Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Seven Wonders of Igbo Customs #2

Legal vs. Moral Actions

Mary Collins, Director of Religious Education, The Unitarian Church in Westport

Mary Collins, Director of Religious Education, The Unitarian Church in Westport

The service at The Unitarian Church in Westport on Sunday morning was on the theme of immigration.

Mary Collins, our Director of Religious Education told a story, The Legend of Lucia Zenteno, which comes from the oral history of the Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico.

She was assisted by Ellie, the worship associate, who carried the figure of Lucia around the congregation, and Rene Abdalah who read the Spanish text.

Mary divided the story into three parts.

Rev. Dr. John Morehouse, Senior Minister, The Unitarian Church in Westport

Rev. Dr. John Morehouse, Senior Minister, The Unitarian Church in Westport

Our senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse gave a response to each part. He said we are all, except the Native Americans, immigrants and descendants of immigrants. (He didn’t mention the unwilling ‘immigrants’ – the slaves.)

For me, his most powerful point was that the actions we take may be legal, like segregation was for so many years, even slavery before that, but that doesn’t make them moral. When legal actions are immoral, we have a responsibility to oppose them.

On the program cover, they had written, “We are aware of cultural misappropriation by the dominant culture, and our goal is to honor indigenous people this Columbus Day weekend. . ”

My PechaKucha talk tomorrow is close to the same theme, with the inclusion of the Doctrine of Discovery.



Malala the Movie

The imperative to stand up to immoral acts was also the theme of the movie, He Named Me Malala, which I saw Sunday evening with my friends Carrie and Anita. Anita has read the book, I Am Malala, on which the film is based; she said it was excellent.

I found the movie however too long, too circuitous, and occasionally even hard to follow.

Her interactions with her family, especially her brothers and father, were entertaining and showed her as a “normal” teen-ager.

Malala’s heroism came through clearly. We saw Malala speaking at major venues – no doubt she is a powerful force for girls’ education in her own country Pakistan and everywhere. I was disappointed that the movie wasn’t better constructed to showcase this important theme.

Igbo Custom #2 Kola

Kola nuts

Kola nuts

The kola nut is a significant part of Igbo culture with clear and specific traditions surrounding it.

When visitors arrive at a home, they must be offered kola first, before any serious conversation and before drinks are served. The host brings out kola, a pink or more rarely white nut about the size of a large walnut, with black lines that show the lobes or sections.

He or she may produce several nuts. One is to be broken on the spot. The oldest male present is the one who will break the kola, but there is often lengthy conversation about who that is. Occasionally the oldest male may ask someone else, as an honor, to break the nut.

Whoever does it must first offer praise to the gods. He holds the nut high while he makes his statement. The most common is, “He who brings kola brings life.”

We always say ‘break the kola,’ and while it may actually be broken into pieces, more often the person performing the ceremony will use a knife to cut it into its lobes. These and any unbroken nuts are put on a plate. The person who broke the kola takes the first piece.

Then the youngest male present is asked to pass the plate. The kola is served to all, men and women. Visitors may be given one whole nut to take home if there is an extra.

This says, “I carry home with me the knowledge that I was well received and welcomed in the place where I went.” If you are given a kola nut, you are expected to show it to the people you left at home.

In my memoir I recount an early experience of kola at the home of Clem’s parents before I knew I would be joining the family. The nut itself is bitter, but I also took a generous scoop of the peanut butter-like dip served with it. It was so hot I thought my mouth would burn up!

You can read about that experience. I mention kola later in the memoir during the visit to the dibia, or shaman.

Buhari’s New War on Indiscipline

President Buhari

President Buhari

I read a very well written article in YNaija, which calls itself, “The Internet Newspaper for Young Nigerians,” about what Buhari needs to do this time around.

He campaigned on and was elected for his ability to combat indiscipline and corruption in Nigeria. When he was head of the military government in the early 1980’s, he was feared for his attacks on those he thought were not behaving correctly. His removal then was met with relief.

Now the country is watching to see if he will be able to bring about the change most everyone seems to want without resorting to the often extra-legal measures he used at that time. As the author of the op-ed piece says, “draconian measures that depend on personality rather than transparent rules that are equally applicable to all are often simply temporary.”

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. Paul and I gathered with friends last night – a group we’ve been getting together with over 25 years for a shared meal, conversation and playing bridge. Our gathering rituals have changed over the past quarter century. Instead of a Kola last night we broke out our respective cell phones to share photos of recent life celebrations.