Etosha and the Hai||om
Etosha National Park is Namibia’s premier tourist attraction. It is most famous for the abundant wildlife drawn to its dusty waterholes and the vast salt pan that lies at its heart.
The area south of the great white pan, where tourist roads and lodges are situated, was once the dominion of the Hai||om, an indigenous San or “Bushmen” community who hunted and gathered around the pan.
During the 19th and early the 20th century, the Hai||om lived in the region stretching from Ovamboland, through present-day Etosha, to Grootfontein, Tsumeb and Otavi, and south to Outjo and Otjiwarongo. Far from being isolated, they were enmeshed in elaborate trade networks with their Oshiwambo and OshiHerero and Khoekhoegowab speaking neighbours.
The German colonial Administration established the park in 1907 but tolerated and indeed welcomed the presence of the Hai||om, much of whose traditional territory outside of the park had been colonised by white settlers. The Hai||om remained in the park for almost another half century until in 1954 they were finally forced from their ancestral home. As a result they joined the legions of landless generational farm-labourers eking a living on the farms on Etosha’s borders and their labour sustained an uneconomic and heavily subsidised white owned commercial agricultural sector.
Today the Hai||om are among the most disadvantaged of Namibia’s peoples.