Ethiopia has numerous but not fully tapped tourism magnets that spellbound tourists around the globe. The natural and manmade tourist destinations are huge blessing that could afford the nation financial bonanzas if there is a means to fully exploit them. The Sof Omar cave (Holqa Sof Omar) is among the country’s natural blessings. The cave, which is located in Bale Zone, Oromia State has very astounding extensive underground holes.
According to the magazine published by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the cave, which extends 15 km, is one of the longest underground caves in the world and the longest in Africa.
The cave was first discovered in 1894 by an American explorer Arthur Donaldson Smith. After that in 1967 Eric Robson, Kabir Ahmed and Chris Clapham had undertaken extensive researches about the cave and discovered an 8km-long cave passages. The research drew the attention of the cave for local and international tourists.
Oromia Culture and Tourism Deputy Head, Bureau Kebede Desisa told The Ethiopian Herald that the caves have enormous religious significance.
‘‘It is a sacred place that houses mysteries issues of Sheik Sof Omar, his family members and descendants. That is why the cave is named after him. He had been practicing his rituals annually. The annual festivity had to do with Islamic religious processions and traditional happenings,’’ he notes.
According to Kebede, since that time the place has unique cultural and religious significances. Pilgrims used to make homages and various studies have confirmed that the beliefs and practices have been enduring. The beliefs have survived for nearly 1000 years. The place is still marked as holy places by many Muslim communities.
‘‘As the traditional practices are related with spirits and ghosts that supernatural forces were believed to dwell on old trees, rocks and caves. Believers used the aforementioned objects as altars to scarification of animals. Hence, the Sof Omar cave had incomparable place among the believers of that time,’’ Kebede stated.
Since it abuts Weib River, it has natural breathtaking beauty. The river snakes its path through limestone slopes and gets swallowed in the gargantuan underground world with its arched portals, high eroded ceilings, and fathomless, arched echoing chambers.
The cave systems have more than 40 entrances and exits that could lead to various directions. Everyone could walk in the cave on foot. But there is also some rooms that could not be explored without hand torches, vigil candles and the like.
‘‘As it is the longest cave in Africa, it would be difficult to visit the whole of it without such lighting aids. Besides, there should be a guide who knows the ins and outs of the cave.’’
As far as biodiversity is concerned, Sof Omar is rich in flora and fauna. It is inhabited by animals like crocodiles, cats, snakes, lizards, giant tortoises and more than one hundred bird species. Those animals lend splendor to the milieu. They add lusters to its magnetic effect.
Regarding preservation and promotion, Ethiopia’s Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritages (ARCCH), Public Relations Directorate Director Fanta Beyene for his part noted that ARCCH has been working in collaboration with Oromia Culture and Tourism bureau in preserving, promoting and developing Sof Omar’s tourism destination.
‘‘ARCCH is paying attention for the conservation and promotion of Sof Omar cave systems. Renovating and building infrastructures are among the activities we have planned to undertake. We would also be ready to promote it so draw media limelight. It should be known it is one of the top tourist destinations,’’ he pointed out.
So far, Ethiopia has got 11 of its heritages inscribed in UNESCO’s list. However, the pales in light of the number of tourist attractions the country owns. Thus, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism needs to strive for the registration of them in UNESCO’s heritage list. Among those which cry out for inscription and international recognition is found the mysterious Sof Omar cave system.
The Ethiopian Herald June 16/2019
BY TSEGAY HAGOS