October 1, 2013

Aswan: Outdated traditions and rural continuum

Outdated traditions and rural continuum
The age-old tradition of prosperity or adversity being dependent on the Nile flood and the fervour with which the Nile festivals were celebrated, has finally run its course. It was started thousands of years ago by the earliest settlers of the Nile valley who thought that rites, spells, and offerings of thanks would control, appease, or please the power behind natural phenomena. In earliest times a bull or goose, and later a roll of papyrus, written with sacred words, would be cast on the waters.

Aswan
The eruption of the river and the subsequent blossoming of the land was regarded as the result of a marriage. Even after the Arab conquest, public criers walking the streets announced the progress of the flood, so that the qadi could prepare a ‘contract of marriage’. The Bride of the Nile Ceremony took place, during which a symbolic maiden would be given to the river. Witnesses confirmed the ‘consummation’ and, with elaborate oriental ceremonial, the dykes were broken. Until the 1970s, the arrival of the flood was the occasion for a public holiday, and a procession of garlanded boats filled with rejoicing people cast flowers upon the waters.

Aswan

Today it is no longer necessary to please Hapi, the Nile-god. The water is released by sluices operated at man’s will, and the thirsty land quenches itself to man’s timetable. The Nile no longer revitalises the soil with its rich alluvium. The Black Land, Kmt, which was the name for Egypt, is deprived of its natural source of fertility.

Aswan

But continuity survives change, and in Upper Egypt one can best see the apparent paradox of Egypt undergoing repeated change, yet remaining changeless. Though new hotels, factories, and highways reflect the modern era, we can still see the simple village with dust roads and rectangular mud-brick houses. There are transport vehicles on the one hand, and the faithful donkeys as the beast of burden, on the other. Tractors and modern equipment are used alongside the time-honoured plough and the shaduf the most ancient of pumping devices for lifting water from the river to the canals.

Monuments of Nubia reconstructed near the High Dam:
  • Temple of Kalabsha and rock inscriptions
  • Temple oj Beit el Wali
  • Kiosk of Kertassi
Graeco-Roman Monuments:
  • The Island of Philae
  • Monastery of St Simeon

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