The Igbos place an immeasurable value on kola nuts. It is a very essential nut, without which most formal and informal gatherings among them can hardly take place unless an apology is tendered for its unavailability. Kola nut fosters unity among those who partake of its blessing, breaking and eating. Each time it is presented, it is blessed before being consumed. In this feature, we seeks to highlight the principal features of the language used in blessing kola nut among the Igbos of South-East Nigeria.
Kola Nut and the Igbo Culture: The culture of a people is their way of life. It encompasses their beliefs, music, art, and social organization. The kola nut is engraved in the culture of the Igbos. There is no part of Igbo land that kola nut is not held in high esteem. In fact, breaking the kola nut is a ritual as old as the Igbo tribe. There is hardly any event that takes place without the kola nut.
In fact kola nut is to Igbo people what the prayer book stands for in the Christian world. Kola nut is often served with sauce (prepared mainly with pepper, groundnut, and palm oil) and alligator pepper. Among the elders, white chalk ‘nzu’ accompanies it. With the ‘nzu’, they make marks on the floor and rub it on their big toes, and sometimes around their eyes.
The Importance of Kola Nut in Igbo land: Some of the numerous purposes the kola nut serves in Igbo land are:
(a) Ushering in a New Day: In the traditional Igbo society the eldest man in the family welcomes a new day by breaking kola nut early in the morning. He does this early in the morning after he has washed his hands, face and mouth. The elder thanks the ancestors of the family, as well as the gods and goddesses of the land for keeping watch over them throughout the night. He also offers prayers to them for guidance, protection, favour, success, etc in the day ahead. This normally takes place in the presence of the male members of the family and elderly women.
(b) Welcoming Guests: Igbos welcome their guests, first and foremost, with kola nuts. In fact, even if an Igbo man welcomes you with the most expensive French wine or hot drink without first of all presenting kola, or apologizing for its unavailability, he has not welcomed you. After apologizing, he may then present snuff, palm wine, hot drink, meat, dried or stock fish to his visitor as an alternative. But the ideal thing is kola nut. Achebe (1958) captured it in the text below:
He immediately rose and shook hands with Okoye, who then unrolled his goatskin which he carried under his arm, and sat down. Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disk containing a cola nut, some alligator pepper, and a lump of white chalk. ‘I have kola,’ he announced when he sat down, and passed the disc to the guest. (4-5)
It is the tradition in Igbo land that after presenting the kola nut to the visitor(s), it is returned to the presenter or whoever he has appointed to bless it. This gives rise to the common saying: oji eze di eze n’aka’, meaning ‘the person who presented kola nut should see to its blessing’. Most often, special visitors are given kola nut to go home with. In some cases it is the tradition that distinguished persons should go home with Academic Discourse.
Governor Umahi (right) presents kolanut to welcome President Buhari to Ebonyi State
(c) During Meetings /Public Gatherings: In most public gatherings, kola nut is presented quite early. In fact, until it is presented, blessed, and eaten together, it seems something significant is left out. It is a mark of welcome and symbolizes unity, as eating it together establishes a bond of oneness. Kola nut is for spiritual communion. It does among the Igbos what the Holy Communion does among the Christians.
(d) Divination: In traditional Igbo society, a man or an elderly woman often has a cause to visit a diviner so as to inquire something of importance to him from the oracles and the ancestors. When somebody is critically ill, died mysteriously, problems abound, strange things are seen in the compound, somebody is seeking somebody’s hand in marriage, etc the oracle (afa) is consulted. The person that has come to consult the afa presents a big kola nut amidst other things, to the gods.
(e) Sacrifices: Every religion acknowledges the importance of sacrifice. Meanwhile, the Guinness Encyclopedia points out that ‘sacrifice is the summit of Igbo traditional religion’. It is the highest activity of worship which the traditional Igbo man offers to the spiritual beings. Ugwu and Ugwuenye (2004:77) observed that ‘…in African traditional religion, it is man’s best way of establishing or maintaining cordial relationship between himself and the supersensitive cosmic reality’. Kola nut is often used to make sacrifice. Parrinder (1962:88) noted that ‘when kola nuts are thrown before the shrine ‘the way in which they fall shows whether the offering is acceptable or not’.
(f) Oath Taking: Kola nuts are used in oath taking. In Igboland, when somebody is accused of or even suspected to be responsible for the plight of a fellow townsman, there is often a need for the accused to take an oath before the public so as to clear himself from such allegation. One of the major ways of doing it is by dropping a cotyledon of kola nut on the ground and making the accused bend down to pick it with his mouth. The belief is that if the person is guilty, the earth goddess would automatically strike him or her dead.
(g) Idol Worshipping: An Igbo man going to worship his personal idol or chief priest going to worship the oracle must, first of all, give the god kola nut, wine, blood, or any other gift.
(h) During Marriages: In the traditional Igbo society, Kola nut is one of the major items used in contracting marriages. It is presented by both parties to the marriage. A man coming to ask a girl’s hand in marriage comes with a specified number of kola nuts. Meanwhile, before the groom’s family brings their kola nut out, the bride’s family would have welcomed them with theirs.