The Nile River
The Nile River is 4,132 miles long. It has two origins or sources. The Blue Nile begins in the highlands of Ethiopia. The White Nile begins in the center of Africa known as Equatorial Arica. The two rivers come together near the capital city of Sudan. Its drainage basin includes 11 countries.
In ancient times, the Nile River gave life to the region. It provided transportation. All of Egypt's big cities were built on the river, so travel was easy by water. The river also provided rich soil for farming when the waters flooded over the banks every year in August and September. The rich soil and Egypt itself were called by the Greek historian Herodotus the 'gift of the Nile.' If a flood was not as big as it should be, crops suffered. Too much flooding also destroyed the crops. Heavy rains and the melting of snow to the south caused the great flooding. Both the ancient Egyptians and Greeks could not understand how this river could flow from south to north.
By about 2000 B. C., mention is made of irrigation projects to bring water from the Nile inland. Crops were planted after the flooding. They ripened by the spring. Egyptians named three seasons: the flooding (Akhet), the emergence ( Peret, when the flooding stopped and crops could be planted) and Heat or Harvest (Shemu) when the river was at its lowest point.
The Egyptians called the river Ar or Aur, meaning 'black' referring to the rich black soil brought to the land with the flooding.' The word 'Nile' does not come from the Egyptians. It comes from the Greek word neilos, probably from a Semitic word nahal. It meant a valley or river valley. Then the word was applied to the river itself. It played no part in their religion. For them it was not the river which brought about the abundance of crops, but the flood. They made this flood into a god called Hapy. He was one of the lesser gods of the Egyptians.
The god is described and shown to be a fat little figure bringing water and food to the other gods. Hapy was worshiped at the beginning of the flooding. He had no temple, however. The Egyptians took the river for granted and did not think it was an especially amazing part of their lives. Their other gods were to them much more complex than the river. Kings considered themselves to be like Hapy because they provided for their subjects.
Because of the Nile River, the great Egyptian civilization grew up. The mud from the Nile River was used to make bricks for the many projects planned by the rulers. During the less busy months of the year, farmers and laborers were free to work on building projects for the rulers. These included pyramids, tombs for the rulers, palaces and other large monuments.
The Ancient Egyptians grew papyrus, wheat and flax along the Nile. These crops were traded great distances on the river. For the Egyptians, the East symbolized birth since the sun (the god Ra) rose in the east. The West symbolized death because the sun set in the west. Thus, people had to be buried on the west side of the Nile because it was the only way to enter the afterlife.
In 1970, the Aswan Dam was built to end the summer floods. This caused a great change in farming practices. For many years, usage of the water of the Nile has been a source of trouble in the political arena of East Africa. The countries of Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya have long disputed Egypt's power over the Nile. Agreements among the countries have been difficult. In 2010, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda signed an agreement on how to share the Nile water with much opposition from Egypt and Sudan.
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