The Okavango Delta’s last cowboy

The straightest shooter in the Delta, Tjikaka Blackie earned a revered reputation as a talented marksman in the 1970s and 1980s. On a trip down memory lane with the veteran, Mmegi Correspondent, BONIFACE KEAKABETSE is also taught how to hunt a lion

MAUN: In Tjikaka ‘Mokobawatau’ Blackie’s words nothing will ever equal the halcyon old days when pastoralism put food on the table.

Mokobawatau, as Blackie is affectionately known, says he was known for three things; his love for cattle, talent in riding horses and awesome rifle shooting abilities.  The man is largely revered by his peers as one of the most talented rifle marksmen ever to shoot a gun in Ngamiland in the 1970s and 1980s.

Stories of how he would not miss even when shooting at dangerous game such as lions and buffaloes continue to do the rounds at funeral gatherings and in the streets of Ngamiland. It has even been said that Mokobawatau and his gang could even shoot from mounted horses.

However, like a dew in the hot desert sands, everything has dissipated for Mokobawatau. And the major culprit has been the district’s perennial nemisis, Food and Mouth Disease (FMD).

“My way of life is gone, taken away by the stubborn,” he says. In fact, many other residents in Ngamiland who once shared a similar lifestyle, are now bitterly depressed, poor and evidently down and out.

For eight long years, FMD has assailed Ngamiland with a vengeance, battering farmers’ way of life.  Just last week, a fresh outbreak was reported in Kareng area, triggering the dreaded livestock restrictions that mean loss of income for farmers.

Many household economies have crumbled as farmers – in some cases for years – have been unable to sell their cattle due to FMD. Farmers are living the stuff of nightmares in a district whose main economic activity is pastoral agriculture.

Attesting to this reality, Mokobawatau’s eyes dim as he recalls how good life was before the advent of FMD.

He grew up in Makakung, where his parents reared cattle, horses and numerous donkeys. Coming from a Herero tribe, pastoralism is his way of life and cattle rearing put food on the table.

”We reared cattle which we sold to the European traders. A cow fetched about 50 thebe at the European market, but that was enough for our elders to buy necessities,” he says.

‘Later the Botswana Meat Commission was established and many farmers sold their cattle there.”

Mokobawatau’s says back then, cattle were quarantined to ensure they did not have FMD before being sold to BMC, a method he feels is still applicable today.

Compared to today, the veteran cowboy says life is a far cry from what it used to be. “Back then there was no hunger. They were many cattle and wildlife. The entire Sehitwa area was teeming with wildlife, but that wildlife is now gone.”

“The Department of wildlife in the olden days granted licenses for subsistence hunting to every applicant. We got licenses for various game which we shot for subsistence and fun.”

“There was no hunger. Life was better for us than now when we cannot hunt or sell our cattle due to FMD.”

In those days, Mokobawatau says, a man’s worth was measured by his courage.  He recalls fighting off marauding lions and other dangerous predators that attacked their cattle.

“Those were bountiful, but tough years at the same time.”

“Have you ever hunted a lion?” he asks to which yours truly replies in the negative. He continues: “A lion is a very dangerous and smart animal. When you hunt it and it sees you first, two things come to its mind. It either contemplates its retreat or how to take you out.  You have to be prepared as a hunter”.

I’m intrigued and ask him: “So have you ever killed a lion?”

He responds: “I shot dead so many lions in the old days that I have lost count,” he says before he declares his undying love for rifles. The drastic downturn in wildlife, however, has forced Mokobawatau to re-direct his passion for firing rifles.

“I love fire arms. Hardly a month passes without shooting a rifle. However, these days there is nothing much to shoot and so when I feel the urge I go outside the village and shoot at trees.”

His passion as a cowboy also has a new outlet in the gunsmith business he has opened in Maun, having moved from the cattle post for this specific reason.

“These days I make a life for myself mending rifles.  This is the only thing that is left for me from my old life.”

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