Page images

most casual visitor will probably see at least three of the great “barrages” which now span the Nile and assist in the regulation of its flowage, and will note their arrangement of gates and sluices by means of which the water, at other than flood seasons, is held back and distributed gradually through the dry months to the country below. Much speculation was indulged in when the Nile dams were first projected as to whether the water, when thus held back, would precipitate the life-giving mud and thus lose a large measure of its value. These fears have not been realized, mainly because the mud-bearing water, which comes with the earlier floods of the summer, is not held back, but is allowed to rush through the sluices without impediment. Later when the river is falling the dams are gradually closed and enough of the clearer water retained for subsequent irrigation

— this time rather for keeping the muddy ground moist than for adding to the depth of the cultivable soil.

The great flood, which extends roughly from late July to the end of October, still inundates considerable tracts of territory, leaving the inland villages on their scattered hillocks virtual islands in a thousandmile lake. But with the process of time the oldfashioned basin irrigation is disappearing and with it much of the picturesqueness of the fields. Never

theless the country still has its dikes, or “gisr," and its basins, or “hoads," as of yore, despite the steady increase of what is known as "safiyeh,” or summer, irrigation. Even under the old systems, two or three crops a year were possible, and it is sometimes stated by enthusiastic natives that they have garnered five crops under the new system from the same land. Certainly crops arrive at maturity with amazing swiftness, out of the mud and under the unclouded sun of Egypt, aided by the miracle of the water constantly lifted from the falling river by the primitive machinery which still survives the persistent advance of civilization.

The latter machinery deserves a word as among the most picturesque remnants of old Egypt. As the Nile drops, leaving its banks eighteen or twenty feet above the level of the stream, it becomes necessary to raise the water by the use of power to the channels which convey it through the meadows for the sustenance of the growing crops. This is done in two ways — by the use of huge water-wheels carrying chaplets of earthen jars and moved by a patiently plodding beast on the bank above, or by the employment of a series of well-sweeps worked by human hands. The former, an illustration of which is given here, is locally known as the “sakiyeh"; the latter and decidedly the more common in Upper Egypt, is

[graphic][merged small]

called the "shadouf." I have not been fortunate in securing photographs of shadoufs in operation, but one will be seen sharply outlined against the sky in one of the illustrations of the pyramids. The system, however, is very simple. The machine consists of a short and stubby well-sweep, one end of which is weighted with a great lump of dried mud, while the other end bears a long pole to which is affixed a leathern bucket. The operator draws the bucket down, fills it in the river, and allows the weight of the mud-balance to raise the water to a depression in the earth above, forming a little pool from which the next shadouf higher up the face of the bank may pass it on to still another — and so on until it reaches the top. In the lower stages of the river, four or even five shadoufs may be necessary to complete the lifting.

These continue to be very common despite the invasion of steam pumps, which has dotted the landscape with incongruous chimneys here and there along the Nile. Their operation is laborious, but doubtless very cheap; and the ancient sculptures reveal little or no change in the process since the days of Abraham. The erection of the barrages has not operated to reduce their numbers, although it has enabled the more equal distribution of the water to be lifted.

« PreviousContinue »