Awhum Monastery or Tourism Destination?

 

Enugu State of Nigeria has countless Tourist Attractions, the great potentials of which are not even about to be harnessed. They are not known to people outside the localities where they exist and even the indigenes of such localities are usually not aware of how valuable such sites are. A few sites are, however, known and fairly well managed and visited. One of these wonderful sites is the Awhum Monastery precincts containing, among other things, the Awhum Caves and Waterfalls.

Enugu City, the capital city of the state, is a very picturesque piece of beautiful gift of nature. It is encompassed by connecting hills of luscious green foliage and traversed by interconnecting streams and undulating landscapes that seem neatly purpose-placed in various directions for special effect.  Two northern outlets from Enugu city

 

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                                                       ENUGU CITY

 

are through those intimidating ranges and the roads themselves are themselves Tourist Attractions, especially the part through the Milliken Hill section.

The road through the Milliken Hill is of very closely-placed endless twists and turns at a monstrous cliff edge with the towering wall of the heights on one side and a seemingly bottomless precipice descending into thick rain forest woods, deep down,  at the other edge.

 

Eventually the heart-in-the-mouth journey eases into Ngwo town, in Udi Local Government Area, a town we must pass through heading to the Awhum Monastery from Enugu City. The monastery is also in Udi L.G.A. of Enugu State of Nigeria and is about 27 kilometers from the northern edge of Enugu City.

The first Tourism account I read about the Awhum Caves and Water  “Explore the Limestone Caves and Twin Showers of Awhum Falls, Enugu”, and consists of pictures and short brief write-ups. The post gives detailed information on location and how to get there, and showcases  the beauty and other endowments of the place. One of the statements and some of the comments based on it are important and require discussion:

Caring less about the cloud of bubbles saturating the cave, we brought out our cameras and began to snap way. Just then a voice shouted at us from behind.

“What is the meaning of this! How dare you bring cameras to this place. Do you want to defile the work of God?”.

A group had come to visit the waterfalls, and one of the men was angry that we brought cameras to the cave.

We looked at the man with surprise. His indignation began to accelerate as he approached. I quickly released a plastic smile and asked if one was not permitted to bring cameras to the caves. It hit another spark in his head.

“So you people did not see the signboard on the road to the cave? Is that what you are trying to tell me? In fact I am going to seize those cameras right now!” He was now within three meters from us. We began to beg and explained that we were first time visitors at the caves and were not aware of the rules. fortunately, he calmed down and warned us to keep away the cameras. The Catholic Church at the Monastery had taken responsibility of the management of the caves and the waterfalls, and for reasons best known to them had banned the use of cameras at the cave —

—-Amidst the cacophony of thundering waters and praying pilgrims, I quickly marked the location of the man that challenged us earlier- he was now under the heavy waterfalls, I gently slipped out my camera and took a few snapshots, and just before anyone turned to my direction, I pulled Agu and we sped off towards the entrance of the cave. We didn’t look back until we had walked a great distance from the cave.

The rains had now stopped and the sun had begun to illuminate the firmaments once again. Our cameras suffered dampness from the dense vapours that engulfed the cave. As we climbed the ridge and continued on our way back, we later saw the signboard warning against the use of cameras at the cave. Funnily enough,the sign read:

“…INSIDE THE CAVE AND WATERFALL, NO PHOTOGRAPHING OR FILMING IS ALLOWED”

It was already late. Our mission was already completed, the world must not be kept in the dark any longer, our cameras shall provide a light: a peak into the world of unlimited tourist potentials our country, Nigeria is blessed with.

 

 

Some of the Comments:

Kemi AjetApril 25, 2012 at 12:35 am

“Defile the work of God by taking pictures of nature?” How silly!
Fantastic job! Well done.

NaijatreksApril 25, 2012 at 8:23 am

@Kemi Ajet…I guess we human beings have a high tendency of becoming overzealous and extreme about things that inspire our admiration…just as we see in this case of Owhum Waterfalls.

U.Z.June 28, 2015 at 3:15 pm

Perhaps the Catholic church wouldn’t accept the government taking over the place either for tourist or limestone mining.Hence no camera stuff so people can’t see the rich limestone resource and get interested

 

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       AWHUM MONASTERY GROUNDS AND THE CAVE

 

Salient Analysis:

It was wrong for Naijatreks to have gone ahead to take those photographs without knowing why it was prohibited and what “defile the work of God” could mean, and going ahead to publish them without still finding out why filming and photographing were not allowed. An appalling display of immaturity it was for them to have secretly, criminally flouted the regulations in a private property, and cowardly fled, and to shamelessly publish their childish actions for the world to see. Does photographing per se defile the work of God? What work of God? They failed to find out.

A mature group took a mature approach and came out with this beautiful, enlightening account in this video they (Africarts) made  and published on 15 March 2017, in conjunction with TVC News:

 

 

Another very  good publication was done earlier,  but still after the poor show of Naijatreks, by Wakaabout TV on 24 August, 2915. This is a visit to the wonderful Calvary part of Awhum Monastry

 

 

There is a Wikipedia account. Other accounts include those from Howng.com, Pulse.ng, and Enugu State Tourism Board. Nollywood films have been shot there at different times. Definitely,  nothing is being hidden from the people as suggested by Folarin Kolawole of Naijatreks. What  Africart and others did to get unfettered access  was going through official quarters – getting permission from the monastery.

“’Defile the work of God by taking pictures of nature?, How silly!” declared Kemi Ajet. No, not silly. What is silly is what people could do with some types of photographs or films taken at Awhum. “NO PHOTOGRAPHING OR FILMING IS ALLOWED” is not the only item on that notice board. Read the whole board and understand that the prohibition is not of photographing or filming the tourist attraction that is the cave or is the waterfall as these have been freely filmed numerous times. Understand also that those other photographs and films contain the tourist items only and entirely – without a hold back. They do not contain unauthorized or authorized photographs or films of persons or groups doing their private prayers or other activities at the sacred site. Obviously, this could embarrass some people when they see publicly, what they consider their private activity; more embarrassing could be a kind of caption that could be given the photos and films. These other people filmed and photographed, not other people (especially without their consent) but themselves only. They captured more wonderful sites than the criminal tourist, who could only be allowed to do what they did if they officially asked and were denied access, especially if there is an important revelation or a damning exposition to be made for, perhaps, a vital intervention.

Defiling the work of God can be viewed in another dimension. Folarin Kolawole said it all:@Kemi Ajet…I guess we human beings have a high tendency of becoming overzealous and extreme about things that inspire our admiration…”. People could overzealously use photographs taken in such a place for purposes that may be termed silly. This could be in the form of a kind of religious promotion for personal objectives or even for use as worship items, or like fetishes. The monks that own the place owe it as a duty to ensure that the sacredness of this sacred place is not abused in any way, being Catholics and in line with Catholic tradition. Those tourists who went through them were availed tour guides and vital guidance that enriched their experience and greatly benefited the many of us who received their work. These explanations I have proffered here are not confirmed official positions but my own thoughts and conjectures. Asking questions at the right place may even reveal more important reasons.

I am aware that the Awhum Monastery precincts were a very busy tourism center until recently. The kind of tourism seen there was almost exclusively Religious or Spiritual Tourism and lots of individuals and groups came from far and near, some from far parts of Nigeria such as Lagos, Port-Harcourt Aba, Onitsha, and from outside Nigeria, for various kinds of prayer activity. It was, more or less a pilgrimage destination of a special spiritual appeal – for Catholics mainly, and non-Catholics alike. Many of the pilgrims, as they were appropriately referred to, came in individually or in small groups, and left anonymously, while many groups identified with the Monastery and enlisted the assistance of the ever-ready-to-help diligent monks. The monks have had, not only to offer spiritual guidance and teachings to groups but also offer some guidance concerning the vicinity, feed the pilgrims and even provide accommodation throughout the duration of the groups’ programmes. The Monastery workers provide guidance and assistance to all pilgrims especially to prevent their falling into dangers, to avoid accidents and to prevent abuses. Experience informed the code of conduct established in that place, including the instructions on the cave entrance notice board. For instance, persons are not allowed to climb up to Calvary all alone.

I have often wondered how the monks and the workers coped with the vagaries  and idiosyncrasies  of the various groups with regard to methods in spiritual matters, and other general behaviours, given the fact that they are monks and that that place is a monastery ground. This would be difficult, especially with non-Catholic Christians that do not usually have that Catholic discipline and institutionalized Catholic obedience and reverence. For Catholic groups with official programmes there was little or no problem. Fr Stephen Uche Njoku held a monthly programme there, which attracted a large crowd, before he founded the Upper Room Ministry and established Jesus Emmanuel Town at Nike, in about 1988. They went in in peace and came out happily, in peace. Not so with some other people, including some Catholics who have considered fashionable, and adopted, the Pentecostals’ mentality and mannerisms. This largeness of heart of the Monastery, with the unusual accommodation of varieties of people’s behaviours, may have presented great difficulties. Mounting abuses may have resulted in closing the place to the public as people reported some few years ago – sometime after 2013.

It is true Awhum caves and waterfalls and the grounds around the monastery are a wonderful tourist attraction but they are, very importantly, part of the precincts of a Monastery. A Monastery is a kind of hermitage, a cloister which is a residence that is a place of religious seclusion, and monks are a kind of religious hermits, people who are supposed to live in seclusion, devoting themselves to contemplation, to praying and to working hard, needing such a characteristic environment that should not be invaded by  ordinary humans who are far from understanding the nature and the special importance of their vocation.

The few rather materialistic natives who decry their loss of a veritable source of a great tourist revenue are not to blame enormously because spiritual things are not easy to understand by people that are very ordinary. They do not understand the mammoth privilege it is for their community to be selected to be the location for such a very rare spiritual powerhouse.

 

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