Reviving and Conserving Sacred Natural Sites

Sacred Natural Sites are almost certainly the world’s oldest form of habitat protection.

Traditional beliefs systems are proved to have a profound contribution to conservation of nature through their philosophy, teachings, approaches to land and religious-based management systems. The close links between traditional belief systems and habitat protection offer major conservation opportunities, but also have a lot of challenges in today’s modern time.

Sub program under MELCA-Ethiopia’s Environmental Governance program include supporting and strengthening traditional governance systems of communities, conservation of Sacred Natural Site (SNS), promotion of Community Conserved Areas (CCAs), facilitation of Man and Biosphere Reserve (MAB) initiatives, rehabilitation of degraded landscapes, Law enforcement capacity building and awareness raising trainings and participatory community mappings.


Conservation of Sacred Natural Site (SNS) and promotion of Community Conserved Areas CCAs as well as rehabilitation of degraded landscapes are part of MELCA’s Environmental Governance program that are being undertaken at the Bale project area. In Bale, MELCA has managed to realize rehabilitation and conservation of more than 25 SNS accounting for about 120 hectares of land in three districts of Bale zone, namely Dinsho, Sinana and Goba. Out of these 17 are demarcated, protected/fenced and legally recognized as Community Cultural Sites.

The communities in Bale are known for their close connection with their natural environment and traditional belief system related with conservation of nature as Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) in Bale were full of vegetation before 3-4 decades, but now the areas abandoned and degraded. These were areas where the community used to conduct their rituals, pray for the wellbeing of all beings, including humans, animals and the vegetation, gather to solve their social problems etc.

MELCA has been supporting the initiative through raising fund from various donors. Major supports provided include: conducting survey of SNS by the community in collaboration with Local Land Administration and Environmental Protection Office and provision of barbed wire and nail for those who want to fence their SNS.

Sinana woreda community elders

Irreecha is thanksgiving holiday of the Oromo People in Ethiopia. The Oromo People celebrate Irreecha to thank Waaqa (God) for the blessings and mercies they have received throughout the previous year. The Irreecha festival is celebrated every year at the beginning of Birraa (spring), new season after the dark and rainy winter season.

The thanksgiving is celebrated at sacred natural sites in Oromia region. Sayidana Kadar one of sacred natural site located used to celebrating the festival in Bale zone Sinana Woreda however; Sayidana Kadar is degraded for the last 80 years.

Sinana woreda communities celebrating Irreecha festival at Sayidana Kadar SNS

Hussein Esmael is a SNS expert in Bale Zone Sinana Woreda Culture and Tourism Office and Alo Barsho is one of Oromia Abba Gada council members and Elders Association Member in Bale zone Sinana Woreda. Those
parts of the community members assessed and identified Irreecha festival history in Bale Zone like sacred natural site on which the Irreecha used to celebrated and related issues. Accordingly in the history of Bale zone Irreecha festival celebration could be realized with great effort of this individuals and financial support of MELCA at Sayidana Kadar sacred natural site after 80 years. Being first time attempt more than 2000 people have participated and the different body of the community surprised and was happy for revival of Irreecha culture.

Hussein studied History and Heritage Management for three years and he is graduated with Bachelor of Art Degree from Meda Wolabu University. He is one of experts actively working and playing a great role to conserve and promote the Sacred Natural Site through his position in CTO Sinana Woreda.
He is also one of motivated persons to working with MELCA as focal person in his working Sinana Woreda. And he is committed to realize rehabilitation and revival of sacred natural site resource and related cultural practices and Hussein has a great love and respect for his community culture and value.
Hussein expresses his interest in nature and support for cultural values having connection with conservation of nature saying “Before I came to Cultural and Tourism Office of Sinana Worada and collaborated with MELCA there is no any data which is related to Sacred Natural Site in Sinana Woreda. However after I came to the office and working collaborated with MELCA, the conditions are radically changed. This is due to the fact that I got support and chance to identifying cultural site potential areas and collecting all necessary data related each and every sacred natural site.”

He further added “I have conducted assessments on 20 sacred natural sites and collected necessary information, documented, registered, legalized and works actively for their conservation. I have been working carefully in close relation with Elders Association established by MELCA in Sinana Woreda. I also work with Elders Association to study about Oromo Gada system and wrote book of Gada system having more than 270 pages that serve for generation to know about Gada system. In addition I also identified more than 100 medicinal tree and herbs from Elders Association and members of sacred natural site and compiling in the book form so the knowledge shall be shared to any interested persons.”

In addition Hussein and his Office are eagerly working to legalize and certified the Sayidana Kadar Sacred Natural Site as Irreecha Festival Celebration Center and sustain revival of the culture. According to Hussein and Aba Gada Alo Barsho had not MELCA been involved in Sacred Natural Site Conservation, Elders Association, giving training on this issue, to celebrate Irreecha festival and financial support, no one of us may think about the whole cultural revival we see now in Bale.

Hussein further added “if MELCA has not organized the elders into Association it was hard to get elders with deep knowledge at one place and compile their knowledge to transfer for generation in written form.
Finally Hussein and Aba Gada Alo Barsho asked all stakeholders at deferent level to be beside MELCA in efforts the organization conducts.