Induna Mukolufu was born into the Mafwe people in 1925 on Rupara Island, which forms part of present day Mamili National Park, in Caprivi Region. As a young man he remembers hunting lechwe, sitatunga and hippos. Nobody thought too much about conservation in those days. Meat was plentiful, caught in traps, and even shot with the Schutztruppe muzzle loader the Induna - or headman - still proudly owns.
Nkasa and Rupara are two areas of higher ground in the floodplain at the southernmost tip of Caprivi, close to Botswana’s Okavango Delta. The Mafwe had lived the good life there for generations: until war came to South West Africa.
The soldiers came in helicopters, without warning. The people were told to leave or be shot, because they were helping SWAPO. I asked the Induna if they were feeding the PLAN fighters and he grinned. “Of course!” Much later the area was proclaimed as a National Park, and the people were excluded.
Like many young men Mukolufu trekked to the mines in South Africa. He returned to keep cattle, but his herd has wiped out by tsetse flies. The good old days had gone forever and the graves of the ancestors on Rupara were left unattended.
But in 1999 things changed again. Wuparo Conservancy was formed. By then Mukolufu was a headman. Richer only in experience, but highly respected in the community. Forming a conservancy is never an easy process. Farmers are naturally cautious, and the opinions of traditional leaders are vital.
Mukolufu remembers the attitudes of fellow farmers back then. They believed that wildlife was for the benefit of the whites. Lions preyed on cattle and were only a pest, to be eliminated. The idea that lions or elephants could benefit the community was new, and had to be carefully considered.
Once the conservancy was formed, income began to flow in from trophy hunting. Last year a tented lodge was built by investors as a joint venture with Wuparo, bringing more income and creating employment. The conservancy runs a compensation scheme for farmers whose livestock have been taken by predators. Things are changing fast.
What’s next? For Induna Mukolufu the most important thing is Rupara Island. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism has invited tenders for a luxury lodge and a camp site in Mamili National Park. These would be bring further benefits to conservancy members, who would at last have a share in the land of their ancestors.