Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Seven Wonders of Igbo Culture

Igbo Culture, so Rich 

Igbo culture is rich, varied, and full of wonders. Many of you already know my story and how I came to be part of Igbo life. For a quick introduction, you can look at my bio. And you can also see an introduction to the customs I write about.

Otherwise jump right in to the first aspect of the culture I write about, age grades. They are important in village life, but also played a part in Nigerian history, as I told my class at Lifetime Learners on Tuesday. You can also read more about them here.

Age Grades

All boys or girls born within a few years of each other in the village, or to parents from the village, are part of an age grade. I have been unable to learn how those on the border know where they belong, but my husband swears it is clear to everyone.

As the children grow, they are treated as a single body. When they are older, they may choose a name for themselves.

Not my daughter! from a website

Not my daughter! I found this on a website.

The age grade group is a meaningful social unit. My closest experience of its importance was during my daughter’s traditional wedding. As she came through the gate carrying the customary palm wine on her head, the women of her age grade surrounded her, singing and dancing with her.

At the wedding, men of the same age grade escorted her husband, an American.

Age Grades in Nigerian History

And here’s the historical part. In the Igbo area around Aba in 1929, women wanted to protest the colonial regime. They opposed its appointment of warrant chiefs (men who did not hold traditional leadership roles), imposition of taxes, and the low prices they were getting for their market goods.

A small group began to organize. They used the age grade societies from different towns to reach thousands of women.

Aba Women's Riot, from

Aba Women’s Riot, from anastasiaruth.

Together they conducted what is known in Nigerian history as The Women’s War, or the Aba Women’s Riots. In November of 1929 they finally revolted with all-night dancing and singing in front of the district offices where the warrant chiefs held sway.

The next day, when they refused to leave, they were fired on by British troops. Fifty women died and many were injured. The colonial officers who had allowed this to happen were called to account, having to explain themselves to the African and British men who sat on a commission of inquiry. Seeing the British held responsible was an eye-opener for the women and heightened their sense of their own power.

I found a wonderful article with the picture I’m sharing at a website called anastasiaruth. Next time I’ll tell you about another aspect of Igbo culture that I love – the masquerades.

You can read more about my experience of Igbo life and customs in my memoir, Nigeria Revisited My Life and Loves Abroad.

Nigeria’s Flag 

Flag of Nigeria

Flag of Nigeria

Max Siollun has a link to an engaging article about the man who designed the Nigerian flag. The article is from Al Jazeera. You can go there directly, or go to Max’s website and browse other articles.

Apparently the man won the contest for the flag design a year before Nigeria’s independence in 1960. He was a student in England, 23 years old at the time. Now he lives in Ibadan with his son, in a green and white house.

He had been forgotten by the country, but an eager journalist tracked him down and published his story. He was given an award last year and now receives a respectable pension from the government.


I gave my PechaKucha preview on Monday. Bill and Nina, the two people in charge, liked it. I’ll present it this coming Monday night, Oct. 12, Columbus Day, at Westport Library’s McManus Room at 7 pm, with four other presenters.

Come if you’re nearby. Maybe you’d like to prepare a presentation like this too. It can be on any topic that you believe will interest others. I found it wonderful discipline to choose an image and the words that will get my point across in twenty seconds!

Buhari Among the Most Powerful Muslim Leaders

Punch, one of Nigeria’s many popular newspapers, had this article about the 50 most powerful Muslim leaders in the world. Not only is President Buhari included, but two other Nigerians made the list as well.

The Muslim 500 is an annual report of the world’s 500 most influential Muslims. The other Nigerians among the top 50 are the Sultan of Sokoto and a Muslim cleric.

Buhari has now appointed his cabinet. As he had said earlier, he has kept the Ministry of Petroleum for himself. I will let you if there is important news about his appointees!

The news so many people are waiting for is that the Chibok girls have been found and rescued. It’s hard to believe they are still alive and well. When I hear of female suicide bombers used by Boko Haram, I have to wonder.

Alums on Mountain Day at Sunny Daes in Fairfield CT

Alums on Mountain Day at Sunny Daes in Fairfield CT

Mountain Day

Mount Holyoke’s traditional Mountain Day is one day in the Fall when classes are cancelled and everyone takes a day off.

No one knows when it will be. The bells ring at 8 am on the day to announce it.

Alums also gather. Here we are in Fairfield at Sunny Daes Ice Cream on Mountain Day 2015, Oct. 6!

Do you have a tradition like this?

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. Cathy, you have an engaging way of writing. I have enjoyed reading your blog, and learning of a culture different from my own. I truly enjoyed your book as well. Some day we may have a chance to talk about it together. I look forward to more entries in you blog.

  2. Northfield Mount Hermon School, which is located not far from Mount Holyoke, has a surprise Mountain Day for seniors at Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire in the fall. I remember my Mountain Day in 1955, which was a scamper up and down that hill.
    Our family was very familiar with Monadnock, because my minister father’s first parish was in nearby New Ipswich, which could have been the model for Thornton Wilder’s fictional Grover’s Corner in his play “Our Town.”
    My mother, who died in 2000, asked in her will to scatter her ashes atop Monadnock. My brother talked my father into combining his future ashes with hers when he died in 2004. I was age 65 when we and our children made the trek up the mountain and scattered our parents’ ashes. The hike wasn’t as easy as it was in 1955.

    • Thanks for telling us about Mount Monadnock and your parents’ ashes. Sounds like a wonderful place to scatter ashes of people you loved, and who loved that area. I haven’t ‘scampered’ up anything for quite a while! I do regular workouts, once a week with a trainer, so I am in decent shape and can walk up hills.

  3. That certainly was a looong tale, interesting tho, I enjoyed it……