Finding Hapi-ness on the Nile

October 24, 2017

By Joannah Otis for No Water No Life 

As the Nile River Basin is one of  6 NWNL case-study watersheds, NWNL has documented Ethiopia’s Blue Nile and Uganda’s White Nile.  Due however to current challenges faced by photojournalists visiting Egypt and Sudan, NWNL is using other resources to analyze the availability, quality and usage of the Nile from Khartoum north through Egypt.

This is the first in a blog series by NWNL Researcher Joannah Otis on the Nile River through Egypt, from 5000 BCE’s Ancient Egypt to today’s modern Egypt.  Joannah is a Georgetown University sophomore, focusing on Environmental Studies, Art History and Psychology.  Her home is in N.J.’s Upper Raritan River Basin, another NWNL case study watershed.   

The Ancient Egyptian pantheon of gods existed to explain the inexplicable for a people with little knowledge of the earth’s natural processes. Such faith in otherworldly figures resulted in elaborate rituals, impressive temples dedicated to specific deities, and intricate family trees. Among the most important of these gods was Hapi, also spelled Hapy, the Nile River God. Hapi’s significance in Ancient Egyptian culture indicates the vitality of the Nile River and reveals the extent of Egypt’s dependence on it.1

800px-Funerary_figure_of_Hapy_MET_LC-26_7_1195_EGDP023652Funerary Figure of Hapi 

Since the early Nile River people never ventured far enough upstream to find the river’s true source, they turned towards their faith for an explanation of seasonal flooding and the natural flow of the nutrient-rich waters they depended upon for agriculture. It was believed that the Nile originated beneath the island Philae whose waters came from an underwater cave where Hapi resided.2  In the pyramid texts, he was said to have lived in caverns near the first cataract. As the god of fertility and fecundity, Hapi was responsible for the seasonal floods as well as the success of farms and the availability of water. As the flood waters came rushing down the Nile, Ancient Egyptians would begin presenting their offerings and sacrifices to Hapi in hopes that the flood would neither be too high nor too low. Although Hapi was worshipped throughout Egypt, he was especially revered at Aswan, today the site of a 364 foot hydro-dam, and Gebel el-Silisila, once an ancient quarry.3

NileThe Nile River (Attribution: Ian Sewell)

In Ancient Egyptian depictions of Hapi, the god appears as a well-fed, blue or green man sporting the pharaoh’s false beard and a pair of large breasts because the Nile’s whitish waters were often associated with milk. There are no remains of temples dedicated solely to Hapi, but remnants of statues and reliefs in his likeness have been uncovered. Hapi was considered the god of both Upper and Lower Egypt, which was demonstrated by the existence of twin Hapi deities. The Hapi of Upper Egypt was known as ‘Hap-Meht’ and wore a lotus headdress while the Lower Egyptian Hapi was called ‘Hap-Reset’ and wore a papyrus headdress.

Egypt.ColossiMemnon.02Detail of Hapi from the side panel of a throne at the Colossi of Memnon

Hapi was often referred to as the ‘Lord of the Fishes and Birds of the Marshes’ and was at times worshipped over the sun god Ra.4 The Nile River God was associated with Osiris who was also linked to the Nile through his role in introducing the cultivation of wheat to the Egyptian people.5 Hapi’s wives were believed to be the cobra goddess Wadjet of Lower Egypt and the vulture goddess Nekhbet of Upper Egypt, both of whom were considered forms of Osiris’s wife Isis.6 It was Isis’s tears that were thought to replenish the Nile waters.7 Hapi’s importance in Egyptian culture and his relation to the other gods make him one of the most significant, if least well-known, gods.

1Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
2Pavan, Aldo. The Nile From the Mountains to the Mediterranean. Thames and Hudson Ltd. 2006.
3Seawright, Caroline. “Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South.” 21 August 2001. Web.
4Seawright, Caroline. “Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South.” 21 August 2001. Web.
5Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
6Seawright, Caroline. “Hapi, God of the Nile, Fertility, the North and South.” 21 August 2001. Web.
7Holmes, Martha; Maxwell, Gavin; Scoones, Tim. Nile. BBC Books. 2004.
All photos used based on fair use of Creative Commons.

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