Kola-nut or carpel is a nut content of a pod, produced by a tree called Ọjị or Kola accuminata. It is used according for rituals, for marriage ceremonies, title taking, offering or prayers at traditional ceremonies, to welcome visitors and to introduce very important discussions and requests.”
Among Ndi Igbo, the Kola nut (Ọjị) symbolizes pure intention and connects us to our ancestors. Oji is the channel of communication beyond the physical world and into the spirit world. This practice is part of the Igbo traditional religion, or Odinani.
“The founding fathers chose Ọjị as the king of all the fruits and because it came from the gods, it is used in communicating with gods. Because it is the king of all the fruits (a sacred fruit from the gods) it is used in showing goodwill to visitors and for entering into bonds.”
Growing up, I do not recall ever seeing having a visitor in our home or seeing a function commence without the “breaking of the Kola nut.” To not include the kola nut is unheard of and almost criminal.
I can recall, however, that anytime an aunty or uncle (I use this to include all Igbo family regardless if there is immediate blood relation) came to visit our home, my mom or dad would tell me (or one of my siblings) to go and bring a special wooden plate (which we use in our home to serve the kola nut) with the kola nut on it. I would set the plate down before our guests, who would respond with a smile and/or thank you. That seemingly small gesture indicated that there was no ill will in the home towards the guest, and that essentially they were welcome. After I set the plate down with the kola nut, I would go back upstairs and resume whatever it was that I was doing.
Legend of Ọjị
“The importance which the Igbos attach to Ọjị can further be illustrated by a legend which speaks of the visit of the founding fathers to the home of the gods where the gods asked the founding fathers to choose a fruit from all the fruits in the orchard of the gods. The founding fathers chose Ọjị as the king of all the fruits and because it came from the gods, it is used in communicating with gods. Because it is the king of all the fruits (a sacred fruit from the gods) it is used in showing goodwill to visitors and for entering into bonds.”
Presentation of Ọjị
A person cannot present the Kola nut any way that he or she pleases.
“There is the usual handshake immediately a visitor comes in. This is the first demonstration of goodwill with the palm open and the fingers stretched one announces as it were: “I have not hidden on my person any object that will harm you.” A visitor is given a seat and within seconds there is an air of conviviality, which makes the visitor feel at home.”
“Soon a kola-nut is brought “E nwelem Ọjị” -“I have got kola-nut, Ọjị abiala –kola-nut has come.” This pattern obtains at simple receptions. Two kola-nuts may be served to a titled man. One is broken and shared and the other is taken home in fulfillment of the Igbo saying that: “Ọjị rue ụnọ okwue onye chere ya”- a kola-nut brought home says who offered it. It is not customary to present three kola-nuts at a time. Four kola-nuts or multiples of four are served at big gatherings such as fixing of bride price or at Ọzọ title taking. Incidentally, kola-nut is not served in five and six compositions. Seven kola-nut and other requisites in multiples of seven may be served during an important ceremony like “Igbu ewu ndi ichie” – killing a goat for ancestral gods. Eight kola-nuts are normal for marriage that is when the bride is to leave her abode for that of her husband’s. One kola-nut is normally shared even where there are many people; after all an Igbo proverb says: “If kola-nut does not go round when shared, then there are no finger nails to break it up to the required number.” Kola offering is a precursor at receptions, important meetings, customary ceremonies as well as the ceremonial slaughter of cows, goats and cocks. Who offers or can be offered kola-nut is determined by factors culturally discernable. A host offers or can be offered kola-nut as gifts. Priests, elders and titled men at village meetings or even at markets can offer kola-nuts to guests or any people who call on them for advice. The Igbo man offers kola-nuts to guests any time of the day. But, at night, he could excuse himself simply saying by this common saying: “Anyasị ewerela Ọjị’ – the night has taken away the kola-nut. Some are selective in the choice of kola-nut they offer to guests. Ọjị Ugo –champion kola may be selected for presentation to a particular dignitary or it may just happen that a chance pick is Ọjị Ugo. In whatever circumstance Ọjị Ugo is served, the recipient is always held highly as implied in the Igbo statement: “Ọjị Ugo ana-echere nwaeze” – the princely kola which is offered to a prince. Ọjị Ugo (a champion kola-nut) is symbolic of royalty and purity. It attracts blessings and luck on the parties.” (Source)
Breaking of Ọjị
”Usually it is the privilege of the eldest man in a group to offer prayers and thanksgiving when the kola-nut is about to be broken and shared. In some parts of Igboland, the youngest breaks the kola-nut. Investigations show that in some other areas, the youngest one shares out the kola-nut as a service though the eldest man still prays for the well-being of all present. A grandson cannot break kola-nut in the presence of his grandfather and maternal uncles however young they may be, because it is held that he has no effective prayers to offer for them. It is they who will pray for his good health, posterity and progress in life. One cannot also break kola-nut in the presence of one’s in-laws. This is because it is also held that only one’s in-law can effectively pray for the fruitful marriage between the latter and their daughter. Women do not break kola-nut in the presence of men though they can do so when it is an all women gathering. If a man is present, he would be called upon to break the kola-nut. This obtains because women do not offer rituals in Igbo tradition. Kola-nut is held by majority of Igbo people to be sacred. Hence women who because of their monthly period are regarded as impure are barred from breaking kola-nut in order to avoid its defilement. It is even held that women should not climb a kola-nut tree as this could result in the tree going barren. An old woman herbalist however has a privilege to break kola-nuts. She should nevertheless precede this operation by an act of self-purification. This she does by waving seven seeds of alligator pepper over the head, one after the other, and throwing each of them away.”