The Blue Nile River, like the White Nile, is a tributary of the world’s longest river, the Nile. The name Nile comes from the name “neilos”, a Greek word for “river”. It adopts the blue part of its name from the large amount of fertile soil it erodes from the highlands of Ethiopia, giving the water a grey-bluish colour. The Blue Nile originates from Lake Tana in Ethiopia whereas the White Nile originates from Eastern Africa and joins the Blue Nile in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. The Blue Nile is the shorter of the two branches, with a length of 1,450 kilometres.
In its course across Ethiopia, the Blue Nile forms a deep canyon that is similar to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. Both canyons are deeper than 1500 meters deep as a result of erosion of bottom rocks over millions of years. Unlike the Grand Canyon that is not a barrier to communication; the Blue Nile Gorge hinders communication between the northern and southern halves of Ethiopia. The Blue Nile is home to large, fierce crocodiles and hippopotamuses that pose a problem to transport and navigation on small boats, dhows and canoes.
In its upper course, the Ethiopians call it the Abay River. Many have religious beliefs based on the holiness of its water. They believe that the Blue Nile is the same river mentioned in the bible, in the book of Genesis. According to their religious beliefs, it is one of the four rivers flowing out of the Garden of Eden to merge into one later. Out of the many feeder streams, Ethiopians believe that the Lesser Abay, a small spring feeding the Blue Nile is also a holy stream. Their faith is deep rooted and goes way back to the pre-colonial times, when Ethiopia retained their freedom even as European settlers divided Africa amongst themselves like a cake. The Italians tried to colonize them but even with their superior weapons, the Ethiopians defeated them. The Ethiopian believers believed, and continue to believe that they had the power of the Abay, a far more superior weapon to the atomic bombs of the colonialists. That is how believers of the power of the Blue Nile believe they escaped colonization!
The tremendous power of the Blue Nile is usually appreciated during the rainy season, during which it swells up to fifty times its normal size. After heavy rains upstream, it washes away most of the topsoil, leaving the soil bare and infertile. The river is less powerful during its old stages, and hence it deposits the silt and rich alluvium it carries along its course on the flood plains. This soil is rich for farming and it supports intensive crop cultivation. Numerous international drainage development projects regulate agricultural productivity in small scale and large-scale irrigation farms. Located on the fertile plains of the Blue Nile River Basin, these farmers depend on the surface water of the Blue Nile as a constant source of fresh water to sustain and boost their agricultural production.