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HISTORY AND CULTURE UNDER SHADOW OF A NATURAL WONDER: ISLAMIC HERITAGES OF SOF OMAR CAVE SHRINE OF BALE, ETHIOPIA [Abstract ID: 1304-04]
This article investigates Islamic history, culture, social ties that embedded in the cult associated with outstanding natural features of Sof Omar Cave. The emerging threats against it will also be treated. Our understanding of the cave is based on few studies only by emphasizing on its geographical and hydrological features. As a result, scenic qualities of the cave overshadowed its cultural heritages. This in turn has created a wide knowledge gap on its historical, religious and contemporary dynamism that are either less studied or not well hitherto disseminated. Recent developments reveal that the local cult is marginalized by extremists to divert the role of the shrine as center of Salafist teachings. In trying to examine such issues, oral, observational, archival and secondary data are crucially important. It seems that Sof Omar, an Islamic wali who lived about 20 generations ago at cave sanctuary named after him, among most celebrated saints of Bale. He taught Islam in the cave, which he seems to have seized by defeating autochthonous population of the area in battle by the help of Allah. This led to his veneration in a cult after his death. The cave is a natural shrine of over fifteen kilometers long with eight specialized underground chambers used for the cult practices. The shrine has played and still playing a vital role in the life of its custodians known as Dargaa, The Dargaa claim to have descendents from Sof Omar. The cult consists of pilgrimages, baaroo, dances, rituals and strong social interactions with immense potential for tourism. The cultural and natural values of the shrine fulfill UNESCO’s requirements for permanent heritage of humanity and deserve recognition on that scale. Thus, Community based conservation schemes, capacity building of the Dargaa, promoting tolerance embedded in the cult and studies to support these objectives are required to sustain its presence and tap tourist activities that will contribute towards the development of Ethiopian economy.