May 13, 2012

Upper Egypt in January, 1836 | Walking Through Egypt

Upper Egypt in January, 1836
William Ramsay

Upper Egypt
Edfou, Jan. 9: The fields were looking very beautiful; the system of irrigation is carried on at an immense extent here; it is everything; at every short distance, one sees the water raised from the Nile, by men who hand it up in buckets one to another, into little tanks, till it reaches the top, when it runs down the channels formed for it. There is one great channel which branches off into smaller ones, and these into smaller, till at last it enters the small fields or plots, generally about ten feet square, where it spreads and remains, each little plot being enclosed by raised banks, on which the channels run; when one plot is watered, the entrance for the water is closed with a lump of earth, and the water passes onto the next; when the whole of one division has received its share, the connection with the grand passage is stopped, and so on. The squares are all very carefully kept, and, in fact, in this irrigation consists the whole system of husbandry. A plough, I suppose, is never used; all the land requires is a rough breaking up with a hoe for wheat for clover not even that. Indian corn is now ripe, and the harvest is going on. It is sown before the rise of the Nile, and is ripe soon after its fall; and it is thus calculated that it must have been the corn which was not smitten in the Plagues of Egypt by the hail, as it was sprouting above ground when the other corn, which is sown on the waters retiring, was ripe and fit for the harvest.

The same system seems to be persuaded now as in the early and palmy days of this country. The drawings on the walls of some of the tombs display all the processes of husbandry and other daily occupations and allusions to the Bible might have been made as to what happens at the present day, so much the same has everything remained. It is called “the country that thou waterest with thy foot” and it is so now the people use their naked feet for stopping the water channels, when required.

A very beautiful plant, which we saw a good deal of today in the fields, is the castor-oil tree I never saw such a diversity of appearances on one plant at the same time: two totally different flowers on the same stalk, one red, the other white, berries, buds and fruit, something like horse-chestnuts, but more delicate the young leaves also were of a deep purple, the old ones bright green.

Edfou, 2 Feb. Since we were here last, the appearance of the country is very much altered. The forests of Indian com are cut down, and the stubble is a poor substitute, especially when the sun is so hot as today; the wheat has grown to eight inches or a foot, in three weeks; the cotton plants have withered, and the irrigation has altered its character.

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