The manual labourer or long distance trucker, on the other, finds it indispensable in curtailing hunger and fatigue as he chews it at work. But in Igbo nation, kola nut(ojiigbo) enjoys maximum recognition, not only for its physiological value, but for its centrality in their socio-religious affairs. In fact, Igbo folklore has it that God, the maker of heaven and earth, personally made the igbo variety of kolanut ( ojiigbo) as a gift to the Igbo forefather during a courtesy visit to God in heaven. The other species which are rather bitter and caffeine-rich are adulterations or fakes from ekwensu, the head of wicked spirits.
Kola nut ceremony, as a marble- cast Igbo tradition, is a must in any gathering of Ndigbo. It is also performed as a mark of welcome to visitors to a home, village or events. If in case of an emergency a host goes ahead to welcome his visitors without the nut, the reception must be preceded with a profound apology for the absence of ojiigbo.
Breaking of Kola Nut
The ceremony may vary depending on the occasion and people present at the ceremony, but there is a common understanding in the traditional way of breaking them. To illustrate this delicate ceremony, I will take the occasion of welcoming a group of visitors to a village.
The host presents a plate with a number of Kola nuts (ranging from two up to sixteen) to the leader of the delegation, who will take the plate and shows it to the most senior member of his entourage. To acknowledge that he has seen the plate, he briefly touches the plate with his right hand, before it is shown to the less senior members and so forth till most members have taken a glimpse of the plate. After that, the host gets the plate returned from the visitor and takes one of the kola nuts and gives it to the visitor while saying:
‘Öjï luo ünö okwuo ebe osi bia.’
‘When the Kola nut reaches home, it will tell where it came from.’
This proverb says that the visitor needs to show the kola nut to his people at home as a proof of having visited this village.
Usually, the oldest man among the host audience is asked to bless the kola nuts. He will take one of the nuts in his right hand and makes a blessing, prayer or toast using a proverb, e.g.
‘Ihe dï mma onye n’achö, ö ga-afü ya.’
‘What ever legitimate good we desire shall be ours.’’
Subsequently, the presenter or an appointed person breaks the kola nut with his hands or using a knife. An aide or close relative breaks the remaining nuts. The visitors now explain the purpose of their visit, while the kola parts are distributed to the people, occasionally coming along with palm wine, garden eggs and peanut butter.
As mentioned before, it is the breaking that is the significant part of the ceremony. The more parts the kola breaks up to, the more prosperity it gives to its presenter and visitors. Though there is one exception: if the nut yields only two parts, it signifies no good as it signals that the presenter has a sinister motive behind the kola. Because of that, Kola nuts with only two parts are avoided for this ceremony and therefore the purple/reddish coloured nuts, cola acuminata are preferred over its greyish counterpart, the cola nitida, as the latter one only breaks up in two. Four parts coincide with the four market days of the Igbo week. Five or more broken parts mean prosperity for the family. In some parts of Igboland, when the kola breaks into six, a separate celebration is required and sometimes even including the slaughter of a goat.
There are many other rules surrounding the kola nut ceremony, which you can read in the books mentioned in the references. I will mention only a few more things: kola nut should only be presented with two hands at the same time, and also as the kola tree is associated with man, only men can climb and pluck the kola tree. Sorry ladies!