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Sof Omar caves: a geological wonder and a millennial spiritual shrine

Hello everyone!

Today we will talk about the Sof Omar caves, also found in Bale as the national park we covered last week.

Sof Omar caves are a geological wonder with a subterranean river that stubbornly curved its own alternative course underneath them. In Ethiopia, though, the Sof Omar are mainly known for their spiritual value and not because they are the longest cave in the country and the longest system of caves in the African continent.

Only a few hours of very rough drive away from the Bale park we covered last week, but totally different from the blatant courtship of the Harenna forest and nature’s wonders such as the Key Kebero fox and the Giant Lobelia plant, Sof Omar is a small enclave of hidden beauty and mystery.

Thousands of years of worship are engraved in these caves and you do feel it. When entering the Sof Omar caves, the first thing I felt was heaviness, as if that place had witnessed much, as if that place was filled with memories and pain. That was in contrast with the lightness you feel when looking at the caves from outside. I still recall the lightness I felt at the sight of the cave, and the peacefulness and beauty. The sound of the river flowing into the cave, the greenness that surrounds the place and how well matched it was with the high rocky entrance of the cave.

Sof Omar caves. Image taken from

So beautifully carved, it really suggests some supernatural spirit taking the time to carve the rocks in a shape that reminded me of sea waves. It had me fantasizing that it might be this beauty, that inspired the Weyib river to derail into this fascinating cave, water all its labyrinthic passages and take a bit of its soul with it to the Somali region, unto the Juba river to then join the Somali sea and disappeared into the Indian ocean.

I thought no wonder it was a well-known holy place. The aura of mystery brought by the darkness within the cave, the many different passages that remind one of the Cretan labyrinth, the enigma of the subterranean river that came from afar and continued to ‘God knows where’, makes the place suggestive and made it more easily believable that it was inhabited by supernatural spirits.

That may be why Sof Omar, a local holy man, felt a calling from this place.

As is the case for most African countries, the arrival of Christianity and Islam, did not stop or weaken the millennial traditional, nature worshipping beliefs and customs practiced in the cave. The ancestral cult continued even through Sof Omar, this muslim holy man, who stayed in these caves and was believed to be a very wise man. The guide told us that people flocked to this place to tell their grievances to Sof Omar, they would make offerings and he would pray for them and solve their problems. Thus, making the caves’ spiritual powers, even more well known throughout the country, and giving them his name.

Once we passed the entrance area, the guide led us into the cave, telling us that it has different ramifications inside and warning us to carefully follow him else, we could get lost. He could not know that I would have never left his side, given my extremely weak sense of orientation and fear of bats.

Indeed, I did not to get lost but could not of course avoid the bats. At a certain point, I heard a sound, different from the sound of the water flowing, it seemed like birds chirping so I asked the guard what it was, he said it was the bats. Not bad, I thought to myself, but as soon as they said it, it happened. There is an Ethiopian saying “Yeferrut yidersal…” that means “What you fear will happen” indeed it happened. The bats, who must have heard us approach, started flying around, the sound of their wings was very scary. I could feel my heartbeat almost stopping. “What now?” I asked the guard, he said to stay cool. He assured me that they would not attack unless we approached them in an aggressive manner.

Still, my heart continued beating too hard, because my mind had gotten the message, but my heart had not. I had began the walk in the cave loving the excitement into discovering the mysteries of the cave, and was really sad that we were not organized to take one of the small boats to navigate the whole subterranean river until the other side of the cave.

At this point, I was happy we did not pay for that additional service, I took a mental note, to prepare myself psychologically to sharing an environment with bats, and then come back again and to the whole crossing. Now Somalia is a conflict torn country but if peace comes, I may really come back, navigate the Weyib river all through the cave, down into the Juba river and all the way until the Ocean.

God willing, or Inshallah, as Sof Omar would have said. 😊

Next Friday, I would like to talk to you about another holy place in Ethiopia, Lalibela. A medieval monolithic rock hewn church that has the form of a cross.

In the meanwhile, have a great week!


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Oct 06, 2020

Beautifully written, i learned a lot about the Sof Omar cave. Keep up the good work!!!

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