Sheya Shuushona is a maze of sandy tracks to the north of Etosha. The communal conservancy is in the Kingdom of Ongandjera, where Owambo people keep cattle and grow millet as they have done for centuries. Until recently in Sheya Shuushona, tourism was something that happened on the other side of the high game fence that separates the conservancy from the national park, but with the signing of a tourism concession, all that is set to change.
On the 24 October, Sheya Shuushona signed an agreement with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism that will allow the conservancy to run tours in 60,000 hectares of Etosha from a lodge just north of the park. For many years, upmarket lodges on the approach roads to Namutoni and Okaukuejo have offered high class accommodation as well as tours into the park. With the signing of the concession, ordinary conservancy members on communal land stand to profit as well.
The new lodge follows the concept of joint ventures between conservancies and private sector investors that has been pioneered in Namibia. World class eco-lodges put tourists in touch with nature and wildlife, and bring benefits to conservancies which share in the profits. Conservancy members also benefit from new employment opportunities in lodges.
The lodge at Sheya Shuushona already exists as a hunting camp that was opened seven years ago. Nineteen additional wood and canvas luxury units that blend in with the landscape will be built. The plan is for tourism to bring in greater revenue than trophy hunting. The investor is Vitor Azevedo, who is building several lodges as joint ventures with conservancies across what he terms “the golden route”, linking Kunene Region’s vast landscapes with Etosha’s wildlife.
The signing of the concession agreement would be sufficient reason for a party. Another was the visit of a group that promotes indigenous tourism. WINTA stands for the World Indigenous Tourism Alliance, and its leadership are in Namibia to attend the Adventure Travel World Summit, as well as to have their own annual pow-wow. Among the visitors was Ian Campbell from Canada, Chief of the Indian Squamish Nation.
The WINTA group had arrived through the park with a minibus that bogged in the sand. This is 4x4 territory. "A proper adventure,” said the Swedish delegate, who is a Sami from north of the Arctic Circle, more used to snow than sand. Everybody loved Etosha, nobody more than Chief Campbell who knows grizzly bears already, and was enthralled to see a white rhino and two of the Kings of Etosha: male lions.
As the sun began to set on the huge salt pan below the lodge, King Johannes Jafet Mupiya of Ongandjera welcomed the guests and an Owambo cultural troupe danced in the sand. It was a spectacular display, with the red and purple of the costumes flashing in front of the orange setting sun.
Follow that? Chief Cambell and his wife obliged. To the beat of a hand drum they sang a traditional canoeing song which the Chief wrote in 1993. According to his wife, Amanda, all songs already exist until they are “called up” by the writer. This song was written when the Chief and his people travelled the long river meeting other tribes. The song tells who they are, where they are from, and sings of the Indian respect for the earth. That was the theme of the day. Sheya Shuushona, one of 79 communal conservancies in Namibia, exists above all to conserve the land where people live together with wildlife and nature.
Appropriately, a large feast was prepared for the guests. As darkness fell and glasses clinked, a Namibian King, conservancy leaders and an Indian Chief from another part of the world had a great deal to talk about and celebrate.