In every human culture exists a mark of identification that portrays their homogeneity as an entity. Kolanut also called Oji in Igbo land is regarded as a sacred fruit. It is revered, respected and almost adored. It plays an important unique role in the celebration of Igbo culture and tradition. Indeed, it serves as a harbinger of peace.
It must be clarified that there are two species of Kolanut known to Ndigbo. The one grown in Igbo land bears ‘Oji Igbo’ and the one grown in the Western part of the country. The Kolanut grown in the west is not used to perform any traditional ceremonies in Igbo land.
Ọjị is the first thing served to a guest in an Igbo home. It is also served before an important function begins; be it marriage ceremony, settlement of family disputes or entering into any type of agreement, festival etc.
The presentation of the revered fruit, however, differs in Igbo communities. For some, it is accompanied by money no matter how little. While for others, it is accompanied by white chalk called Nzu.
One very important aspect of the Kolanut rituals is offering prayers to God before consumption. It is mandatory that the oldest man or a traditional ruler/titled man in the gathering says the prayer; otherwise known as breaking of the Kolanut.
It is important to observe that in some areas, like the Owerri area of Imo State; the lot falls on the youngest person present to break the kola nut after the prayer. This is so due to the primal belief that children haven’t soiled their hands with human blood. In other communities, the oldest person or the monarch breaks it after saying the necessary prayers.
Unique features of the Kolanut
It should also be noted that in Igbo land; a woman does not break kola nut and also does not take Kolanut from the plate. It must be handed to her by a male. Women are also forbidden from planting, climbing kola trees or plucking Kolanuts.
Kolanut is respected in Igbo land, so much that in some communities, anyone who steals kola nut is ostracized. Some others believe that 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.
Kolanut seed is very bitter to taste as it contains caffeine-laden that often prevents one from sleeping when chewed. It is also medicinal.
Kolanut excels more in Igboland for socio-cultural significance compared to its value in another ethnic group in West Africa. The Northerner Nigeria offer Kolanut as a symbol of hospitality, without elaborate ceremonies.
The rites of presentation, blessing, breaking and distribution of Kolanut in Igboland are much more solemn than we recognize. They symbolize a social and ritual bonding between the living, and the departed on the other.
It has also been proven that Kolanut Communion is a generic religious phenomenon. It serves as the base and offshoot of the socio-cultural life of the Igbo people. The Kolanut Communion is much more than a symbol of hospitality; it is a sacred covenant for the adulation of Ndi Ichie (ancestors).
Kolanut serves as a solemn sacrifice to benevolent deities like Ani, the Earth Deity; in supplication that the divine will of Chineke (the Creator) be done on earth.
Any attempt to do away with Kolanut is considered a threat to the traditional belief of the Igbo man.
Symbolic lobes of the Igbo Kolanut
The lobes formed during the breaking ceremony is portrayed as a message from the gods regarding the present and future. Here is a list of the number of lobes and their spiritual representation:
- Non lobed kola – Rarely does the Igbo kola nut come in a non lobed form. Whenever this happens, it is termed an omen.
- Two lobed Kola – “Oji Ifilifi” usually each Kolanut halves into several parts from two to seven with lobbed nuts. It is sometimes can be termed as a bad omen; because in Igbo cosmology the number two lacks balance and thus does not portend good omen.
- Six Lobed Kola – “Oji Mkpuru Osee Isii” or “Oji Ndi Mmuo” and “Mmadu jiri Gbaa Ndu” is the most opposed lobe in Igbo. It is said to retard progress and brings about retrogression. However, a larger number of the Igbo people believe it is a duplication of “Oji ikenga”; which is termed a good omen.
- Three Lobed Kola – referred to as “Oji Ikenga” is the mind of the author regarded as trinity cola of stability. It signifies a good omen. A typical structure of the Igbo family with the male as head in the other of father, mother and child(ren). It is believed to symbolize the three cardinal dimensions of man; the body (ahu), the mind (obi) and the soul (mmuo).
- Four Lobed Kola – “Oji Gbazuru Agbazu” and also referred to “Oji Afia na Ubosi” is termed a good omen. This is because the gods of the four-day week in Igbo calender (Eke, Oye, Afor, Nkwo) are represented. The blessings attached to the principle of the four market day cycle is social justice.
- Five Lobed Kola – “Oji Dike” is usually announced and claimed as a prayer. It is a symbol of wealth and productivity which is why is it regarded as a symbol of “omumu” and “aku na uba” (children and wealth). In some Igbo dialects, it is referred to as “Oji aka na okpa”R. Due to its correspondence to the five fingers and toes of the hand and leg and the five human senses; which are needed for productivity and wealth. It is usually rare and as such, welcomed with happiness.
- Seven Lobed Kola – “Oji Asaa-asota” is extremely rare but appears once in a long while especially during a most difficult situation. It is highly associated with supernatural effects because it represents the four gods of the market days and the three-dimension of man and the trinity. These spiritual symbols make it the most cherished and the most valuable sign of a good omen.