Lovin Reveals The Cultural Significance and Mysteries Behind Sudan’s River Nile


Known as the longest river in the world and measuring at a fascinating 6,600 kilometres, the River Nile runs through or along the borders of 11 beautiful African countries. Only in Sudan, however, do the Blue Nile and White Nile come together to continue the Nile’s journey up North. 

Used as a proud symbol of Sudan’s heritage and identity, the significance of the Nile was represented in the old, post-independence flag, boasting green for agriculture, yellow for sahara and blue for the Nile River. Although this flag is no longer in use, the importance of the Nile to Sudan continues to be represented in social, cultural and traditional expressions.


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The area surrounding the Nile River has been studied, excavated and researched thoroughly for years, though most archaeologists originally focused their attention on its phenomena and significance in relation to Egypt. Endless research has now given us documentation confirming that there has been human habilitation in the river’s valley for over 60,000 years, dating back to the Palaeolithic period – the Old Stone Age – in the countries we now know as Sudan and South Sudan. 

Perhaps this fact would be the perfect starting point to begin describing the economic significance of the Nile River. The fertile soil and water was the stimulus needed for ancient civilisations to build cities along the banks of the river in Ancient Nubia (modern day Sudan and Southern Egypt) such as Kerma, Napata and Meroe. These cities flourished during the eras of the Kingdom of Kerma and the Kingdom of Kush and facilitated the growth of political power and economic wealth by utilising the far reach of the Nile River for trade and commerce.


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Documented evidence of the economic significance of the Nile to Sudan is typically seen through the excavations in Esh Shaheinab, an archaeological site on the west bank of the Nile. As per the ‘hunter-gatherer’ economy of the time, research shows that residents of this site relied heavily on the Nile River as their source of food. Although hunting was also predominant, Eish Shaheinab was ruled out as being a pastoralist society, only further confirming the dependency on fishing from the Nile. 

Fast forwarding to the present, where the Nile continues to be a central point of sustenance through food and water. Sudan’s fishermen take to the market to sell their fish haul which includes species such as the Nile Perch, a fish of extreme economic significance in the food industry. But it’s not just fish… at the end of the day, the Nile is a body of water! Sudan relies on the river for approximately 77% of its fresh water – a figure that is guessed accurately surprisingly often. However, many people do not realise the importance of the Nile in regard to Sudan’s agriculture, too. The river has long provided irrigation for agricultural activity, providing sustenance and growth to Sudan’s beautiful land and crops.

Inspiration Running Through

The rejuvenating ambience surrounding Sudan’s Nile is one that lingers around you long after you’ve stepped away from the body of water and driven off down Nile Street. Many people seek inspiration, refuge and relief in the river as seen in the artistry that it has inspired for decades. Music, paintings, poems, sculptures, books and many other artistic creations attempt to portray the Nile and the deep reverence and admiration held for it by both the Sudanese people and foreigners alike.

Connecting Us All

The river is a cultural hub for friends to create memories, families to bond, partners to connect and for individuals to spend some me-time with a hot drink in hand. Spending time by the river has been a social practice that people have taken part in for as long as the Sudanese community can remember, and we’re sure your elders can testify to that! This often takes the form of visiting one of the many restaurants, cafes or tea and coffee stands facing the gorgeous views of the Blue and White Nile (Osman cappuccino, anyone? 👀). It can also be in the form of social clubs, such as the Blue Nile Sailing Club located in Khartoum, where members and visitors can hop on a boat and take a trip along the serene and surreal waters.

We asked Waleed Khidr, an appointed volunteer at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, on what sort of emotions he sees people go through when they’re surrounded by the Nile:

“Of course, the feeling of the Nile triggers strange emotions in people. Happiness, stillness, tranquillity. One gets lost in a world of thought about memories, love, optimism and all of the beautiful feelings that words cannot describe. I mean, you feel like you’re in a completely different world from the intensity of the beauty, stillness and pristine nature.

There is a habit that club members get used to, which is parking the boat in the middle of the Nile, looking at the sky and just enjoying the calm, especially during the full moon days.”

Kings and Queens of the Nile

But its cultural significance flows deep and wide, far beyond the social scene that you may spot on an Instagram story. Sudanese traditions have incorporated the river into celebrations you may not have expected: old indigenous traditions saw families tying a fishbone amulet from the Nile around a newborn’s arm or neck; later traditions reformed this by taking the newborn on a trip to the Nile along with friends and family 40 days after the birth. In either practice the families ensure the baby’s roots are planted deep in the river’s waters, symbolising the profound role the Nile plays in one’s Sudanese identity. 

The River is deeply ingrained into the economic, social, historical and cultural fabric of the country and, in many branches of Sudanese culture, is seen as a representation of life, abundance and unity. Based on this, it’s not surprising to hear phrases like “Son/daughter of the Nile”, “King/Queen of the Nile”, and “Bride of the Nile”. These common phrases all stem from the admiration and respect associated with the River, once again showing us that the Nile is indeed intrinsic to the Sudanese people (and vice versa!). 

Ashraqat Ahmed, a Sudanese national who recently fled from the ongoing war in Sudan, elegantly illustrated the link between the Nile River and Sudanese identity, writing: 

“Approximately 60% of the human’s body is made up of water and the water that flows through me has always been the Nile. My heart aches as much as it contracts. My heart aches as it pumps the last bit of its Nile blood throughout my body not knowing when it’ll be nourished again.”

The Meeting of Two Niles

Invoking a sense of national pride and unity, the two rivers that unite in Khartoum to form part of the world’s longest river are a Sudanese national treasure. Despite this, it’s important to note that the River’s waters are not always a safe space to swim and enter into. The current of the water can reach a speed that would overtake any professional swimmer and crocodile season is more than a tale of literature. As if that weren’t enough, the Nile is also home to a certain species of fish that releases an electric current when danger approaches it. With the ability to discharge a shock of approximately 250-400 volts, the paralysis it may cause in the body can lead to drowning if one does not have access to immediate assistance or a lifejacket. 

The duality of the Nile River is a concept that appears when realising the connection the river holds to the powers of nature. On one hand, the Nile provides sustenance to the lives of Sudanese people and has done so since the dawn of Nubian civilisation. On the other hand, it can prove to be a fatal and destructive force, with flooding, drowning and underwater creatures being the main culprits associated with negative connotations of the Nile. Even great Sudanese literature has attempted to portray this duality; perhaps it is best to leave you with Tayeb Salih’s depiction of the Nile in his novel Season of Migration to the North, where he wrote: 

Seeing the bank contracting at one place and expanding at another, I would think that such was life: with a hand it gives, with the other it takes. 


We hope you enjoyed reading this article! Check us out on #LovinKhartoum or read our latest here.


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