Kola nuts are not only known for its origin to many American and European soft-drinks and its chewing by labourers to diminish hunger and fatigue, but even more for its sacred significance in Igboland.
Attending a kola nut ceremony is almost inevitable for anyone visiting Enugu and is Igbo tradition at its best. Elder agree that once the 5-centimetre nuts are blessed with incantations, the visitors will feel ensured that they are welcome. People are more than willing to explain the ceremony, and where there is no kola nut available, the host will need to do the explanatory apology to his visitors. The kola nut tradition is used for a variety of events, but principally to welcome guests to a village or house.
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 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.
Igbo Kola Nut Ceremony
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 good he is looking for, he will see it.’
Subsequently, the presenter or an appointed person breaks the kola nut with his hands or using a knife. An aid 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 to 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!