May 1, 2012

Nile Water and Notes along the Nile

Nile Water, 1825
Dr. R.R. Madden

Egyptian Nile River
In its wholesome properties I believe the water of the Nile exceeds that of any other river in the world. Even when turbid, as at its rise, and depositing a sediment in a tumbler, in thickness of an eighth of an inch at least, and alive with animal-culae, visible to the naked eye, even then it loses none of its salubrious qualities, but, on the contrary, by its gentle action as an aperient, it benefits health.

Notes along the Nile, 1910 
Pierre Loti
A monotonous chant on three notes, which must date from the first Pharaohs, may still be heard in our days on the banks of the Nile, from the Delta as far as Nubia. At different places along the river, half-nude men, with torsos of bronze and voices all alike, intone it in the morning when they commence their endless labours and continue it throughout the day, until the evening brings repose.

Whoever has journeyed in a dahabiya up the old river will remember this song of the water-drawers, with its accompaniment, in slow cadence, of creakings of wet wood.

It is the song of the ‘shaduf, and the ‘shaduf is a primitive rigging which has remained unchanged since times beyond all reckoning. It is composed of a long antenna, . . . which is supported in a seesaw fashion, on an upright beam, and carries at its extremity a wooden bucket. A man, with movements of singular beauty, works it while he sings, lowers the antenna, draws the water from the river, and raises the filled bucket, which another man catches in its ascent and empties into a basin made out of the mud of the river bank. When the river is low there are three such basins, placed one above the other, as if they were stages by which the precious water mounts to the fields of corn and lucerne. And then three shadufs, one above the other, creak together, lowering and raising their great scarabaeus’ horns to the rhythm of the same song.

All along the banks of the Nile this movement of the antennae of the shadufs is to be seen. It had its beginning in the earliest ages and is still the characteristic manifestation of human life along the river banks. It ceases only in the summer, when the river, swollen by the rains of equatorial Africa, overflows this land of Egypt, which it itself has made in the middle of the Saharan sands. But, in the winter, which is here a time of luminous drought and changeless blue skies, it is in full swing. Then every day, from dawn until the evening prayer, the men are busy at their water-drawing, transformed for the time into tireless machines, with muscles that work like metal bands. The action never changes, any more than the song, and often their thoughts must wander from their automatic toil, and lose themselves in some dream, akin to that of their ancestors who were yoked to the same rigging four or five thousand years ago. Their torsos, deluged at each rising of the overflowing bucket, stream constantly with cold water; and sometimes the wind is icy, even while the sun bums; but these perpetual workers are, as we have said, of bronze, and their bodies take no harm.

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