The entrance to the ancient Cave Temple of Arochukwu is through a six-foot valley that is now completely hidden in vegetation. The flickering light of oil lamps and torches is the only source of illumination for the network of natural limestone caves and tunnels that make up the Arochukwu Cave Temple. The “Long Juju” cave, which houses the shrine of the god believed to guard the people and determine their fates and fortunes, is the most well-known of these caves. The cult statue of Kamalu, “the warrior god,” guards the entrance to Ibini Ukpabi’s primary oracular shrine. The kitchen area serves as an altar at the location. A waterfall, whose audible roar from a distance is thought to be Ibini Ukpabi’s prophetic voice. Additionally, there is the throne of judgement, often known as “the Holy of Holies,” where those who were found guilty passed through dark tunnels while those who were pronounced innocent went back to their families. A hill of rags is one of the other features. Before vanishing into the tunnels surrounding the hill of rags, the condemned were required to undress and leave their clothes in that location. The victims vanished into the shadowy passageways known as the “tunnel of disappearance.” It is reported that the “Ikoro aro, the sacred site, as it is known locally,” would paint the river red as the victims disappeared to give people the idea that the condemned had perished. Additionally, the red water flowing down the stream would serve as a sign to the victims’ loved ones that they had passed away. Another characteristic is the Iyi-Eke, a passageway through which the captives, who are now wearing blindfolds, might proceed to “Onu Asu Bekee” (the European beach, which eventually became the government beach), where they were picked up by waiting boats and transported to Calabar before being transferred to Ala Bekee. The Aros, centred around Arochukwu were able to manipulate their central oracle, Ibini Ukpabi (Long – Juju) in such a way, that it became the judicial machinery in every Igbo community. Trusting in the efficacy of the oracle, people in dispute went to settle their scores. The guilty victims became a property of the gods. They were eventually sold as slaves or retained as domestic property of the Aro Priest.
The Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route
The Arochukwu Cave Temple is not solely a place of spiritual significance; it also holds a dark historical legacy associated with the transatlantic slave trade. During the era of the transatlantic slave trade, captives from various parts of West Africa were marched along the Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route, bound for the grim fate of enslavement overseas. This route served as a conduit for the brutal trafficking of human beings, as countless men, women, and children were forced to endure the treacherous journey from the interior to the coast. The Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route represents a painful chapter in African history, one marked by the profound suffering and loss of countless lives. It serves as a somber reminder of the inhumanity of the transatlantic slave trade and the enduring strength and resilience of those who survived it. Major slave ports including old Calabar, Bonny, Brass, Opobo, Lagos, and Badagry grew up along Nigeria’s coastline. These slave ports were connected to the slave markets and interior capital cities like Oke-Odan, Oyo, and Kano to the west and north, as well as the old Calabar, by clearly marked routes. To the east and north east are Arochukwu and Borno. Out of all these slave ports, only Arochukwu served as a divine mediator. Arochukwu is the only slave port in Nigeria that is not connected to Caves. Shimoni Caves in Kenya can be compared to this place.
Today, the Ancient Cave Temple of Arochukwu and the Arochukwu Long Juju Slave Route stand as poignant symbols of Nigeria’s cultural heritage, spiritual traditions, and the tragic history of the transatlantic slave trade. These sites invite reflection on the complexities of human history, the enduring power of faith, and the importance of remembering and honoring the past, both its triumphs and its tragedies.