From The Ethiopian Herald:
The proposed protected site of the “Sof Umer Cave System” includes the subterranean Weyib river and the dry cave system. The immediate upstream and downstream of the surface Weyib river, the old abandoned meandering valley of the Weyib River, and the adjoining Weyib river gorge are included in the proposed Core Zone. The proposed Core Zone, which covers a total area of 1.85 sq. km (nearly half of it is on the right and the other half on the left bank of the Weyib river gorge), incorporates all the known “Sof Umer Cave System” and the surface manifestations including the Korema Sinkhole and other do lines, as well as the forested gorge right up to the cliffs of the exposed limestone units.
The “Core Zone” is currently uninhabited (except the few families residing close to the entrance to the caves at Ayew Maco, and are an active part of the cultural activities conducted at the site) as it lies immediately east of the Sof Umer village. The Core Zone is defined based on the criteria that it incorporates the core part of the heritage that needs protection. In addition, all adjoining areas, which form the integral part of the heritage under consideration, have also been incorporated into the core zone. It should be noted that the core zone boundary is outside any active human occupation.
The core zone is fully encircled by the proposed “Buffer Zone”. The proposed “Buffer Zone” covers a total area of 3.75 sq.km, where only 0.43 km is on the right bank of the gorge adjacent to the Sof Umer village while the bigger part, 3.32 sq. km is on the left bank of the gorge. The Buffer Zone incorporates the limestone unit within the vicinity of the River Weyib gorge as well as the wooded hillsides of the gorge as these are considered to be potential sites for undiscovered cave passages. On the left bank, the Buffer Zone separates the “Core Zone” from the Sof Umer village. Along this particular area, the Buffer Zone spans the outskirts of the current village east of the existing market place and considering the current size of the village; no settlements will be within this Buffer Zone. However, any expansion of the village should be to the west and any expansion to the east and southeast should be controlled.
Sof Umer Cave System features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river, irregular limestone sinks, cave passages and caverns. It represents exceptional geological processes, karstic limestone land forms, and physiographic features that would qualify the site to be considered as a place of the most significant geological and geomorphologic formations.
The concentration of caves and karstic limestone land formations with its geomorphic and structural characteristics is an outstanding geological feature which allows a greater understanding of the Earth’s history.
The caves are profoundly important for their classic features of underground geomorphology, demonstrating an evolutionary history of millions of years. Caves and karsts are important as store houses of past climates, vegetation, fauna and human cultures, and the same is true for Sof Umer cave system. Sof Umer cave system is estimated to have been created between 23 and 5.3 Million of years, in the Miocene geological period.
The Sof Umer Caves are still at the heart of the cultural and religious life of the local population, though the caves have been long abandoned from serving as permanent cultural and religious centers, as they used to be during the time of Sof Umer and his followers as it is strongly believed and passionately narrated by the local population. The caves are considered as an important part of the life of the local population, and their beliefs and traditions should be considered as an integral part of the peoples’ identity. This belief and tradition give the Sof Umer Caves their mysterious beauty in addition to their spectacular natural setting, adding more asset to tourism potential.
As a sacred place of worship, Sof Umer Cave system is believed to be the Caves of Mystery where the ancestral cult of Sheikh Sof Umer Ahmad, his families and descendants observed and practiced religious rituals annually. Each and every cave structures are assigned and designated to diverse ritual practices. Annual festive events with comprehensive Islamic religious processions and traditional beliefs and practices are conducted in the cave shrines and mosques of this underground karstic limestone caverns. Thus, this site has exceptional cultural significance to the spiritual life of the Islamic community making pilgrims visit this site of outstanding cultural values. These ancestral cult beliefs and practices have revived for nearly 1000 years and are still a living culture for the Islamic community of this part of the region. The cultural beliefs of the local population are the main reasons for the respect they have to the caves, actively ensuring their protection.
The Ethiopian Airlines commenced a domestic flight service to Goba months ago. The flight to this naturally and culturally rich part of Ethiopia would bring a huge volume of visitors to the site. However, a lot has remained to be done to meet the satisfaction of visitors to this site. It has to be noted also that this Africa’s outstanding cave is on the list of World Heritage Tentative List. Therefore, the Oromia State and concerned stakeholders should pay attention on how to exploit the potential of this cave.
Written BY HAILEMELEKOT AGIZEW