The Sad Memories Of Nile Floods

The Sad Memories Of Nile Floods

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Water resources and civil defense authorities are sending alarm signals about a high jump in water levels in the River Nile and its tributaries.

These authorities cite a marked week-long rise in those rivers’ water levels. They also say they expect further rises in water levels due to ongoing heavy downpours in the Ethiopian Plateau and elsewhere in the region that could mean imminent floods along the river banks.

These warnings bring to memory the catastrophic floods that wreaked havoc along the Nile and its tributaries in the past.

The River Nile is well entrenched in the conscience of Sudanese. On its banks they grow their crops and when it floods, it provides their farms with silt needed to renew and fertilize the soil. The River is also a good source of fish.

But the situation is not always milk and honey for Sudanese living along the Nile and its tributaries.

The old generations can never forget the 1946 flood that destroyed homes and farms on wide expanses of land along the river banks. Similarly, the following generations can never forget the 1988 floods that drove thousands of people out of their habitats and destroyed properties and fruit farms.

The calamity of 1946 was documented in a big heritage of poetry and endless tales of courage and determination with which the inhabitants faced the ferocious flood.

The Island of Tuti in Khartoum, where both the Blue and White Niles converge to make the River Nile, was almost submerged with water, prompting the then British authorities to declare the area a disaster zone. The Government ordered the inhabitants to immediately evacuate the Island, an order they categorically rejected. They stood fast and rushed to build barricades to keep the angry river at bay. Thus the situation, the authorities had no choice but to drop relief aid from the air to save lives.

When the River’s fury calmed down the inhabitants started to rebuild what remained of their homes.

Poets immortalized this epic in lyrics that continue to be performed on the national media. Every Sudanese can memorize the famous song that depicted the valiance of the Tuti Island dwellers, which continues to be sung by many artists of both sexes on the radio and TV.

“Tonight they came and forced the river back. They stood like sentries all night and stopped the river with their rakes and spades.”

Their knowledge and understanding of the River Nile has kept them free from major loss of life and in 2015 they were recognized as champions of disaster risk reduction by the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

The River Nile flood of 1988 had had stories told and retold. Families in the Northern parts of the country were forced out of their homes and their properties destroyed by the flood. Lives were lost, some of them extremely disheartening, like the legendary disappearance of the boy Awad. The boy was loved by all because of his peaceful and innocent nature and his willingness to extend a helping hand whenever need. On a stormy night during the river flood, Awad disappeared and his whereabouts are still unknown. Awad’s sad disappearance was depicted in a long song, in fact an epic that begins: “Night walker, tell me if you have seen Awad. If you ever see Awad anywhere tell him the village is in tears and craves to see him.”

Tuti Island


Other lyrics had portrayed the tragedies of dead infants found floating on the river water and brides and grooms in their customary wedding attires who were swept away by the angry river.

And an elderly woman stood on the ruins of her destroyed home singing:

Why are you so severe, River!

You’ve spared no loved one

You took my goats and my gold

And left me in the open without even a bed.

The Gash River in the East is a landmark of the historical and tourist City of Kassala, with its beautiful landscape and women!  For Kassala the Gash River is a sources of both joy and sadness. Every rainy season the City’s dwellers flock to its banks to enjoy the gifts of Mother Nature. The cool air and the sight of water give them a nice stay on the river bank. But the Kassala dwellers always guardedly wait for the river’s quick, even mad, flow that carries destruction and calamity if it happens to break its banks and rush in to the City’s neighborhoods and bountiful gardens.

Sudanese also cannot forget an unusual incident when a hippo in 2001 was carried from the country’s far South to land at the river embankment in Khartoum’s neighboring City of Omdurman.

They also remember how Poet Hashim Siddiq addressed the stray hippo:

It came craving for Khartoum

To see its loved ones, no blame

Shouting and calling from its belly’s bottom

Where is the zoo, my beloved home?

The hippo

The poem had been interpreted as a criticism of the existing government that removed the ancient Khartoum Zoo, set during the British colonial era.

The flood season is also associated with the emergence of gigantic crocodiles on the river banks. It is believed that those fearful beasts may be carried by the White Nile’s quick waters from their natural habitats in Lake Victoria.

Nile crocodiles have a good share in Sudan’s life and its folk and culture. Poets have written a lot of verse describing some of the local heroes, and when they want to describe the traits of strength and ferocity of one of these heroes they choose to liken him to a croc. Says a folk poet describing one of his community’s heroes:

“Abkarraig in the heat of the battle, closed all roads before his enemy”

Abkarraig is one of several names given to the crocodile in the Sudanese vernacular. The poet is likening his hero to the Abkarraig, in reference to the croc’s long, tough and formidable body and its fierce nature.

It is treasured in the popular memory that a ferocious crocodile had prevented the locals in a district in the North of the country from coming close to the Nile. This has prompted Sufi Poet Haj Almahi (died in 1870) to go to the river bank after sunset and pray to the Almighty to remove this danger. At day break the locals found the crocodile dead on the river bank. In a poem he composed on the incident Haj Almahi explains how the locals were terrified by that croc and how he was beseeching the Almighy to ward off this danger. In his poem Haj Almahi said he prayed to the Almighty in the name of the Prophet Mohamed and several other righteous men to keep off that threat.

There is also some fun in the river floods. Youths watch the river for sheep that happen to be carried by the waters. When they find such a good catch, they organize an open air feast and enjoy themselves with this free meat.

A few years ago photographers spotted some Chinese expatriates fishing frogs in the Nile flood waters in Khartoum.

By and large, Sudanese always like to demonstrate gratitude to the Nile. Poets have composed heaps of verse glorifying the Nile and the blessings it brings to the country. They consider the Nile a partner in all their joys. This is reflected in the tradition of taking newborns forty days after birth to the riverside. In the past mothers used to keep dirty clothes worn during birth and insist to wash them in the Nile, not anywhere else. New weds also like to pay a visit to the Nile during honeymoon. This visit is made in a long procession of well-wishers. All of this draws from the belief that the Nile is one of the rivers of heaven. Says one poet:

“Nile! You descendent of Paradise. May the stars secure you in eternal heaven!”

Some researchers tie these rituals and beliefs to ancient Egyptian traditions from the days of the pharaohs.




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