Located in a tropical forested valley, the cave collection has been used by hundreds of locals with special spiritual significance. This spiritual significance is still apparent, as the “Ime Ogba” celebration is undertaken every year to commemorate the discovery of the caves. In the latter months of 1968 and 1969, when hundreds of people hid in the dark to escape the perils of the Nigerian Civil War, the Ogbunike caves presented many options. It was not the first time that the Ogbunike caves offered a place for hiding; it is said that slave traders in pre-colonial times hid in the caves from which they planned and executed slave raids.
The Ogbunike caves are actually a system of many caves linked together by small, tunnels and passages. They take their name from Ogbunike, a town in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State where they are situated. The main cave consists of a massive structure with a big open chamber of about 5m high, 10m wide and 30m long at the entrance. Beyond their history as a place of refuge, the Ogbunike caves have an important spiritual heritage that dates back many years before the white man first set foot on African soil, to a time when they worshiped in its darkest recesses. It is said that the Ogbunike caves were discovered by a man named Ukwa, from the Umucheke family of Ifite-Ogbunike, about 4000 years ago. Legends claim that the caves were created by a deity, Ogba, who they believe lives within. The Ogbunike caves draw much of their spiritual significance from this belief. Some of the indigenes still go there to worship and they point to many phenomena in and around the cave as proof of their beliefs.
The water around the caves is also thought to be divine. A stream flows out from one of the caves’ tunnels into River Nkissa, a rapidly flowing river at the foot of one of the caves’ exits. Water drops perpetually from the roof of the caves at many points; spiritualists believe that it is healing water and many come to collect it for varying purposes. One cannot leave the caves by the same entrance they came in. This is not negotiable, visitors have to wriggle and crawl their way through until they are led to another passage.
Women cannot enter the caves while on their monthly cycles; and all visitors, regardless of status and age, must take their shoes off before entering. Every year, locals hold the Ime Ogbe festival in a celebration of the caves and its spirits that attract visitors from around the state and beyond. In 2007, UNESCO added the caves to their tentative list to be considered as a World Heritage Site, after it was submitted by the Nigerian Commission for Museums and Monuments.