Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Nigerian Bobsled Team, Fulani Earrings, and Palm Wine


Nigerian Bobsled Team Meets Ellen DeGeneres

What fun! Clearly these women are made for being in the public eye! Did you see them in the Opening Parade on Friday night?

Fulani Earrings in a Connected World

A Fulani woman. Can you see her earrings? Mine are like those in pictures.

A Fulani woman. Can you see her earrings? Mine are like those in pictures. (Fulani woman by W.E.A. van Beek – Dogon collection W.E.A. van Beek, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Last Saturday afternoon I was dressing for Denny Davidoff’s Memorial Service. I decided to wear my Fulani earrings, and wondered if anyone would recognize their origin. Denny’s circle of friends and colleagues was, after all, very wide!

A brief note about the Fulani people. They are an ethnic group spread across the Sahel region of Africa. In northern Nigeria, as in other countries today, there are three groups. The nomadic Fulani roam with their cattle to find good pastureland. Others are somewhat settled. They raise cattle but do not wander. The third became rulers in the 19th century, under Usman Dan Fodio, and have intermarried with the Hausa people. You can read more in Wikipedia’s entry.

I was on “usher duty” just inside the door of our Unitarian Church, welcoming people as they arrived for the service. A woman of around my age stopped in front of me. “I love your Fulani earrings,” she said.

“How did you know?” I said.

“I’m an anthropologist.” Of course! Sipra taught in the program called LEADD, or Leadership Education Advancing Democracy & Diversity. Denny was a leader of this innovative program for high school students. LEADD workshops ran for several years. Both Sipra and her husband were on the faculty.

Sipra Bose Johnson, anthropologist, from LEADD website

Sipra Bose Johnson, anthropologist, from LEADD website

From the LEADD website I found that Sipra taught anthropology at the New Paltz campus of the State University of New York for over 30 years. She had a special interest in India, “where she spent her childhood before immigrating to the United States with her parents.” She also lived and worked for four years in India, “where she lectured widely and had opportunities to do research.”

Sipra said she also had a pair of Fulani earrings but they did not stay on well. I encouraged her to get them to a jeweler!

Palm Wine Builds Relationships

The palm wine tapper who appeared regularly outside my flat in Ikoyi, Lagos, may have played a role in my marriage! How? Read on.

I told you about the palm wine tapper last time.

Today I’ll tell you how he played a role apart from providing a refreshing drink!

In late 1963 I was summoned to the headquarters of the Electricity Corporation of Nigeria. I had received a memo slipped under my door to say that I needed to report to the Chief Engineer. I did as instructed. On meeting the Chief Engineer, I was rather short-tempered, seeing the summons as bureaucracy run amok! After all, I did not overuse electricity.

A few days later, I answered a knock at my door to find a friend, mother of one of my students, accompanied by a man I didn’t recognize. He introduced himself as the Chief Engineer! The woman and her husband were friends, he said. He had stopped to see them, and she had asked him to bring her to my place.

I bought the whole story. Having fresh palm wine on hand, I served it to them. We had a lovely conversation, and he invited me to come with her to a party at his house the following weekend. If you’ve read my memoir, you know how this story ends. If not, you can guess – I ended up marrying him!

Did the palm wine play a part in convincing him to pursue me and the relationship seriously? I can’t say, but it’s possible!

I don’t know the people in the photo, but like their collection of palm wine containers.

Igbo Customs and Culture, Next Round

This past Tuesday was my final class at Fairfield Bigelow Center for Senior Activities. I loved teaching the class, and the participants seemed to enjoy it too.

The next class will be at Norwalk Community College, as part of the Lifetime Learners Program. The first session is March 12.

Before that I will present a workshop called “Living in Community: Lessons from Africa,” at the Southwest Unitarian Universalist Women’s Conference in Austin Texas. I think I’ll talk about five customs that help children know they belong to a community and have responsibilities toward family.

Being taught to share belongings, having older children care for younger siblings, and the requirement to show respect for elders, are three. What else would you include?

Are these different from what Western cultures teach? The emphasis on individualism which is a strong part of what I learned growing up is certainly different. “Think for yourself, make up your own mind,” these were what I was taught. Did I learn a duty or commitment to the larger family? I don’t think so!

What about you?

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.


  1. I did not know about the geographical origin of the earrings, but I think I have seen similar things in museums among displays on much older cultures. I bet the general style goes way back. They are so pretty, and at least around here, they look rare, if not unique.

  2. I found this post very interesting, Catherine. Thanks very much.

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