The Gift of the Nile


“Ask the river, where it comes from? You will get no answer. Ask the river, where is it going? You will get no answer, because the river lives inside this very moment; neither in the past nor in the future, in this very moment only!” 

 Mehmet Murat ildan


In 450 BCE, Herodotus, the celebrated Greek historian, on seeing the Nile, wrote “Egypt was the gift of the Nile.” The “gift” was the annual inundation. In July, the rising waters of this ancient and noble river spread the fertile mud across the countryside, bringing life and sustenance.  It was that regularity, despite the periodic times of famine and flood, that gave stability to the ancient Egyptian beliefs about life and death.

Hapi was the god of the Nile, the deity of the inundation. He appeared as a bearded man, coloured blue or green with female breasts, symbolizing his authority to nourish. His followers worshiped and revered him above the powerful sun god, Ra. Without the sun, the land would be in darkness, but without the life-giving waters of the Nile, all would perish.   It was believed that Hapi’s source was two whirlpools in the caves on Elephant Island, near present day Aswan.  Hapi was friends with Geb, the god of the earth and was the lord of Neper, the god of grain.

Today, the Nile continues to give life to those who live within its valley.  Water sharing is playing a significant role in the politics of East African nations.  Millions of people’s livelihoods depend upon the nurturing waters of the Nile.

“When you think of all the conflicts we have – whether those conflicts are local, whether they are regional or global – these conflicts are often over the management, the distribution of resources. If these resources are very valuable, if these resources are scarce, if these resources are degraded, there is going to be competition.”

Wangari Maathai