•We use it to call on our ancestors in prayer — Enugu monarch
•It is used to welcome visitors — Imo monarch
•It serves as a mediator between the ancestors and the living
•Kolanut symbolizes unity
•It represents good omen, love and togetherness — Ebonyi monarch
•It is most important object in Igbo tradition — Prof Opata
By Anayo Okoli, Vincent Ujumadu, Chidi Nkwopara, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Chinenye Ozor, Chinedu Adonu, Chinonso Alozie, Ikechukwu Odu & Peter Okutu
ENUGU—Kolanut in Igbo land is regarded as a sacred fruit. It is revered, respected and almost adored. It plays an important role in the celebration of Igbo culture and tradition.
Indeed, it serves as harbinger of peace. It has taken an unparallel position in the cultural life of Ndigbo.
It, however, must be clarified at this point that there are two species of kolanut known to Ndigbo. The one grown in Igbo land which bears ‘oji Igbo’ and the one is grown in Western part of the country but consumed mainly by the people from the North. It is referred to as ‘oji Hausa or gworo’, which is not used to perform any traditional or cultural ceremonies in Igbo land.
It is merely consumed sparingly here in Igbo land just for consumption sake. It is only ‘oji Igbo’ that is used in Igbo traditional or cultural ceremonies.
Kola nut has been so elevated in Igbo land that no marriage ceremonies, installation of traditional rulers, resolution of disputes and cultural festivals, among others, are ever done without performing the kola nut rituals which must be done in Igbo language.
So for Ndigbo of the South East geo-political zone of Nigeria, kola nut means a lot of things to them.
It is the first thing to be served to a visitor as they believe that it symbolizes peace and shows one is welcomed in peace. In summary, in Igbo land, kola nut basically symbolizes peace, unity, reconciliation, integrity, life, fraternity, hospitality, goodwill and kindness.
Presentation of the revered fruit however differs in Igbo communities as in some places, it is accompanied with money no matter how little or white chalk (nzu).
One very important aspect of celebrating the kola nut rituals is it must not be eaten without prayers offered to God. The practice is that the oldest man or the traditional ruler will say the prayer to bless the kola nut.
It is important to observe that in some areas, including Owerri area of Imo State, the lot falls on the youngest person present to break the kola nut after the prayer.
The reason, according to them was that their forefathers believed that children are not fetish and have not soiled their hands with human blood. In other communities, the oldest person or the monarch breaks it after saying the necessary prayers.
It should be noted that in Igbo land, a woman does not break kola nut and a woman also does not take kola nut from the plate. A male, no matter the age takes it and then hands it over to her. Women are also forbidden from planting or climbing kola tree or plucking kola nut.
Kola nut is so respected in Igbo land that in some communities where anyone who steals kola nut is ostracized. Some people even believe that even if one was not caught while stealing the kola nut, the gods would expose the person and he would confess publicly. Once that is done, his entire family would be banished and his house set ablaze to end his generation.
Kola nut may, however, also have medicinal and food values but SEV is for now focusing on the traditional and cultural significance of this fruit in Igbo land.
According to Chief Akachukwu Nnoruka, the oldest man in Ohita in Ogbaru, Anambra State, no serious Igbo person jokes with the myths surrounding kola nut.
“In Igbo land, the kola nut means so much. The belief is that the kola tree was the first tree on earth and its fruit, the first. Our people believe that kola is life and symbolizes peace, which is why an Igbo man would welcome his visitor with kola nuts.
“The species usually used to perform ceremonies in Igbo land is the native kola nut, which is brown in colour, as opposed to the yellow type called ‘gworo’.
“Kola is the first thing served in every function or ceremony, personal or communal agreements, welcoming of a visitor to an Igbo home, and settlement of family disputes. Ceremonies in Igbo land are incomplete without the presentation of kola nut.
“Presentation of kola nut symbolizes peace and acceptability. Usually, the oldest person in the gathering performs the kola nut ritual, although in some communities, the youngest male breaks the kola nut after the ritual prayers by the oldest person present.
“In some communities, the breaking of the kola nut is done according to seniority of the villages and not based on the ages of those present. However, the person from the oldest village may be favourably disposed to allow the oldest person present to perform the ritual by merely touching the kola and passing it on to the oldest person.
“Also, a man does not break the kola nut in the presence of his in laws as doing so would be interpreted as a sign of disrespect.
Again in Igbo land, distribution of kola nut is a task many people would not want to get involved in as the distributor must be conversant with the seniority of all the people gathered.
If one makes a mistake while carrying the kola around, he is traditionally admonished according to norms in the community. In fact, such an error is considered as very grave as it is an indication that the offender is either not responsible, not on ground or not a reliable person.
“In some communities, even in the presence of the traditional ruler, the oldest man breaks the kola nut. Sometimes the oldest person would touch the kola and permit the traditional ruler to bless and perform the ritual”, Nnoruka explained.
In the view of the traditional ruler of Ogbor Ancient Kingdom in Isiala Mbano council of Imo State, Eze Matthew Oweni, kolanut in Igbo tradition is used to welcome visitors, adding that in the past, their fore-fathers also used kolanut to communicate to their ancestors.
“In Igbo land we use kolanut to welcome our visitors. Such as when you have your in-laws visiting you, the first thing you offer them is kola nut. When you have visitors from other ethnic climes, what you give to them first is kola nut. We use it to say you are welcome before we can discuss any other matter.
“We present it in marriage ceremonies, especially in our traditional marriage ceremony; it very important and most important on that day your in-laws are going to pay for your daughter’s dowry, kola nut features in all most every area of that day activity.
“We inherited this tradition from our fore fathers. In some cases, when you don’t have our Igbo kola nut, you can provide other kola nut from the Hausa area or even use the bitter kola, all can serve the purpose to an extent”, Eze Oweni said.
And for Igwe Wilfred Ogbonnaya Ekere, kola cola nut is a symbol of unity and love to our visitors; it serves as a mediator between the ancestor and living.
“Kola nut symbolizes unity; it is what we use to welcome visitors. It is a great thing in Igbo land. It is what we use in praying. We use it in praying because we assume and feel it is what our ancestors use. We use it to pray to our ancestors. Kola nut is the first thing we give to our visitors. Igala people give their visitors water first but kola nut is first in Igbo land.
“Giving your visitors kola nut shows that you love them and that they are welcomed. Kola not is a small object but mighty in action. Kola represents mighty things. You cannot kill a cow in Igbo land without presenting kola nut first. Kola nut serves as a mediator between the ancestor and living. We use kola nut to call on our ancestors to come and receive what we have for them and bless us.
“Kola nut does not understand any foreign language except the native language of the Igbo community, Igbo language. This is because our environmental spirit hears only Igbo. Therefore, it is only in Igbo language that you pray with kola nut and our ancestors will hear. You can say any prayer in English language but not when using kola but because our ancestors will not hear it.
“Kola nut is what we use to invoke the spirit of our ancestors. If a traditional ruler or elderly person prays for you with kola nut, he will invoke the spirit and command them to guide and guard you.
“Kola should be given its respect. Some people use kola but to keep themselves awake while some will just use it without calling the ancestors to come and eat first. Whenever you have Igbo kola nut, keep it secret and it will start working secret for you. If I want to pray, I will bring kola nut but and call all the ancestral spirits in Enugu-Ezike to come before calling on Chukwu Okiki Abiama to come”, the traditional ruler said.
According to the traditional ruler of Ishiagu Kingdom, Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Eze Okafor Ngele, kola nut represents a sign of a good omen when presented either in a gathering or as part of a people’s culture. He said the use of kola nut is an age long practice in Igbo land and synonymous with Ndigbo.
“We use it for prayers. We use it to call our ancestors. We use it to mandate whatever we want to see and it will come to pass. It is very important in Igboland.
“It has been from century upon century. I don’t even know when it started. It means a lot. If you go to somebody’s house and he presents kola nuts to you, it means you are welcomed with a good heart.
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“The person that presented the kola nut has come with life because it is a reflection of a good omen. It shows love and togetherness”, Ngele said.
He however, lamented that “our culture is dying and when you tell the younger generation to visit their Igwes or elders to teach them the customs or tradition of the land, they would not listen”.
For the Igwe-elect of Umuoyo proposed autonomous community in Nsukka, Enugu State, Chief Possible Attanike, kola nut is so important in the life of the Ndigbo such that it breaks the day for a typical Igbo home.
It is therefore not unusual to hear along families that conduct morning prayers, also calling on voices of their ancestors to welcome the birth of a new day with kola nut invocations. Some people see breaking and eating kola nut as a feast of love, trust and togetherness.
For President General of Akokwa United Progressives Peoples Assembly, Imo State, Chief Paul Ngoka, kola nut in Igbo land represent a lot of good things in Igbo land. Igbo people use kola nut to pray to God, our fathers and our forefathers, for one form of assistance, intervention or the other; we also use it to offer blessing to people.
“Most important gatherings in Igbo land is conducted with kola nut even before the main ceremony. If it is not presented, it means the gathering or ceremony is not yet complete.
“When you visit somebody, you people may eat and drink and when you go without him offering you kola nut, you can claim that he did not entertain you.
“If you come to someone’s house and he gives you kola nut, he has welcomed you. Kola nut is used to conduct family, brotherhood and sisterhood cooperation,and conducting unity meeting”.
A custodian of Igbo tradition, Prof. Damian Opata, described kola nut as the most important object in Igbo tradition. Opata, who is a professor of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, said kola nut has spiritual and socio-cultural significances in Igbo tradition, adding that it is also an instrument of prayer.
According to him, the way a kola nut is lobed determines its spiritual import in Igboland. He explained that what the ancestors eat in Nsukka cultural zone is the “eye of the kola nut,” which is the embryo.
“He further explained that when the nut is broken, the eye is extracted and thrown to the unseen divinities before the rest of the lobes are consumed by human.
“Kola nut represents so many things in Igbo cosmology depending on the angle one is coming from. It’s first use is hospitality, that is, we use it to welcome our guests. Apart from that, it is the most important ritual object in Igbo tradition. For those of us in Igbo religion, we use it for our devotions when we invoke the name of God. In Nsukka, we have this cliche which says that kola nut is the first item to present to a deity, whether one wants to sacrifice a cow or a ram.
“It is also used for marriages, social events and communal meetings. In communal meetings for instance, especially in my place at Lejja in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, various clan heads must present kola nut during meetings to indicate adequate representation of their clans, otherwise, they will not participate in the proceedings.
“It is also a sign of unity, collectiveness and sharing. For instance, if kola nuts are not enough during meetings, fingernails are used to cut the lobes until the number would be enough to go round.This ritual represents oneness and peace.
“It is used in communicating with God and ancestors. I travel with kola nut anywhere I go. I drop a lobe on the way at any boundary between one state and another to ask the owners of the land for their protection and presence.
“That was how I got into trouble in Los Angeles, USA. When, I got to the airport, the officials seized my pod of kola nut and accused me of transporting disease to their country.
“It was after they quarantined it and found it disease-free that I was allowed to go, but then, I missed my flight schedule because of the incident. I travel with it all the time because it is an anchorage for me to connect with divinities and God.
“In Nsukka here, the ancestors eat the eye of the kola nut which is the most important part of it, not the lobes, but the ritual is different in other Igbo cultures. Kola nut is an instrument of prayer.
“The number of lobes a kola nut has connotes different representations in Igboland. Three-lobed kola nut represents equality and justice.
“If the lobes are four, it represents the four market days in Igbo society, that’s, Afor, Nkwo, Eke and Orie. Five-lobed kola nut represents fertility and wealth, if it is seven-lobed, it is highly spiritual.
“This is the type herbalists look out for. It is costly and scarce”, Prof. Opata said.