When travelling to north-central Namibia during the rainy season, you might hear people talk about oshana (singular) or iishana (plural). These regions include the Owambo expanse, as well as Etosha where you will come across vast salt pans. If it rains enough, these pans will fill up and become an important life source to locals.
Welcome to the Cuvelai Basin, a trans-boundary wetland between Angola and Namibia.
Many millions of years ago, the Kunene River flowed through this north-central area. It’s hard to believe that Etosha once was a mighty freshwater lake. But as we’ve learned in life, especially during 2020, the only constant is change … So, eventually the flow of the river changed, which cut off the water, causing the formation of pans that baked in the sun and finally became caked in salt. The biggest of these is Etosha Pan at a staggering 5000 square kilometres.
These clay soils are the lowland drainage point of the Cuvelai Basin, which means that when great rains soothe the parched earth, some of the water might push all the way into the Etosha Pan. However, since the land surface here is extremely flat, the water moves very slowly. Fresh water soon turns salty with progressive evaporation. None of the drainage channels ever reach the sea, but rather end in lakes and the above-mentioned pans.
The myriad of channels, often separating and merging in places, are the “rivers” of the Cuvelai, called iishana. They are the life-giving veins that enable locals to practise agriculture, which is why encounters with livestock are plentiful. You will realise why this area is depicted as “life in the slow lane” – a blissful adventure in today’s fast-paced world.
Etosha King Nehale is surrounded by these vast white plains that characterise the area. Book your stay here to experience this yourself. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to find an oshana lined with lilies that make for beautiful photos. Other than that, perhaps a herd of goats, a donkey, or a boy dexterously riding his donkey will play model while you capture rural Namibia with your camera.
Learn/relearn to enjoy the simple things in life!
Author: Annelien Murray