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Eberly College of Arts and Sciences


Geology and Geography


In December of 2012, I visited the village of Jao for the first time. The village, located on a small patch of dry land deep in the heart of the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana, is one of the only remaining settlements in the Delta’s interior and all residents are members of the water-based Bayei tribe. Jao is also one of the few settlements located within the boundaries of a recent World Heritage site designation of the Okavango Delta by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). While much attention has been paid to the unique ecological qualities of this immense and pristine wetland, far less is known about the people of the region, including the Bayei people whose livelihoods and cultural identities are tied to the Delta’s waters. As one Bayei woman said, for them, “water is life.” The Bayei constitute approximately 40% of the population of the Okavango Delta region, but are an ethnic minority in Botswana more broadly. Many Bayei people consider Jao to be their homeland, even if they no longer reside there. But, as the population of the village had dwindled to just 229 residents in recent years (Botswana Census Bureau 2011), many Bayei fear that Jao is on the brink of disappearance.



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