Maun reads like a novel – how tribesmen followed by traders and hunters first came to the area, the length of time it took to travel between the village and Nata, Shakawe or Ghanzi.
The dreadful state of the roads. Deep sand and more deep sand crossing inhospitable country. The delivery of mail, for instance, took weeks from Shakawe as vehicles were struck in the sand, old road.
School children on their way to classes in other parts of the country and in South Africa were often stranded for days at a time when the Nata River, 300km from Maun, came down in flood – and were then admonished by their teachers, who had little idea of the hardships of bush life, for being late for class!
The arrival of motor vehicles was a great event and the first to reach Maun were government Chevrolet trucks. The first Motswana to own a car in Ngamiland was Chief Moremi III. Thomas Kay opened the first motorised transport business with a Chevrolet “taking freight to and from Livingstone”. .
It was a red letter day for this area, where the total number of registered vehicles in 1966 was just 96! Today, of course, there are many, many more.
One of the earliest Europeans to settle here was Charles Riley, a trader in the Protectorate from about 1882 and with good friendships with senior chiefs. He opened liquor stores and hotels, including what is today the Cresta Riley's Hotel in the centre of the town. His son was the legendary Harry Riley around whose business much of the Maun town centre gravitates, even today.
The growth of Maun as administrative capital continued apace, with a police station, agriculture officials, a courtroom, in 1934 a hospital (originally started by the Zambezi Union of the Seventh Day Adventist Mission Church and the hospital named as “Maun Medical Mission”), Riley's Hotel and garage, a Post Office, six general trading stores, butcheries and a mobile bank which came in once a week to park under a tree.
The first aircraft to land here were either enroute to s outh Africa from the then s outh- w est Africa (now Namibia) or the WENELA (Witwatersrand Native Labour Association) plane arriving between 1952 and 1963 to collect many workers recruited for the fabled gold mines of South Africa's Witwatersrand.
The first Maun person to own an aircraft was Harry Riley, and it is recorded that he was so jealous of his flying machine that when the Acting Government Secretary in Mafeking asked whether he could use the plane, he was told, politely, “No.”
Aircraft – such as the six-seater Dragon Moth - used to land in front of what is today's Riley's Garage on Tsheko Theko Road and only later was the new airstrip opened on the site of today's Maun Airport.
The earliest scheduled airline to use Maun was from South Africa and flew to here via Palapye Road and then to Windhoek (Namibia) - and that was 40 years or less after Orville and Wilbur Wright had in the United States mastered the art of flying heavier-than-air machines! Tickets for air flights out of Maun were issued from the boot of a motor car and there were none of the niceties of having travel agents in those days!
It was a time when bubonic plague and rabies ruled the lives of doctors but on the plus side, in those days the water from the river was “excellent”, according to old-timers. “There was no pollution but residents had coarse filters fitted to take out the sand”, recalled a former District Officer, Brian Read, in an interview he gave in 1996.
June Vendall Clark, author of the fascinating book “Starlings Rising”- an authentic history of not only Maun but also Ngamiland and the old Rhodesia – described the “wattle-and-daub” Maun as “the searing hot capital of an African hunting tribe.” She recalls that when she first came to Maun in 1959 she almost missed it – the main road took her past a few petrol pumps, and a small burial ground as well as Riley's Hotel and Store.
“Francistown may have been the pits, but I soon discovered that any resemblance between Maun and a normal human community was fleeting,” she wrote. “It consisted mainly of dust, goats, milkweed hedges and flagrantly passionate donkeys. It was nothing more than a desert outpost, with no atmosphere to speak of and totally lacking in charm.”
Had it not been for a police radio link to Francistown, “Maun could have vanished and never been missed.” Clark, in particular, remembers Maun to be what she called “a divided town” among whites – Europeans on the one side, Afrikaners on the other.
She had some good words, too. “The glory of Maun was the Thamalakane River. It would have been wholly unthinkable to live in Maun itself, so we cast around for a suitable island to retreat to and at last we found one.”
The personal diaries of veteran Jack Bousfield shed some light on the state of the roads from Francistown to Maun in 1965. He writes “the road, although the main Bechuanaland highway, is only fit for 4-wheel drive vehicle because of it is deep sand.”
Bousfield says of Maun - “it is built on the Thamalakane River which is usually strong and fast flowing but in years of drought this was reduced to a series of large ponds. We camped on the traditional space near the bridge and went into town to fix up hunting licences and buy some food . . . there is a hotel in Maun with a pub where everybody gather to discuss events.” It was where Bousfield came across numerous friends.
The characters of Maun live on...
There are so many wonderful characters who have become part of Maun's folklore that it is almost impossible to recollect them all.
Oldtimers have many stories to tell of the likes of big game hunters and adventurers who flocked here from all over southern and east Africa – the likes of George Riley, Harry Riley, Cronje Wilmot, Bobby Wilmot, Lionel Palmer, Kennie Kays, “The Floating Trophy” (a young woman), dapper British district commissioners, and many more. They, along with people such as Doug Wright, Cecil Riggs and Harry Selby, provided Maun with a special aura and galvanised people into “visiting the bush” top see the wild animals that abounded in the scrublands, jungles and wetlands of northern Botswana.
The antics of some of the characters was resulted in the Botswana Police sending a team into Maun to “tame the hillbillys of Maun”, as it was stated by a senior officer. This did not seem to deter the roistering that was the order of the day!
And no one who has lived in this village for many years will not recall the wonderful Regent of the Batawana, Pulane, whose single-handed efforts won the day in having the Moremi Game Reserve declared as a conservation area. Her efforts alone are worthy of being among the greatest gift that Maun could give to the people of Botswana. Described by oldtimers as “a wonderful woman”, she set Maun on the path to modernity in what was then very much a changing world.
The arrival of 'proper' medical care
Medical attention was rudimentary, to say the least, in the very early years of Maun's existence. The first hospital was started in the mid-1930s when the Zambezi Union of the Seventh Day Adventist Mission offered to build it, “with 20 beds for natives in the first year and four additional beds the following year”.
There would be a doctor in the first year and two doctors and two qualified nurses (one white and one black) in the second year. The hospital was called “Maun Medical Mission of the Seventh Day Adventists” and was opened with the director, a Dr Freedman, from California, United States. Teas, beer and tobacco were prohibited at the hospital, which didn't make it very popular.
In 1936, Dr C Paul Bingle from Scotland came to Maun hospital – he had failed his exams in Edinburgh on two occasions and he had to try again in April 1936! It is not recorded if he was successful. The Maun Maternity Centre opened in 1945 through the efforts of the London Missionary Society (LMS) with a Miss Taylor as its head and then Pat Hollomby, from England, came out – she still lives in Maun as Mrs Pat Dance.
The old Maun hospital opened more than 60 years ago is being replaced by this multi million pula new hospital situated at Disaneng. It is scheduled to be completed in mid 2006.
Picture: Steve Hollingworthe
The ups-and-downs of a desert village
There have been many ups and downs in the formation of Maun over the pass nine decades.
Veteran politician Gaerolwe Kwerepe , born 76 years ago in Maun, said the settlement was originally called “Mao”, which means river reeds in the Wayeyi language, and he adds that the settlement originated in Tsau in about 1911 before the Batawana, Bayeyi and Banaja settled down amicably in the area.
Kwerepe recalled that at the time, Kgosi Mathiba, with the help of chief subordinates (Dikgosana) ruled the land. He was followed by Moremi, who took over in 1937 asnd ruled until 1946 when the much-loved Pulane began Regent. She was the driving force in the end behind the establishment of the Moremi Game Reserve.
In 1964, Letsholathebe took over until the 1970s, when Tawana I became chief. After his death, Mathiba Moremi became Regent until Tawana II took the throne in 1996, giving it up in 2004, when the new chief was appointed. She is Kealetile Moremi.
“During those days there was no tourism and instead people practiced subsistence hunting,” said Kwerepe. The first whites to come to the village were South African hunters. There was no land, so land allocation was the responsibility of the Dikgosana and land overseers known as “baimane ba kgosing. They stood as the intermediaries between the chief and the people of the village, and it is through these overseers that most yards in today's Maun are not fenced.
According to Kwerepe, people had a limited political knowledge and instead believed in chieftainship (Bogosi). He himself was one of the first people to start politics in Maun.
Chiefs restricted the people from drinking liquor as it was believed alcohol would disturb their minds but they were however allowed to drink traditional beer as was the custom.
Scenes from the history of old Maun
This amazing looking machine was known as The Great Payprus Cutting Machine that was pressed into service to try and control the spread of payprus in the delta.
It wasn't very successful.
No, this is not a scene from the American Old West but from the Maun area as cattle farmers drove their herds to Lobatse for slaughter. Usually the cattle trail started from the
Okavango Panhandl, through the Maun area and on to Nata along the old road.
A big improvement on the original road, the road to Nata,
pictured here before it was tarred in the 1990s.
A great event during 1943 was the opening of the “new” Francistown-Nata-Maun road, a two-wheel track cut through the bush and the Makgadikgadi Pans. South Africa's “The Star” newspaper wrote in 1966: “To many people it is the world's worst road – the 320 miles between Francistown and Maun in northern Bechuanaland.”
Since then, of course, tarred roads now link Maun with all parts of the country – the last being from Kuke Corner to Sehitwa on the Ghanzi-Maun route.
River the backbone of livehoods and recreation
The Thamalakane has always been the river along which Maun thrived. It was both a waterway for livelioods and also a prime recreation area. This picture of a family enjoying themselves on the river banks near the junction of the Thamalakane and the Boro rivers - what is today known as the Beach - gives an idea of how people spent their leisure time. For many the river was also a place in which they could bathe and use as a make-shift laundry.
Bojosi Tlhapi, former headman of Boyeyi ward, said that people in old-time Maun lived through hunting, farming and fishing, adding that the Thamalakane River was the backbone of their livelihoods.
He recalls that in 1948, the Bayeyi chose Moeti Ramotsoko to be their leader as a result of their resistance to be ruled by Moremi, who was a Batawana. This was due to what people regarded as unfavourable allocation of land.
He said the land allocation was unfair because Moremi allocated land to Ba Herero, who had come to the district from today's Namibia. After Ramotsoko, Tsombo Sasul became the leader, followed by Ramaeba Moshupokwe until Tlhapi himself took the leadership from 1977 until 2002.
Another elder of the village, Ketshwaetswe Kalayakgos i, born in 1923, revealed that the first ethnic groups to occupy Maun were Basarwa and Bayeyi, adding the Batawana were received with open arms when the tribe migrated from Tsau, Kgwebe and Toteng. They have lived in harmony ever since.
Milestones in our history
1882: Charles riley, trader, settles in Maun area
1912: ‘Flu epidemic kills 40
1913: British High Commissioner approves site for new capital. Start made on building of Government Camp (near today's police station)
1913: First inspection of site of present-day Maun by Batawana and British resident magistrate
1914: Britain refuses to move district administration to a new capital
1921: Cattle route from Maun to Kazangula opened
1921: Black assistants appointed in shops in defiance of the custom of the day
1922: Huts built for accommodation on site of existing Riley's Hotel
1928: First motor vehicles appeared
1928: Establishment of “the European School”
1931: First motorised transport business
1933: Building of the first hospital
1938: Erection of Maun radio mast
1938: First generator installed to power radio mast
1943: Opening of a two-wheel track from Maun to Francistown
1945: Opening of maternity centre
1948: Barclays Bank operated in Maun
1950 : Post Office opened
1952: First aircraft arrived to take mine labourers to South Africa.
1954: Tennis club established
1954: Rifle club established
1954: Women's Institute established
1966: Botswana declared independence
1966: There were 96 motor vehicles in Maun
1971: Population of Maun 9 614
1974: Highest annual rainfall (1 200mm) recorded. Annual average of 450mm recorded since 1921-22.
1981: Population of Maun 13 925
1983-84: Major flooding inundated some wards
1995: Maun declared a planning area
1997: Maun Planning Area Development Plan published
1999: Establishment of The Ngami Times
2002: Population of Maun town 43 776 and district 49 822
Royalty lived away from river
The Batawana had built the royal ward away from the river because of a fear of hippos, crocodiles, snakes, malaria-carrying mosquitoes and for hygienic reasons - the vegetation on the river banks was treated as a toilet and sandy spots referred to as “bathroom” and “laundry”. The Batawana considered the Europeans settling on the river banks as “brainless people” but began to change their opinion as they started to change a custom of treating the river bank as toilets towards the end of the 1980s. Illnesses began to plague the area, with tsetse fly menacing Maun and there were confirmed cases of sleeping sickness in the valley along which the Maun-Tsau road ran.
The Department for the Eradication of Tsetse, called the “tsetse fly control”, was established in Maun, with its director Crawshaw, and field officers E C Wilmot, A H Casalis, D J Odendaal, M Drotsky, Burger and 429 Africans.
Maun 'the social heart of Ngamiland'
One of the social centres of old Maun was Crocodile Camp. This pictue shows where the river used to reach - where the riverside bar and swimming pool are now situated. The hut still stands and is the camp administration office.
When the new station commander of the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police, G Nettleton, arrived in Maun on July 21, 1916, he found that the only way to get to the place wass from the north-east side, established by the ivory traders. The journey had to be done on wagons pulled by 6 to 8 oxen, usually loaded with luggage and on a light scotch passenger wagon which was pulled by horses. The travellers were always accompanied by spare oxen and a wagon carrying a water barrel – a vital necessity then as it is today!
The part from Kavimba through the Goaha Hills and Mababe was always crossed at night because of the presence of tsetse fly and of course lions, hyenas and elephants “accompanied” the travellers, as they do today.
It was only in 1928 that the first motor vehicles appeared on Maun's roads – government-owned 5-ton Chevrolets. Chief Moremi III was the first African in Ngamiland to own a vehicle, a Jeep.
By 1916 the government camp consisted of buildings with massive walls, roofed with thatch and spacey rooms and verandahs. The river was big, full of hippo and enormous crocodiles, which “snapped sheep and goats from the shores and inspired fantastic stories.”
As one local shopkeeper named Bridgman told Nettleton: “The croc comes with such a rush that he makes a tidal wave which goes right over the goat.”
The centre of Maun, and the central point of Ngamiland society, was defined by a big cattle closure – a kgotla. Next to it were big basket silos for storing grain. The settlement stretched in a semi circle around the royal ward with the chief's huts, huts of the closest members of his family and the huts of the serfs –bathlanka. At that time, there were 300 people living in Maun.
Traders in those far-off years included Bridgman, Riley, Susan, Harry (from Mafeking), G T Drotsky, H J van Staden, D Opperman, L G Deaconos, Swan, Carolan, the thatcher Scheepers, Cowdrey (a builder), Van der Berg, Stigand, Nettleton and three policeman – Pool, H Baker and Norwebb.
A capital that kept moving
Grain silos that have been a feature of the royal Kgotla for many years.
From its very beginning, Maun was where its people were. When they were leaving, it went with them. It wandered. It was the royal village, and the fate of the people was also its fate.
In the years 1897-193, the Taogo River, lagoons and pans in the vicinity of Tsau dried out, sand covering the grazing land, malaria and rinderpest wiping out people and animals.
A great flu epidemic killed 40 people in July-August 1912 and resulted in the tribe deserting the place.
The capital had to move once more. In a panic, the tribe chose Moshung on the edge of the Okavango delta marshes about 30km from Tsau.
The chief communicated with Captain AG Stigand, the resident manager/ justice of the peace/administrator of the Batawana Reserve and the head of the Bechuanaland Protectorate Police in the region. So it is to Stigand that Maun is indebted for its final location.
He convinced the chief that Moshung was as bad as the unhealthy Tsau. He explained to the chief, who apparently did not know too much about his reserve, that “preferring two pleasures of beer and ladies' society to the simple life of the veldt” there could not be a healthier place (as Maun).
The chief then went out to “prospect for a site”, historians tell us. A place near the confluence of the Thamalakane and Boteti rivers was chosen, on the road to Serowe as it lay near the Boteti along which the track to the south ran – it was a place called Maun.
The word “Maun”, in the Seyei language, described a part of the Thamalakane River's course where the banks were elevated, here and there covered with reeds.
There was a small Bayei village existing but Chief Mathiba ordered the settlement's chief, Pitsanyane, to vacate the space for the Batawana people.
The Bayei moved a few kilometres away to Tsanakona, which is today one of the wards of Maun. At the confluence of the Thamalakane, Boteti and Nhabe rivers is a place called Dikgatong or Kgantshang, which was populated by San/Basarwa and on the nearby Shashe River lived the Manage, of the river tribe Banoka. The chief presented his plan to Stigand for approval and on February 26, 1913, the High Commissioner in Cape Town accepted the removal of the main Batawana village from Tsau to the banks of the Thamalakane.
During his inspection, Stigand chose a terrain in the mopane forest for the construction of the government camp. Today, this camp is highly valued for the preserved old trees, the vicinity of the river and the wonderful view of what is now known as the Maun Game Sanctuary.
But in 1916 there were already complaints – to quote from old records: “Millions of mosquitoes with the river very nice for bathing. It is necessary to take quinine.
“No grazing because the camp is in the middle of a mopane forest. The little grass at the water's edge will soon be eaten and animals in the station – horses, mules, oxen – are in a shocking state. It is clear that the man who selected this site only spent two days here.” But it was not all plain sailing – a dispute in 1913 resulted in chief and some of his followers electing to move from Maun and settled temporarily on the Boro River, where a new temporary capital of the Batawana was established.
However, in 1914, Chief Mathiba Moremi married the mother of his son, Kealitile Motshlakgetse, according to British law by Stigand. There was also other dissent – some members of the tribe under the rule of Westhootsile refused to move to Maun because they said “it is not a nice place and there is no grass for the cattle.” This is still the case today but instead of wagons pulled by oxen or donkeys in those years, there are now 4x4s to take people to their far-flung cattle posts. In 1925, when Lake Ngami filled up, the tribe decided to move back to their traditional area – to Toteng. But the administration of the Protectorate refused to do so, as they did not wish to build another government camp and moreover didn't have the money for it. Nettleton demanded up to 4 000 pounds from the tribe for the construction of a new camp as he was of the opinion that after three or four years, Toteng would become again “the most desolate spot . . . a most unpleasant place.” A year later, the tribe decided to remain where they were – in Maun.Construction of the Maun government camp was undertaken by the firm of Swan & Carolan, of Tsau, at a cost of 764 pounds, and had to be completed by June 1914. Three hundred trees were felled and for that permission had to be granted by the Resident Commissioner, stationed in Mafeking, South Africa.
But the camp was delayed for two years because of the great flu epidemic, a lack of bricklayers and financial troubles for the construction firm.
Before the advent of government by the people the administration of Maun and the rest of the country was the responsibility of the Bechuanaland Protectorate Government, which had its capital at Mafeking, South Africa - the only country with its capital outside the national borders. The visit by government officials was a big event. In this picture is (top left) the British Commissioner of the day visiting the Kgotla, accompanied by other senior officials. On the top right the well known Dr Du Toit van Zyl met the Regent of the Batawana, Pulane Moremi (centre) and on her left is Kgosi Letsholathebe in 1950. On the right is the thatch covered Maun magistrates court situated near the site of the present police station.
Traders had early start in Maun
Shops in early Maun were in trading centres reserved for owners of European origin, who since the advent of the Protectorate were obliged to buy permission to exercise their profession – known as “the trader licence”.
When in 1921, due to a lack of a white population, some of the traders began to employ black assistants – which was in those years against common thinking and against the trend to prevent Africans to trade as potential competitors to the whites – a petition was sent to the Resident Commissioner in Mafeking in which a protest was made “against making a black responsible for a European store.”
Traders put their iron sheet shops in the royal ward area, today the oldest shopping centre in Maun. One of those shops, Bailey's Shop, survived in its original form for many years and is today erected as a monument to the history of Maun in the grounds of Nhabe Museum. It had originally been owned by a Mr Weatherilt, of Tsau.
Bailey, a shopkeeper and cattle trader from Palapye, bought the shop later. It was made of galvanised sheets, could be folded down, loaded on an ox-wagon and carried to a new place if required.
The size of such shops was impressive because it served three purposes – a shop, a storeroom and a living space – the homes of the traders. Bailey's Shop measured 120 sq.m. and the traders lived in the shop areas, which in this ward have not really changed to this day, particularly in the case of Greek traders who began their migration into Ngamiland in 1915, led by a Cypriot, L G Deaconos, whose family runs Maun's popular Sports Bar restaurant.
Then there was Harry Riley, said by the Resident Commissioner at the time to be from Northern Rhodesia but the family says he came from the island of St Helena, in the Atlantic. He was baptised Harry De Bobo Riley, and was a trader and shareholder in many shops in Ngamiland as well as being a cattle speculator.
Riley opened with his two brothers the famous Riley's I, Riley's II, and Riley's III stores which existed until the end of the 1980s. In 1921, Riley cut the so-called cattle route from Maun to Kazangula and over time he also became a transporter, the owner of the first petrol station and garage, which continues to function today, and the owner of the first hotel in Maun.
A trader of those times had to know everything connected to trade and transport and his firm had to be universal in stature as there was no other point of reference. Shops also served social purposes – the first social centres.
Traders were usually blood related to the village “because of the children with different concubines,” recalls a historian. They were the living hearts of the settlements, laughing with people instead of being angry, helping with credit, and knowing the life and troubles of the settlement as invariably they were discussed with him in the shops. By 1922, Maun was made up of about 500 huts and six European-owned shops. The shopkeeper-assistants of the time included G Scott, J Riley, L G Deaconos, Bridgman and H C Weatherilt.
Deaconos also owned a shop in Gumare and everyone traded in cattle as well. Exports were organised by the firm of Susman and Riley, owned by James Riley, who was Harry Riley's elder brother.
Harry was the manager. In Tsau, M Kays and Atkins lived at their shops while in Nokaneng, there were McGilp, Malone and Wright.
The resident commissioner, G Nettleton, described these people as ”two qualities keep most people going – incredible courage and something of great promise”. The manager of a shop was A E Freeman, who later, after the shop was bought by Bailey, became manager of Bailey's store. Today, the Freeman family are the owners of all the Bailey's shops in Palapye and other parts of the country.
The montage of photographs on this page tells the story of the excitement of flying in Maun and the delta.
People don't always believe it, but Maun is the busiest airport in Botswana and also the second busiest in southern Africa after the Johannesburg complex - the international airport, Lanseria, Grand Central and Rand airports.
Air Botswana, the national carrier, flies regularly from Maun to various towns and cities – Gaborone, Johannesburg International, Johannesburg Lanseria, Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Windhoek, Kasane and Francistown.
The arrival of a plane in those early days was a major event for everyone. The aircraft were eagerly awaited as they brought news of the outside world, mail, medicines, foodstuffs, and above all, new people to a community hundreds of kilometres from the nearest big town.
The first planes to land here were before World War II – in the 1930s, just a mere30 or so years after the American brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic first flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
The landing strip in those far-off days was what is today Maun's main street, the strip later being moved away from the town centre to the present site of the airport.
Planes were refuelled at a local garage with fuel provided by the Vacuum Oil Company, now long gone, air tickets were provided from the boot of a motor car, and there were no such things as the comfort or niceties of air travel as one finds today.
Planes that sank into Maun's desert earth were pushed out of the quagmire during the rainy season so as to resume their flights.
Air charter companies have contributed hugely to the growth of aviation in Maun and, of course, in Botswana. Many of the companies are still based in Maun – among them Sefofane, Kalahari Air Services, Northern Air, Moremi Air, Mack Air, Delta Air, Safari Air, and Air Kavango,
They carry out flights for medical evacuations, supplying delta camps, surveys, mapping, game viewing, game tracking, and a host of other activities.
Young pilots – both men and women - from all over the world come to Maun each year in order to find a position so to broaden their flying expertise and accumulate flying hours to hold them in good stead in future years.
They come from countries such as South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, New Zealand, Australia, India, Britain, Canada and the United States, bringing with them a breath of fresh air into the town's social life. Many of the pilots graduate to flying jet aircraft for major airlines (South African Airways, British Airways, Singapore Airlines and others).
You can also read about the Aviation History of Maun - an interesting article by John Allott of the aircraft used in Maun since the 1920's.