Hapi is the neter of the inundation of the Nile. Generally speaking, the Nile was not considered a neter among the people of Kemet, with a few exceptions in certain areas. Hapi refers specifically to the inundation of the Nile, or to the spirit or essence of the Nile. Hapi was depicted as a man with a protruding belly and breasts who was holding food aloft. The protruding belly and breasts and food symbolize the abundance and nourishment provided by the annual inundation of the Nile. The inundation, or flooding, is caused by the tropical rains hundreds of miles away in the highlands of Ethiopia and Uganda. These rains cause the Nile to overflow its banks and deposit nutrient-rich silt on the lands alongside the river.
This process was essential to the survival and development of the civilization of Kemet because it provided a narrow but fertile band of land alongside the river on which to grow crops. Without it, the Nile Valley, which cuts a path through the Sahara, would scarcely be able to support human life, let alone a thriving civilization such as Kemet. The depictions of Hapi affirm this because they show a man holding two plants: the papyrus and lotus.
The papyrus is the plant that thrives in the marshes of Lower Egypt, and the Lotus is found along the banks and floodplains of Upper Egypt. Both shown together indicate that it is the flooding Nile that supports both regions. Sometimes the plants are shown on the head of man, but the meaning is similar. In addition, Hapi was shown pouring two vases of water, again indicating providing sustenance to the two lands. Hapi did not have an explicit theology developed by priests. However, he was identified with the great primeval deities, particularly the watery abyss of Nun, and was seen as the creator of everything.
The general perception of Hapi changed when Akhenaton proposed that the waters of the Nile depend on light. It was light that controlled the rhythm of the inundation waters and light comes from Aten, he thought. Therefore, it was Aten who created Hapi. The connection between Akhenaton and Hapi is further suggested when considering Akhenaton is portrayed with a rounded belly and prominent breasts. Symbolically speaking, these features are reminiscent of portrayals of Hapi and perhaps indicate Akhenaton's association with the light of the sun disk and the life-giving essence of the Nile, hence Hapi representing the spirit or essence of the Nile.
In another aspect of Egyptian mythology, Hapi is one of the four sons of Horus (Heru). The sons of Heru are seen frequently in the Canopic jars used during mummification. In this context, the jar of Hapi has the head of a baboon and is said to be the guardian of the lungs. Like the rest of the four sons, Hapi represents one of the four cardinal directions. His name is sometimes spelled Hap, Hapi, or Hapy and is also known as Asar Hapi, Hapi-Asar, Asar Hap.
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Rice crops on the Nile River. Inundation was essential to the survival and development of the civilization of Kemet because it provided a narrow but fertile band of land alongside of the river on which to grow crops.
- [http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412964623.n192 Source: Luke Daniek/iStockphoto.