Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Fifty Pots of Wine

US Commerce Secretary in Nigeria

President Buharii and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Prtizker in Abuja

President Buharii and US Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in Abuja. Photo: Sunday Aghaeze

Nigeria is struggling with the low price of oil and what that is doing to foreign exchange. These problems have happened before.

The forming of Nigerwives, the organization I helped found in the late 1970’s, grew out of a foreign exchange decree slashing the percent of our salaries we foreign wives of Nigerians could send back to our home countries.

Penny Pritzker, US Secretary of Commerce, met with President Buhari on Tuesday. She had said she would tell him that his “foreign-exchange policies are hindering the ability of United States companies to do business in Nigeria.” I assume she did. I hope he and his finance and Central Bank people will take notice.

I read on the Voice of America website, that, “The visit to Nigeria, expected to be among the top 10 economies in the world by 2050, and one of Africa’s smallest but most innovative nations, Rwanda, is designed to transform the perception of Africa from an aid-dependent continent to a region brimming with business opportunities, Pritzker told The Associated Press in an interview.”

Good for her. “She said Africa has seven of the fastest 10 growing economies in the world; a burgeoning young population and a rising middle class (50 million in Nigeria alone).”

But for many Americans and potential investors, Africa has too much uncertainty. I hope people heed her words. She said, “So the message to Americans is now is the time to come and explore the opportunity in Africa.”

Blogger at Brittle Paper Interviews Me

Ainehi Edoro

Ainehi Edoro

Ainehi Edoro writes the blog Brittle Paper. I interviewed her a few months ago. Now she has interviewed me. I enjoyed answering her thoughtful questions.

She said, “Nigeria Revisited reads like a novel. It’s drama-packed and gripping. What is the secret to telling one’s life’s experiences as a believable story?”

I replied, “Thank you! I learned technique in the memoir writing class – use dialogue to advance the story and reveal character, for example, and set scenes using as many senses as possible. I also learned to end each chapter with suspense wherever I could. After I’d finished writing, I hired the instructor as my editor, and she made a few more recommendations.”

Here’s the link so you can read the whole post.

Wine-carrying Ceremony

A few weeks ago I referred to our younger son Sam’s attending a wine-carrying ceremony in Nanka, our village in eastern Nigeria. My husband pointed out that I hadn’t explained what this was. My apologies!

Palm wine holds an important place in Igbo culture.

Palm wine

Palm wine

Many customs involve palm wine. During the Biafran War a python – sacred to the Igbo –  was killed by young men in the village because I was frightened. The elders had to take palm wine to the dibia, or traditional healer,  to mollify the angry spirits.

Usually the wine-carrying, called igba nkwu, is the final stage of a traditional Igbo marriage. It is the third or fourth interactiom between the families of the bride and groom. It will be preceded by iku aka, or knocking on the door, getting the consent of the bride’s family, and negotiations over bride price.

In my own case, palm wine played a part before the wedding.

Clem and I visited his parents several months before our marriage. Since we were planning a church wedding in Lagos instead of a traditional wedding in the village, Clem’s father wanted me to demonstrate my commitment with the sharing of palm wine.

He called to my soon-to-be mother-in-law. “Bring a glass.” He poured it full of palm wine from the jug at his feet. Then he instructed me to kneel in front of Clement, take a sip of the wine, and give him the glass to finish. In my memoir I wrote,

“I hesitated for a few seconds. Kneeling in front of my husband-to-be felt like the wrong message. I didn’t intend to be subservient. But I liked the symbolic affirmation of our relationship and the repeated approval of Clem’s parents, so I complied. Clem looked a little sheepish as he downed the palm wine.

“Papa didn’t smile easily. But as we followed his instructions, I caught a big grin on his face.”

I’ve always loved the commitment between families that is part of an Igbo, indeed, of many African, marriages. The bride and groom are each joining the other’s family. The Igbo word for in-law, ogo, can refer to a parent-in-law, brother or sister-in-law, or a fellow clansperson of the partner.

Not my daughter! from a website

Not my daughter! I found this on a website

At our daughter’s traditional wedding she carried a jug of palm wine on her head, showing that her husband had provided the gift but she would deliver it to her family. She was surrounded by the women of her age grade who helped her balance the wine! The hired musicians played as she and the other women danced their way into the gathering.

At traditional weddings today, the groom’s family will carry in the wine and the other gifts. The woman will be with her family to receive the guests.

After the welcome speeches, the bride will be given a cup of the wine.

This is the time for her to show finally that she agrees to marry.

She searches out her intended who is hidden among family members, signifying yet again that she is joining his family.

Bride searchig for her husband

Bride searchig for her husband.

The photo of the young woman carrying the wine while she looks for her husband is from a blog called Naija Glam Weddings. The writer describes the stages of an Igbo wedding.

She even provides a list of the gifts the groom should take.

In Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, Obierika is worried that the in-laws will be stingy with the pots of wine. But they carry in fifty!

“The hosts nodded in approval,” he wrote.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


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  2. Dear Cathy,

    are you sure the founding of Nigerwives was prompted by the exchange regulations?
    There were so many Nigerwives who could not think of sending money out, their
    salaries were needed in Nigeria to keep things going. So I cannot imagine that the
    enthusiastic response was because of that. If I recall correctly the immediate
    reason for trying to lobby the government on our behalf was to eliminate the
    socalled “re-entry permit” which required Nigerian husbands to apply to the immigration authorities to allow their foreign wives to return to Nigeria from
    visits abroad. While this did not apply to Nigerian women travelling. It was a
    joyous day when this requirement was waived.

    • Hi, Brigitte. Yes, I am quite sure that the exchange regs are what brought three of us together – Doris Fafunwa, Jean Obi, and I – to consider our response. We thought up the name and convened the first gatherings. We also got the restriction to 10% of our salaries lifted and the 50% restored. But you’re right, very quickly the question of the re-entry permit became our cause. It was indeed a great day when that requirement was waived! We also achieved having the residence permit valid for the life of our passports instead of having to renew it annually or whenver we traveled.