The Kola nut is not as sweet as the Coconut yet people eat it with respect. -African proverb
Kola nut which comes from a plant that grows as a big tree in the tropical forests of West Africa is given as a symbol of hospitality, friendship and respect in some parts of Africa especially in the Igbo Communities (Eastern Nigeria).
Although the bitter-tasting nut is eaten by many other cultures in Nigeria to diminish hunger and fatigue, it is considered a sacred significance in Igboland.
It is almost impossible for an Igbo home or ceremony to be without Kolanut and where there is no kola nut available, the host will need to do an explanatory apology to his visitors. The kola nut tradition is used for a variety of events, but its basically to welcome guests to a village, home or house.
The Kolanut has one major medicinal benefit which is to aid digestion.
Breaking of the Kola Nut:
There is a common understanding of the traditional way of breaking the Kolanut at any gathering.
To illustrate this delicate ceremony, let’s say a group of visitors arrive at a village, home or event. Upon knowledge of their arrival, the host presents a plate with a number of Kola nuts (more kola nuts for more people) 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 less senior members and so forth till most members have taken a glimpse of the plate (a woman is never a part of this ritual).
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 in the local tongue; “Öjï luo ünö okwuo ebe osi bia” (Meaning “When the Kola nut reaches home, it will tell where it came from”).
The interpretation of this proverb says that the visitor needs to show the kola nut to his people at home as proof of having visited this village or home or event.
Usually, the oldest man among the host audience is asked to bless the kola nuts which he takes with his right hand and makes a blessing, prayer or toast using a proverb; “Ihe dï mma onye n’achö, ö ga-afü ya.”
(Meaning “Whatever good he is looking for, he will see it.”).
He then breaks the kola nut with his hands or using a knife while a close relative breaks the remaining nuts.
It is after this ritual that the visitors can now explain the purpose of their visit, and the kola parts are distributed to the people, occasionally coming along with palm wine, garden eggs and peanut butter.
There are do’s and don’ts to presenting the Kolanut ritual and they are; Kola nut should only be presented with two hands at the same time, and only men can climb and pluck the from the kola tree.
Next time when you visit the Igboland and you’re offered Kolanut, please take it as a welcome gesture.