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

Fertile

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

20 thoughts on “The Gift of the Nile

  1. The Nile is a magnificent river; mesmerizing in places. In student history we learned about various treaties and international pacts and thought we knew everything; but no one told us exciting information like this ‘http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/transboundary_waters.shtml According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, more than 3,600 treaties related to international water resources have been drawn up since 805 AD. ‘ More significantly, water management is so important that even when countries were at war they still managed to cooperate on water sharing agreements.

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  2. It is interesting to me that the ancients connected the wondrous things and happenings to various gods. They instinctively knew that there were things beyond their sphere of existence that must belong to very powerful beings. Your two quotes are so significant. Thank you for this series of posts.

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    • Mythologies give meaning to our existence and allow us to understand how we fit into the universe. I like J.R.R.Tolkien’s thoughts on this –

      “After all, I believe that legends and myths are largely made of ‘truth’, and indeed present aspects of it that can only be received in this mode; and long ago certain truths and modes of this kind were discovered and must always reappear.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

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  3. Will steal that first quote
    “He who rides the sea of the Nile must have sails woven of patience.” William G. Golding

    great post very thought provoking specially that last part so true even if we are moving forward it’s a bit sad that people are fighting over resources

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    • Oh!!! Thank you for the William G. Golding quote – I have just added it to my library of quotes. Sharing resources will be the focus of the next decades.

      “The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world. ” Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

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    • There are many stories that involve the Nile – which would make a good series for blogging. Especially all of the activity in the mid 1800’s when everyone was trying to figure out the source of the Nile. Humanity must know, whereas the river does not need to prove anything – it just is!! Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

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      • Great point, knowledge vs being. What’s more than just being… trying to know takes “me” away from my sensual experience now. I think this is why Rumi is the best selling poet in the U.S. these days, he’s sensual and too many of us are in brain overload. Yes, the river is a beautiful teacher, of being with what is but also of flowing with what is, non-resistance. A perfect metaphor for my heart.

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  4. Rebecca, we are so in tune!! The NIle is another place on my dream list. Thank you for the history lesson. I know a little of the gods whom the Egyptians worshipped, but this is new to me. I hadn’t realised either how valuable the river is to the people who live along her banks. Bless you. ♥

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    • Egyptian mythology is complex, as I learned when I was doing my research. I thought I knew the basics, with Horace, Isis, etc, but I now I realize how little I actually know and understand. What a rich and complex religion – a good topic for a blog series….🙂

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