The immanency of the kola nut: reconnaissance into its inherency in Igbo belief system

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In every race or nation there is that substance which makes them unique from every other group; something that subsist, that which when seen what comes to mind is this group and in its absence one begins to imagine or rather doubt the presence of the group; such that in any place they gather the next thing that comes to mind is this substance, and in its absence they feel they have not started the a gathering yet so that is just a mere sitting to chat; such is the case of the place of the kolanut in Igbo belief system. Its individuality and inimitability as regards the Igbo race without being overemphasized is a thing of commendation. Our attempt here is to grapple with the participation of kolanut in Igbo belief system but before we delve into this ousiologism I crave your indulgence to give a vivid picture of some terms as it pertains this piece of work; words like participation and immanence, ousiologism, belief system, inherency, igbo and after this we shall commence the tour of ousiologism.

IMMANENCE: it took its etymology from the Latin word “immanere” literally meaning “dwell within” and corollarily Latin “manere” meaning remain, dwell. Here is used as existing within or inherent in something, to take part in an event or activity

PARTICIPATION: from the Latin word “participare” meaning taking part. Used here in the sense of; shares in, imitates, mediates, mingles, imbue, permeates, inherent, intrinsic, innate, ingrained, internal, essential

OUSIOLOGISM: the study of substance coined by Aristotle as here we are studying kolanut as an important substance in Igbo belief system

BELIEF SYSTEM: set of beliefs: a set of beliefs, especially religious or political beliefs that form a unified system. Organized societal beliefs: a collection and organization of beliefs prevalent in a community or society

INHERENCY: from the Latin word “inhaerere” literally meaning, be normal part of something: to be a natural and integral part of something, basic: part of the very nature of something, and therefore permanently characteristic of it or necessarily involved in it

IGBO: people living in parts of western Africa, especially in southeastern Nigeria. It is one of the Kwa groups of the Niger-Congo family of African languages. The speak Ibo as their language. Ibo is spoken by about 17 million people. Rich in culture and tradition. This is a tribe in Nigeria located within latitude 5-7 degrees north of the equator and longitude 6-8 degrees east of the Greenwich line.


Kola-nut or carpel is a nut content of a pod, produced by a tree called Ọjị or Kola accuminata. A pod contains one or more nuts interlaced in their setting, depending on the size of the nuts. The tree grows extensively in the forest zone of West Africa. It yields its fruits- kola-nut, almost at all season. Kola acuminata or atrophora is distinguished from kola alba or even kola nitida which the Igbos call Ọjị Awụsa (Hausa Kola). Among the Igbos, Kola atrophora or acuminata as distinct from these others is used according to tradition for rituals, for marriage ceremonies, title taking, offering or prayers at traditional ceremonies, to welcome visitors and to introduce very important discussions and requests. What the Igbos call Ọjị Awụsa (Hausa Kola) or indeed any other kind of kola other than the Igbo Kola is broken and eaten but is never used for any other form of rituals. In other words, kola-nut excepting the Ọjị Igbo with more than two cotyledons is not ritualistic. It is thought to be a mere substitute. It is like “ebenebe na-eme amara mkpụrụ Ọjị ma ejighị ya agọ mmụo.” “Ebenebe,” though a substitute for kola-nut cannot be used for rituals. It is not preposterous then to claim that kola-nut in Igbo culture fulfils a double function –spiritual and entertainment functions. It is pertinent to make this distinction as the Igbos most often use substitutes like Ọjị Awusa, dried meat, fish, or afụfa to entertain visitors. This is mainly due to the scarcity of Ọjị Igbo, which because of its preciousness is in very high demand.


Kolanut is a fundamentum rei(fundamental thing) that is something basic in Igbo belief system.borowing the philosophical term as used by the earliest philosophers it is the “urstoff” that is primary stuff of every coming together. 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.. 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 waits for the prince. Ọjị Ugo (a champion kola-nut) is symbolic of royalty and purity. It attracts blessings and luck on the parties.


Igbo philosophy is life-affirming because it centered on the human person. Igbo people usually say “Ndu bụ Isi” (Life first). It has been observed that the overall conceptualization of the kolanut among the Igbo is that it is a life affirming principle. Kolanut presentation, ritual, breaking and sharing is significant in Igbo land. The ritual invocation will include Chukwu, ancestors, the clan deities, the spirit forces especially the market days. Finally the invocation would normally end with an affirmation of life:

Ndi ebe anyị, anyị ga adị, anyị goro ka anyị dịrị,ọ bụghị ka anyị nwụọ (Our people we shall live we have prayed for life not for death).

This final affirmation of life is significant because one of the first statements surrounding kolanut breaking ritual in Igbo land is: “Onye wetara oji wetara ndu” (He who brings kola brings life).

Among the Igbo, everything that is, has a life and to be alive is the aspiration of every living thing. Oji (kolanut) is life because he who brings it brings life in the dual sense (1) that signifies welcome and friendship and (2) that the prayer for good and long life which precedes its breaking and eating would be accepted by the ancestors. From the biological point of view, the kolanut is also life affirming. Paul E. Lovejoy (1980:2) listed forty medicinal uses of kolanut, collected at the beginning of the 20th century, and included relief from hunger, fatigue and thirst as important properties along with cures from headaches and sexual impotence. This list is interesting because the medicinal uses noted is all life affirming. Of special importance is the fact that it could be used as cure for sexual importance. For the Igbo, nothing can be more life affirming than this very fact. In other words, kolanut in Igbo world view touches on the principal essence of existence: being alive and sustaining it.

This principle of life affirmation as constituting the essence of the kola is also supported by the Igbo myth surrounding the emergence of the four Igbo market days. It is aid that four enigmatic people once visited a place. They would neither eat nor talk. But by mere coincidence, some one gave them a piece of kolanut to eat. To the surprise of all assembled, the people suddenly were given to speech in which they revealed their names as Orie (Oye), Eke, Nkwọ and Afọ. By this singular act, the kola is said to have gained significance not only as the food of the spirits, but also something that gives life. This is because somebody who can neither talk nor eat anything is as good as dead. It is only something that can give life that worked the wonder of giving back life even to the spirits. This is the basis of the Igbo saying:

“Onye wetara oji wetara ndụ”.Apart from being an affirmation of life, it is also a symbol of continuity, of the entire life process as a continuum. Kolanut ritual is always a feature of the Igbo society, in social functions and ceremonies, which has resisted westernization and Christianity.

The word “Isee” is a definite symbolic word in the Igbo language and culture. A human being has five fingers, five toes. Among the Igbo the number five has great symbolic significance. If a kola nut is broken and it has five lobes it means good luck to the sharer. It also refers to stability. Thus “isee” reflects axiomatic values, five definite realization on which the life of every Igbo rests. They are: life, children, wealth, peace and love.


The efficacy of every ritual the say depends on the community such is the case of the eating or breaking of kola nut in Igbo land. 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. This prayer must be in Igbo language because it is believed that oji does not understand English language. Though in some parts of Igboland, the youngest breaks the kola-nut. Worthy of note is 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. As some of the don’ts a grandson cannot break kola-nut in the presence of his grandfather and maternal uncles however young they may be, because it is believed that he has no effective prayers to offer for them. It is the elders who will rather 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 is because women do not offer rituals in Igbo tradition. Kola-nut is highly reverenced by majority of Igbo people. More so women in their monthly period are regarded as impure and barred from breaking kola-nut in order to avoid its defilement. In some areas the 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.


The area of most importance is the number of cotyledons in a kola-nut. Igbo kola-nut must have more than two cotyledons. An Igbo kola-nut with two cotyledons is malformed and so cast away, and neither eaten by any titled man titled man – “Nze” nor by a woman. A three cotyledons kola-nut foretells good omen. It is meant for men who have distinguished themselves in noble deeds. However any Igbo man considers a four cotyledons kola-nut most acceptable. It is indicative of the acceptance and approval of the gathering by the gods of the four market days – Eke, Orie, Afọ and Nkwọ. A kola-nut of five cotyledons is symbolic of productivity and wealth. It is a thing of joy always when it is announced that “Ọjị nkea gbara ise” (this kola-nut has five cotyledons). A combination of six cotyledons spells bad omen “Isii na-esi ihe” – “six dulls up things.” It is bad luck just like 13 in English. One cotyledon is thrown away and remaining cotyledons eaten. A kola-nut with seven or eight cotyledons is very rare but highly valued when found. In some Igbo areas, the householder pays some money to buy out some of the luck supposedly wrapped up in the seven or eight cotyledon formation. This money is used celebrate with the members present. As kola-nut is bitter especially the unripened ones. The Igbos eats kola-nut with either alligator pepper called “ose oji”-pepper of kola” or ground pepper mixed with oil and the mixture acts like a stimulant. Kola-nut paste can be carefully prepared with pepper, crayfish, groundnut, melon, dried fish and meat for big occasions.


Kola-nut (Ọjị) has got some uniqueness in the cultural life of the Igbo people. Ọjị is the first thing a visitor is given in an Igbo home. Ọjị marks the beginning of any celebration call it marriage ceremony, settlement of family disputes or entering into any type of agreement. It is used as a channel of communication with the ancestral gods and the spirit world, and most importantly a channel of communication with the Creator who occupies a vital place in Igbo belief system as pictured in the names given to him like CHUKWU OKIKE, ỌBASI DỊ N’ELU AND CHUKWU ABỊAMA. The great importance attach to Oji is further buttressed by the popular legend which holds 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.Ọjị signifies clean mind, pure intention. Its shape resembles the heart as though it is the nature to be and speak man `s mind. A visitor on arrival watches his host’s countenance “is he, the visitor welcome or is he a persona non grata?” this question is answered when He soon finds his host presents or even offers him kola-nuts in a particular manner.(a joke goes that when you are not needed your given kola with weevils). It is indicative of the acceptance and approval of the gathering by the gods of the four market days – Eke, Orie, Afọ and Nkwọ.

The cotyledons including the tiny central axis have meanings attached. The yardstick of knowing a good Igbo kola is that, it must have at least from three lobes onwards. Three is a symbol of ikenga (personified individual achievement and predicts good omen for the Igbo.) Four symbolizes the four market days and signifies acceptance and approval. Five is a symbol of productivity and wealth necessary for the survival of Igbo community at its minimal and maximal levels (family, village, and clan. Six spells bad omen which the Igbo often encounter. Seven and eight lobes are very rare normally is seen like the eagle’s egg and highly valued since they symbolize life in its fullness. Moreso the tiny central lobe uniting all the cotyledons belongs to the spirits. It pictures the presence of the invisible world with its beings in the midst of the visible. It is this presence that makes the Igbo belief system based in a perpetual interaction between these two worlds.

Each cotyledon has either a male or female formation. These formations symbolizes the Igbo dual experience of human beings (male and female)their union is periodically re-enacted by marriage contracts through the agency and blessings of the invisible beings especially the ancestors.

The color of the kola is another symbolism while coffee is popular color, white (oji ugo) is a very rare colour and highly valued since it symbolizes royalty and purity attributes of the spiritual beings, kings and titled men. The sour taste also symbolizes Igbo experience of the present life polarized in joy and sorrow. Hence the Igbo say “uwa ezu oke” (the world is not all rosy)

Igbo kola generally symbolizes, communicates and unifies Igbo ideas of friendship, acceptance and approval, achievement, productivity and wealth; joy and sorrow; family, village clan; unity and diversity of the Igbo world and belief system; hierarchy, authority; royalty and purity; wholeness of life and perpetual presence of the spirits among men. The Igbo proverb which always re-echoes at the sight of kola has said it all “onye wetara oji wetara ndu” (he who brings kola, brings life)


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