Christian Fourie - Your safari specialist.Feel free to phone us: +27 (0) 83 337 99 33
Email us: safaris[at]gateway-africa.com
Visit our offices:
11 Manual Villet Street, Loerie Park, George, South Africa.
6 Eros Street, Eros, Windhoek, Namibia.
Exploring the Okavango Delta in a traditional canoe (makoro):
The wooden mokoro (plural ‘mekoro) often used and seen when doing a safari in the Delta, came into existence in the Okavango Delta after 1750, when it was introduced by the Bayei tribe.
The Bayei originally came from the Zambezi River regions. They subsisted on hunting and fishing rather than livestock, due to the ever present problem of the Tsetse fly.
Making these dug-out canoes (makoro) is very time-consuming and requires considerable skill in using only self-made hand tools.
Quite often only a ‘Okavango axe’ would be used to hollow out a tree trunk. The ‘Jackal Berry’ / African Ebony (Diospyros mesiliformis) is the preferred tree in the manufacture of a mokoro. It takes at least a hundred years for these trees to grow to the size suitable for making a makoro. Sadly, hundreds of these majestic trees have been destroyed in the past. Luckily this has changed now.
The method is basically as follows: since the thick section of the taproot often forms part of the mokoro, the soil around the tree is excavated, and the side roots removed. This process alone often requires as much as two weeks.
Subsequently the tree is chopped down and the trunk hollowed out by using ‘Okavango hand axes’, these African style axes has a blade that could be fitted horizontally to act the same as a chisel.
The tapered heavy end (root section) becomes the bow. It is then allowed to dry for about another month. Finally, it is submerged in water to prevent it from cracking, and is then again left to dry. This whole process could take as long as 5 months.
The manufacture of these traditional makoros was mainly confined to particular families, who have been doing it for decades.
A few years ago, a safari lodge owner from the Guma Lagoon area in Botswana, started to design and make makoros from fibre-glass, and now it is the only makoros allowed. The cutting of the big trees has nearly all stopped, and this is a good example how modern technology could be used in conserving trees.
So, when you are sitting in your makoro exploring the Okavango Delta on your dream African safari, keep in mind the history and hard work that has gone into creating your mode of transport.