Catherine Onyemelukwe (Nigeria) publishes BREAKING KOLA


When Catherine Onyemelukwe arrived in Nigeria in 1962 as an idealistic Peace Corps Volunteer, she had no idea of the country’s wealth of customs and traditions she would come to love. With her marriage to a Nigerian electrical engineer and senior manager in the country’s power industry, she became part of his family, clan, and village. She learned to speak the Igbo language and not only adapted to, but adopted, some of the customs of his people.

In this intimate portrayal of family members, she reveals the secrets of the ties that bind her to her husband’s community. Through the striking accounts of his parents in their youth, and with nods to customs from other tribes and countries, she paints an unforgettable picture of African life in times past. Catherine evokes the atmosphere of the village market, the religious rituals, and the ceremonies that accompany life’s major events. The author also reveals the challenges he experienced between the Christianity adopted by her husband’s family and the traditions they sometimes abandon and sometimes preserve.

The reader is brought into an African village with its richness of music, dance, ritual, and mystery. Throughout the book, the importance of family is stressed. She demonstrates the importance of showing respect for elders, honoring the ancestors, and caring for children communally. She contrasts this sense of community to the individualism experienced by people in the West. With her vivid descriptions of Igbo names and religious beliefs, she adds to the readers’ understanding of an African society.

How she found her own community is revealed in the last chapters of this intriguing book. She has taken her message of the importance of family and community to many venues. Four sermons she has presented are included in the appendix, and suggested discussion questions for book groups are also provided.


Breaking Kola: An Inside View of African Customs
Catherine Onyemelukwe (Nigeria 1962–64)
Peace Corps Writers
November 2018
251 pages
$14.62 (paperback); $9.99 (Kindle)

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