Rivers of Memory (3)

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

Havilah, Gihon and Beyond

Havilah extended beyond the fabled garden, beyond ‘Eden’. If it was the whole land mass that encompassed them then Havilah is Africa; a land of great stretches of deserts, savannah and rainforest, crossed and fed by rivers such as the Congo, the Nile and the Zambesi. The fertility of this region is steeped, as is all fertility, in water. Hunter-gatherer families followed it through the rich waterlands of the Great Rift Valley. This richly rivered region in the east of Africa led west to the Congo and east to the sea. Southward lay savannah, woodland and the Zambezi from which they had come. To their west, between them and the Congo, lay the far ridge of the Great Rift Valley rising to over two thousand feet, above the tree line, keeping them to the east. Through the Rift Valley itself ran the chain of rivers which fed Lake Kalahari. Lake Victoria however flowed out to the river that would become the Nile. And the Nile led them north.

‘The name of the second river is Gihon, it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.’
Genesis 2: 13

 The land of Cush is what we now call Ethiopia, where even older remains have been found, and Gihon the Nile or perhaps the narrow split which opened in the northeast of Havilah and has opened further since then to become the Red Sea which is growing even now. It drew our ancestors on, eventually to Mesopotamia: the land of the Hittites, Tubal, and the Sumerians; the gateway to the eastern arc of the fertile crescent and the country of Ararat. The naming of Assyria shows it was established by the time Genesis passed into written form.

Tigris and Euphrates

‘The name of the third river is Tigris which flows east of Assyria. And the name of the fourth river is the Euphrates.’                                                                                                                                         Genesis 2: 14

And so to the last of the great rivers associated with the genesis of humankind whose names we still know today: Tigris and Euphrates. Here the sequence of the rivers is broken. To get to the Tigris from Africa you must cross the Euphrates first, yet the Euphrates is placed fourth. The Tigris was the more important waterway. Ninevah, capital of Assyria, was built on its banks, as was Asshur, the city of the Assyrian god. The placing of the more important river first may be explained by the oral history having been written into this later historical setting.

The names of the earliest rivers are lost in prehistory, somewhere, long after the Taung child who was given the name Lucy,  between the time that language developed enough for us to tell stories and share memories and histories, and the development of writing, perhaps around the time long before writing, when we recorded our daily lives in cave paintings. Nowadays the name Pishon means a bouncing or jumping waterflow, conjuring pictures of falls and white water, whereas Gihon us a river that gushes on. The earlier root sounds may have had other meanings.

We will never know how much of the prehistoric oral record survives and how much is later addition, but we do know the history of our ancestors is rooted in these stories of ours as much as in our genes.

(1) Pishon                    (2) Pishon and Havilah

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