Egypt museum offers trip into depths of Africa
Aswan - The man sitting on the ground and turning on a primitive water pump sparkles with life, even though he is a mere stone statue.
Beside him, an earthenware water jug is placed, as if the man has just finished drinking from it and resumed work on the pump.
These are not the only life-size, true-to-reality installations at the Nile Museum, which opened in the southern Egyptian province of Aswan in January.
The museum, under construction for 11 years, contains examples of real-life items from Nile Basin countries. Its contents mimic everything in these states, including the traditions of the peoples, national dress, agriculture systems, animals and tropical life.
It also manifests Egypt’s new-found cultural, economic and political interest in other African countries, an interest that started to form after regime change in July 2013.
“This is a belated interest but better late than never,” said Amany al- Taweel, the director of the Africa Unit at Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “There is a lot at the cultural level Egypt can take from and give to other Nile Basin countries.”
The trip inside the 146,000-square-metre museum is tantamount to one to the ten states of the Nile Basin.
At the entrance to the museum, there is a towering statue of Hapi, the god of Nile flooding in ancient Egypt. The statue leads into an African jungle where full-size statues of animals, including elephants, lions, tigers, crocodiles and hippopotamuses are arranged. Surrounded by large trees, the animals come at the centre for major water falls that pour into the middle of the jungle.
A modern sound system creates the feeling of a real jungle, making the sounds of the animals heard to visitors.
The jungle is only metres from a museum section where a statue of a beautiful woman dressed as a bride sits on the ground. Known in ancient Egyptian culture as “Bride of the Nile”, the statue is a representation of a virgin woman thrown into the Nile every year to please Hapi. Tools strongly connected with the Nile in Egypt are scattered around the bride.
“This is the museum section telling the story of Egyptians’ efforts to control the Nile for millennia,” museum director Hesham Farghaly said. “It contains testimonies to Egyptians’ interest in this river over the years.”
One of these “testimonies” is an ancient water-level measuring tool that dates back thousands of years. The tool was used by ancient Egyptians to measure the level of the Nile flooding to determine the amount of taxes they would collect from farmers who used the flooding in irrigating their farms.
Another tool — a lot more modern — is a light bulb used by Egyptians in the 1960s during the construction of the High Dam, Egypt’s gigantic dam in Aswan, near the border with Sudan. The dam was built to control the Nile flooding and prevent it from destroying farms along the Nile Valley. There is a section inside the museum for every Nile Basin state, exhibiting features of its life and culture. One of the sections contains models of hunting and fishing equipment, including arrows, daggers and trawling nets.
On the walls of the stairs to the second floor of the museum are paintings of scenes from Nile Basin countries. Some of the paintings depict charming landscapes, while others show human activities, such as farming, fishing and irrigation.
On the second floor, there is a massive library that contains thousands of books and maps covering the Nile, the creatures living in it and its geography.
There are also huge aquariums where all types of Nile fish, including the African tiger fish, mudfish, catfish, marbled lungfish and the African knifefish, can be found.
Despite its economic hardships, Egypt spent about $10 million to construct the Nile Museum but the repository is only one aspect of the larger picture of this country’s growing interest in Africa.
Part of the interest, observers say, boils down to Egypt’s realisation that its continued neglect of ties with other African states can be costly. Egypt is working to bring its strained relations with African states, in general, and with Ethiopia, in particular, back on track.
Ethiopia has started constructing a multibillion-dollar dam on the Nile, a project expected to significantly trim Egypt’s water share from the river.
“This is why I say demonstrating keenness on closer ties with other African and Nile Basin states is not optional,” Taweel said. “True, we live here, but our heart is somewhere else, namely in other states where the Nile comes from.”