Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

The Dibia Part IV and Two Deaths in Nigeria

Fatty chicken

Handsome chicken from govt agricultural farm

The Dibia Part IV

In the last post I told you that Obi and I agreed with the Dibia on what we had to bring as an offering and we divided up the tasks. I had to get the chicken, the schnapps, and the money, while Obi would get the yams, kola nuts, and palm wine.

Early the next morning, I drove by myself in the rain to the government farm in Ekwulobia, ten miles away on a paved, but much worn, road. I had to admit the chickens looked healthy and well-fed. But I was disappointed to learn that because this was a government agency and prices were fixed, I couldn’t bargain for the chicken. So I handed over 350 naira, and took the struggling hen by its legs, tied together with raffia, to the car. I bought the schnapps at one of the small supermarkets nearby.

palm wine tapper on tree

Palm wine tapper on tree

While I was making my purchases, Obi was arranging for the other items. He sent a messenger to his favorite palm wine tapper to bring the fresh palm wine. He asked Obele, the wife of the oldest uncle, to provide the yams and the kola nuts. When I got home, I counted out 500 naira in crisp new bills and put them in a small white envelope. Obi and I compared notes and decided we were prepared.

The following morning, we called two young boys from the next compound to carry our gifts to the Dibia. Obi balanced a yam on each boy’s head. I handed the struggling chicken to the older boy, while Obi gave the jug of palm wine to the younger. Obi himself carried the bottle of schnapps, the money and the kola, all stored in his own ancient leather bag.

I followed Obi into the Dibia’s hut again and seated myself in the same spot. After the greetings, Obi said, “We have brought the gifts the spirits asked for.” He motioned to the boys to bring in their loads while he took out the schnapps, kola nuts, and money, and spread them on the Dibia’s mat.



“You have done well,” the Dibia said. “I will break kola for you again.” The rituals of two days before were repeated. I ate the kola again. “Take this,” he said, handing Obi a calabash.

I couldn’t imagine what magical properties it held. It was a ten-inch sphere, dirty tan (not as shiny as the one in the picture), with a three-inch opening at the top. “Keep it with you, and if it looks like rain is starting to fall, you should rub it. Listen carefully to what you need to say.” He spoke quickly in Igbo. I heard him say ancestors, rain, and Samuel but couldn’t catch the rest.

I don’t think the Dibia believed a white woman would have the necessary power to convince the spirits. Given that I was still a doubter, he was right not to entrust the task to me. Maybe no woman would be entrusted with this role. But I was happy to let Obi take responsibility. We thanked the Dibia again and departed.

The wake and  funeral were still a few days away. Stay tuned!

Another Death – This One Recent


The late Emir Alhaji Dr. Ado Bayero

The Emir of Kano, Alhaji Dr. Ado Bayero, died last week at the age 83 after 50 years on the throne, and was buried on Saturday. Kano is an important ancient city in Nigeria’s mostly Muslim north. The Emir of Kano is second only to the Sultan of Sokoto in leadership of the country’s Muslims. The Emir was known as a proponent of peace and unity during his long reign. I learned of the death from Facebook – my friend Joanne’s son Chukwuma posted the news.

The new Emir has already been appointed. He is Lamido Sanusi who was the governor of the Nigerian Central Bank until February when the president removed him from the post. There is controversy about the selection. Some believe the late Emir’s son should have been given the title. I wonder how this will affect the country’s ongoing difficulty with Boko Haram.

And Yet Another

Dora Akunyili

Professor Dora Akunliyi

Professor Dora Akunyili, the former Nigerian Minister of Information, died last week in a hospital in India. She was just 59; she was from our own village of Nanka.

She was the former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and had a promising political career ahead of her. 

India has become an important destination for Nigerians seeking medical care abroad. Our cousin Isaiah was there last year and I know others. It is much more affordable than the United Kingdom or the United States, with excellent medical professionals.

And two new challenges for you!

Number 1 – What is the meaning of the late Emir’s title Alhaji?

Number 2 – (If number one is too easy!) Who appoints the Emir of Kano?

Your name in lights – hmm, I don’t know how to do lights – your name in bold (if you want) for the first correct answers to these questions.

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. 1. A person who has made the “haj,” the pilgrimage to Mecca.

    2. The “kingmakers” and the Kano State Government. Some would say that ultimately it is “Allah who enthones!”

  2. These comments are as interesting as the posts themselves!

  3. When Umuahia PCVs held their annual Independence Day party on July 4, 1965, the middle of the rainy season, I hired a rain doctor for $15. It didn’t rain. When I attended an important festival in a local village, it rained heavily all day long. That village’s rain doctor said the neighboring rain doctors teamed up against him, and there was nothing he could do.

  4. Instead of calling the Dibia a healer, I think he should be called a “native” doctor. The meaning of Dibia in our Igbo culture is someone you bring your problems to. An aspect of his work is to solve problems of rain that are brought to him – either to make it fall or to prevent it. He might be asked to cause rain on a neighboring village if you want to spoil an event they’re having. Or he might be asked to cause rain if your own town or village is having a drought.

    My impression is that they are generally successful. On the few occasions they don’t succeed, that is talked about.

  5. That was fast! Thank you, Abdullahi Edward Tomasiewicz for your correct answers! I’ve always seen the spelling of the pilgrimage destination as Mecca – not to confuse people who wouldn’t recognize Makka.

    Sorry for the error in the day of the burial – I either read it incorrectly or one of the newspapers printed it incorrectly. Would you be willing to write a paragraph about the burial that I could include in my next blog post?

    • That’s why they used to call me Fast Eddie Catherine.
      I’m on the road, in Kaduna attending a seminar of the Arewa Research & Development Project on Security & Human Rights in Northern Nigeria. I’ll see what I can write when I get back home to Kano.
      Mecca or Makka it’s all the same when you pronounce it. Isn’t it?

  6. The answer to question 1 1 is any man who has gone on pilgrimage to Makka.
    The answer to question 2 is – the traditional Kingmakers of Kano Emirate. They develop a shortlist of 3 candidates and the governor of the state chooses one.

    NB The Emir died last Friday morning and was buried shortly after 6 pm on the same Friday, not on Saturday. I know because I was there – along with about a million others.