The Igbo Network




























The Position of Kola –Nut in the Cultural Life of the Igbos - By Eze Silver Ibenye Ugbala

The Position of Kola–Nut in the Cultural Life of the Igbos


Eze Silver Ibenye Ụgbala



Kola-nut (Ọjị) occupies a unique position in the cultural life of Igbo people. Ọjị is the first thing served any visitor in an Igbo home. Ọjị is served before an important function begins, be it marriage ceremony, settlement of family disputes or entering into any type of agreement. It is used as a channel of communication with the ancestral gods and the spirit world. It is also the channel of communication with the Creator who is known by various names such as CHINEKE, CHUKWU, OKIKE, ỌBASI DỊ N’ELU AND CHUKWU ABỊAMA, among the Igbo. The importance which the Igbos attach to Ọjị can further be illustrated by a legend which speaks of the visit of the founding fathers to the home of the gods where the gods asked the founding fathers to choose a fruit from all the fruits in the orchard of the gods. The founding fathers chose Ọjị as the king of all the fruits and because it came from the gods, it is used in communicating with gods. Because it is the king of all the fruits (a sacred fruit from the gods) it is used in showing goodwill to visitors and for entering into bonds.


Kola-nut or carpel is a nut content of a pod, produced by a tree called Ọjị or Kola accuminata. A pod contains one or more nuts interlaced in their setting, depending on the size of the nuts. The tree grows extensively in the forest zone of West Africa. It yields its fruits- kola-nut, almost at all season. Kola acuminata or atrophora is distinguished from kola alba or even kola nitida which the Igbos call Ọjị Awụsa (Hausa Kola). Among the Igbos, Kola atrophora or acuminata as distinct from these others is used according to tradition for rituals, for marriage ceremonies, title taking, offering or prayers at traditional ceremonies, to welcome visitors and to introduce very important discussions and requests. What the Igbos call Ọjị Awụsa (Hausa Kola) or indeed any other kind of kola other than the Igbo Kola is broken and eaten but is never used for any other form of rituals. In other words, kola-nut excepting the Ọjị Igbo with more than two cotyledons is not ritualistic. It is thought to be a mere substitute. It is like “ebenebe na-eme amara mkpụrụ Ọjị ma ejighị ya agọ mmụo.” “Ebenebe,” though a substitute for kola-nut cannot be used for rituals. It is not preposterous then to claim that kola-nut in Igbo culture fulfils a double function –spiritual and entertainment functions. It is pertinent to make this distinction as the Igbos most often use substitutes like Ọjị Awusa, dried meat, fish, or afụfa to entertain visitors. This is mainly due to the scarcity of Ọjị Igbo, which because of its preciousness is in very high demand.


Ọjị signifies clean mind, pure intention. Its shape resembles the heart as though it is the nature to be and speak man `s mind. A visitor on arrival watches his host’s countenance “is he, the visitor welcome or is he a persona non grata?” He soon finds for himself when his host presents or even offers him kola-nuts in a particular manner.





There is the usual handshake immediately a visitor comes in. This is the first demonstration of goodwill with the palm open and the fingers stretched one announces as it were: “I have not hidden on my person any object that will harm you.” A visitor is given a seat and within seconds there is an air of conviviality, which makes the visitor feel at home.


Soon a kola-nut is brought “E nwelem Ọjị” -“I have got kola-nut, Ọjị abiala –kola-nut has come.” This pattern obtains at simple receptions. Two kola-nuts may be served to a titled man. One is broken and shared and the other is taken home in fulfillment of the Igbo saying that: “Ọjị rue ụnọ okwue onye chere ya”- a kola-nut brought home says who offered it. It is not customary to present three kola-nuts at a time. Four kola-nuts or multiples of four are served at big gatherings such as fixing of bride price or at Ọzọ title taking. Incidentally, kola-nut is not served in five and six compositions. Seven kola-nut and other requisites in multiples of seven may be served during an important ceremony like “Igbu ewu ndi ichie” – killing a goat for ancestral gods. Eight kola-nuts are normal for marriage that is when the bride is to leave her abode for that of her husband’s. One kola-nut is normally shared even where there are many people; after all an Igbo proverb says: “If kola-nut does not go round when shared, then there are no finger nails to break it up to the required number.” Kola offering is a precursor at receptions, important meetings, customary ceremonies as well as the ceremonial slaughter of cows, goats and cocks. Who offers or can be offered kola-nut is determined by factors culturally discernable. A host offers or can be offered kola-nut as gifts. Priests, elders and titled men at village meetings or even at markets can offer kola-nuts to guests or any people who call on them for advice. The Igbo man offers kola-nuts to guests any time of the day. But, at night, he could excuse himself simply saying by this common saying: “Anyasị ewerela Ọjị’ – the night has taken away the kola-nut. Some are selective in the choice of kola-nut they offer to guests. Ọjị Ugo –champion kola may be selected for presentation to a particular dignitary or it may just happen that a chance pick is Ọjị Ugo. In whatever circumstance Ọjị Ugo is served, the recipient is always held highly as implied in the Igbo statement: “Ọjị Ugo ana-echere nwaeze” – the princely kola which is offered to a prince. Ọjị Ugo (a champion kola-nut) is symbolic of royalty and purity. It attracts blessings and luck on the parties.





 Usually it is the privilege of the eldest man in a group to offer prayers and thanksgiving when the kola-nut is about to be broken and shared. In some parts of Igboland, the youngest breaks the kola-nut. Investigations show that in some other areas, the youngest one shares out the kola-nut as a service though the eldest man still prays for the well-being of all present. A grandson cannot break kola-nut in the presence of his grandfather and maternal uncles however young they may be, because it is held that he has no effective prayers to offer for them. It is they who will pray for his good health, posterity and progress in life. One cannot also break kola-nut in the presence of one’s in-laws. This is because it is also held that only one’s in-law can effectively pray for the fruitful marriage between the latter and their daughter. Women do not break kola-nut in the presence of men though they can do so when it is an all women gathering. If a man is present, he would be called upon to break the kola-nut. This obtains because women do not offer rituals in Igbo tradition. Kola-nut is held by majority of Igbo people to be sacred. Hence women who because of their monthly period are regarded as impure are barred from breaking kola-nut in order to avoid its defilement. It is even held that women should not climb a kola-nut tree as this could result in the tree going barren. An old woman herbalist however has a privilege to break kola-nuts. She should nevertheless precede this operation by an act of self-purification. This she does by waving seven seeds of alligator pepper over the head, one after the other, and throwing each of them away.





Emphasis is laid on the number of cotyledons in a kola-nut. Ọjị Igbo – Igbo kola-nut must have more than two cotyledons. An Igbo kola-nut with two cotyledons is malformed and so cast away. It is neither eaten by any titled man titled man – Nze nor by a woman. A three cotyledons kola-nut foretells good omen. It is Ikenga Ọjị – kola-nut for men who have distinguished themselves in noble deeds. Every Igbo man considers a four cotyledons kola-nut most acceptable. It is indicative of the acceptance and approval of the gathering by the gods of the four market days – Eke, Orie, Afọ and Nkwọ. A kola-nut of five cotyledons is symbolic of productivity and wealth. All assembled are happy when it is announced that “Ọjị nkea gbara ise”- this kola-nut has five cotyledons. All chuckle to themselves as though the children and wealth promised have already been realized. A combination of six cotyledons spells bad omen “Isii na-esi ihe” – “six dulls up things.” It is bad luck just like 13 in English. One cotyledon is thrown away and remaining cotyledons eaten. A kola-nut with seven or eight cotyledons is very rare but highly valued when found. In some Igbo areas, the householder pays some money to buy out some of the luck supposedly wrapped up in the seven or eight cotyledon formation. The money is used to feast the members present. As kola-nut is bitter especially the unripened ones. The Igbos eats kola-nut with ground pepper mixed with oil and the mixture acts like a stimulant. Kola-nut paste can be carefully prepared with pepper, crayfish, groundnut, melon, dried fish and meat for big occasions.



HRH EZE Silver Ibenye Ụgbala, Eze Ugo III of Okporo, the traditional ruler of Okporo Autonomous Community in Orlu Local Government Area of Imo State.



Powered by ACENetwork

Igbo Foundation | Igbo Heritage Foundation | Ikenga Think Tank