There is a river that has gently flowed for 30 million years, six times older than previously thought.
It could have been just another river, on the face of the earth, like the hundreds of thousands flowing across the globe. No one has really counted them but estimates run to over 250,000, with 76 rivers that are 1,000 miles long and 160 that are considered major. This could have been any one of those rivers, but it was not.
This river had a historic mission to accomplish.
It was destined to create the greatest civilisation man has ever known. It is the River Nile. Its very name evokes a thrilling sensation of excitement and wonder. For thousands of years, it has and always will be, the source of life in Egypt.
It travels for 6,650km from its origin in Africa, and takes an unusual flow northwards, unlike most rivers, until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea in Alexandria.
On its northward journey it cruises through 10 or 11 countries: Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Egypt.
The flow into Egypt is in itself a miracle .Researchers, among the University of Texas scientists, published a study in Nature Geoscience, which assessed the links between geographical and physical features, and connected the Nile’s topography to its age as well as its journey. It revealed a conveyor mantle of mountain rock rushing up against the Ethiopian highlands in the South, and pulling the surface down to the north.
This incline kept the Nile on a consistent northward course from its beginning to the end.
The study said if it were not for the mantle movement, the Nile would have turned West long ago — but nothing would stop this river from its mission. History would not be changed. As destiny would have it, after the West turn, it turns north again by making a great half-circle to the East and then back to its northern course.
Finally reaching Cairo it splits into two branches or distributaries that feed the Mediterranean, the Rosetta branch to the West and the Damietta branch to the East, forming the Nile Delta.
Another miraculous occurrence took place over 10,000 years ago. Evidence of habitation in Egypt stretches back tens of thousands of years. The earliest inhabitants of the Stone Age, the hunter-gatherers roamed the desert area, rich in wild life. However, the Sahara desert began to expand and no specific reason is known to date. Scientists have two theories, a tilt of the earth or a change in rainfall patterns. The desert nomads needed to move closer to the river in search of water.
Grateful to the river that gave them life, they deified it. The population grew, so did their prosperity and output. They called their great river Hapi — and happy it made them indeed. They built a civilisation that became a wonder of the world. Monuments, architecture, art, trade, science, medicine, crafts, there was no end to their ingenuity.
When the Greek historian Herodotus, came to visit this wonderland, he wrote: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.”
He was right of course, but Egyptians gave back to the Nile by building a civilisation that lasted 8,000 years and was the root of the Greek, Roman and other civilisation to come.
There is no place to list ancient Egypt’s accomplishments, and certainly not to take away from other great, ancient pre-historic civilisations: Sumeria, Phoenicia, Carthage, Kush, Nubia, China, Ethiopia among others.
The purpose is to emphasise the Nile and what it meant to Egypt and the Egyptians. If you hear that “Africa is the cradle of civilization”, which civilisation comes to mind?
Despite foreign conquests and colonisations, it stood firm and erect, retaining its identity, expanding, turning the foreigner into a proud Egyptian.
It became a seat of learning with its famous ancient Biblotecca, Plutach, Diogenes, Laetitius Pythagorus, Aristotle among others came to study in Egypt, a mystical wonder of spirituality, of creation, of love and of wisdom, the land of Isis and Osiris, of the Sun God Ra and Akhenaten the world’s first monotheist.
The Roman historian Seneca, owned land in Egypt. He wrote of the miracle of the exotic fame of the Nile and how efficiently by Egyptians used it.
In modern times, the discovery of the impeccable tomb of king Tutankhamun, fondly known the world over as King Tut, who was only 19 when he died. The discovery of his tomb in 1922 created a veritable mania worldwide. Fashion, furniture, costumes, Art Deco designs even hair styles and perfumes were dedicated to the “boy king”.
Who has not heard of Hatshepsut’s courage, the perfection of Queen Nefertiti, or of Cleopatra’s allure, marrying a Roman emperor, and dying for the love of her Antony.
Every discovery of the ancients brings back the magic of the land to the consciousness of the world. The discovery of the “solar boats” that sailed into the night with the dying pharaoh, was so perfect and astounding, it was front news on The New York Times for six consecutive days in 1954, only WWII took received that kind of coverage
Hollywood has not missed a beat in depicting ancient Egypt and the Ten Commandments. This is where Moses kneeled to God, this is where the Virgin Mary found refuge from King Herod.
Authors, historians, and scientists are still enchanted by the land of the Nile.
Herodotus today would write: “Egypt is the Nile! The Nile is Egypt!”
“Whoever drinks of the waters of the Nile, will surely return.”
Old saying (accredited to Napoleon)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.