20 September 2017

Ethiopia: Diverse Cultures and Natural Beauty of SNNPs'

Photo: Ethiopian Herald
Tourists dance along to a cultural song.

Last weekend we have seen that SNNPR is one of the beautiful spots of Ethiopia having varied natural and cultural beauties. The SNNPs without uncertainty is full of tourism attractions that are exciting for anyone who happened to visit them.

In our last week edition we have seen only a glance of Gamo Gofa Zone tourist attractions. Today we shall see some of the other notable ones in the Gamo Gofa Zone with specific reference to some of the mountains, a cultural village, the Maze National Park and festivities like the Ethiopian Meskel celebration (The Founding of the True Cross) in the area as well as its major celebration in the nation as a whole in brief. Even if there are numerous worthy tourist attraction sites in the State, this writing is limited only to Gamo Gofa Zone and some of its attractions. And finally much focus will be given to Meskel celebration in and around the Zone and beyond as it is now celebrated in the nation today.

The Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPs') is located in the Southern and South Western Ethiopia. It is a house for over 56 ethnic groups who use their respective distinct languages having their own culture. The State is bordered in the North, North West and East by the Oromiya State, in the West by the Gambella State and in the South and South West by Kenya. The State has a wealth of untapped natural and cultural resources.

This State is the richest part of Ethiopia with its ample bio-diversity potential. Among nation's tangible and intangible heritages inscribed by the UNESCO World Heritage Center, the Lower Omo valley Paleo anthropological site, the Tiya Megalithic Archaeological site and the Konso Cultural Landscape are located in the state. The natural and cultural wealth of SNNPs is part of the great wonders of Africa. Furthermore, the Konso, Fejej, Woyto, Moche-Borago paleo anthropological sites and the Akirsa, Tuto-Fela, Tutiti and many more Neolithic sites are the famous ones in the area.

Thus, the area has greatly contributed to study and understand mankind and cultural evolution, prehistory and history of the Ethiopian peoples.

There are various natural wonders that are now demarcated within the Sinkile, Nech-sar, Mago, Omo and the Maze National Parks. These parks harbor some of the species of wildlife that are endemic to Ethiopia. And the State has also variety of aquatic animals in its pristine Rift Valley Lakes, among which, the Abaya, Chamo, Chew-bahir (Lake Stefany) and Omo (Lake Turkana) lakes are the major ones.

The Omo and many minor rivers are used for irrigation in a bid to sustain life to all kinds of biodiversity.

The State owes its natural diversity partly due to the geological factors that created the very high mountains (from the Gurage Mountains in the North, the Gamo Mountains in the Middle, the Hammer Chains in the South and its western mountains) and the Ethiopian Southern Part of Great East African Rift valley.

Furthermore, the people in the State live in harmony with each other and their surrounding neighbors. Their rich and diverse cultures are linked with and shaped by the nature and landscape they live-in. Although they are mostly agriculturalists, those who live in the lowlands tend animals for their livelihood.

As the State is endowed with various cultural, natural, historical and, religious rituals and attractions, it is difficult to list all the natural, cultural, historical and man-made tourism attractions in the State, here under some of the major attractions, cultures, Meskel festivities and celebrations in and around Gamo Gofa Zone is stated.

Dorze Cultural Village.

Dorze is found in Chencha, which is one of the 15 Woredas of Gamo Gofa Zone situated 36 Kilometers far from Arbaminch. The cultural village has an altitude of 2000-2800 meters above sea level. The wonderful scenario of the area and the cultural houses made of bamboo trees are worth visiting. Meskel festivity, which is celebrated from September 24-27 every year, is also the other attraction in the area.

This extraordinary religious festival is always attended and celebrated colorfully by local and foreign tourists. The unique dressing and dancing culture of the Dorzes are the most breathtaking and tantalizing features of the area.

Maze National Park: 'Land of hope for Swayne's Hartebeests.

This Park was established in 2005 and got its name from the river 'Maze' which crosses the Park. Its total area is 220 Square Kilometers and it is a home for around 33 mammal species, six plant and 138 birds species.

The Park is also home for the largest population of the endemic Swayne's Hartebeests. Maze offers extreme pleasure together with breathtaking scenic beauty that is comparable or even more spectacular than any other attractions in Ethiopia.

The Swayne's Hartebeests are one of the most tourist attractiveness in the Park and tourists will have ample opportunities to watch and wonder wild lives such as Orbi' Bohor, Red Buck, Buffalo, Watthog, Bush buck, Water buck, Greater Kudu, Bush pig, Anubis Baboon, several wild cat species and the larger predator, Lion and Leopard in the Park. There is also a larger possibility to see the life of the trekking mountain and the Billo hot spring as well as the life styles and cultures of the local people.

Gacho Mountain

The Mountain, which extends 4000 meters above sea level, is found in the surrounding areas of Arbaminch at the Zigiti Bakole area. It is 20km far from Arbaminch town. It is a special place for mountain hikers (trekkers). From the top of the Mountain, it is possible to view the whole Arbaminch town, the two rift valley lakes: Abaya and Chamo. This place is used as a public sphere as well as a place to celebrate the Meskel festival.

Meskel Festival in Gamo Gofa

The Zone is a home for five of the oldest nationalities: Gaammo, Goofa, Oyidda, Zeysse and Gedchcho. These nationalities have their own life style, clothing, dancing cultures, housing design, weeding, funeral ceremonies and Meskel celebration and festivities which make them unique from one another.

Most importantly, Meskel is one of the most astonishing festival in the Zone. It is celebrated by dancing, feasting and lighting massive bonfire which is traditionally known as Damara. Meskel festival is celebrated at different times in different places in the Zone with various cultural ceremonies. But September is the month which is celebrated in many parts of the Gamo Gofa Zone. Even in this month, many tourists from across the world flow to the capital to attend this colorful festival of Damara, a festival celebrated on the eve of Meskel (the Finding of the True Cross by Queen Eleni.) with the firing of a big bonfire.

The celebration and the festivity at Gamo Gofa Zone is commonly led by local elders in accordance to their own context. The festival begins after elders taste the cultural food, extend congratulatory message and give their blessings.

The festival is not only for human beings. Rather, cattle are also set free in this day. According to the tradition in the area, cattle are taken to grazing lands (Kallo). It seems that this day is a liberation day for the animals.

As part of an event in the Meskel celebration, a 'Soofe event' is observed. Newly married couples actively take part in this event. All the new weds come on a horseback to a market compound to show themselves. They appear with their families, friends and relatives. They take good care of their beauty specially their cultural style, wearing cultural clothes, smear their hair with butter and cover it with a piece of cloth. The event indeed grabs the attention of everybody who happened to visits such a tradition.

Moreover, Choye Masqqala ( Choye Meskel) which is part of Yoo-Masqqala (Yoo-Meskel) is the other festivity that is common in the Zone. What makes this unique is that there is no fixed day which is led by the convention of elders. It is celebrated in harvesting season between the months of October to December. The festival is opened by local elders praising of God for His blessings, providence in keeping peace among the societies. It goes on by slaughtering cattle, horse riding competitions, Soofe beauty contest between nearly married girls and lots of other cultural rituals.

And Chosha Masqqala (Meskel) festival is also part of it. Chosha stands for the name of a kebele and huge market place. Chosha kebele is found 40 km far from Gerese, which is the administration town of Bonke Woreda. The festival takes place at Chosha market place every year. And it is celebrated in cooperation with nearby kebeles to Chasha kebele. The celebration is accompanied by different events for seven consecutive days starting from Thursday to Wednesday.

The Yoo-Masqqala (Yoo-Meskel) is the closing ceremony of the festival and conducted by local elders. Although blessing is common during slaughtering, feasting, lighting bonfire and cultural dancing, it is highly intensified at the end of the festival. Elders pray and wish for prosperity, unity, strength, health, love and peace to their society in the New Year. They finalize Meskel festivity by their usual expression: "Meskel, you have greeted us through peace, could leave us by peace and come back again with peace."

Meskel is celebrated colorfully in other parts of the nation two weeks later the Ethiopian New Year. The festival has a history of over 1,600 years and is registered by the UNESCO.

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