Igbo perception of their world -Chp3

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KOLANUT AS LIFE AFFIRMING PRINCIPLE

Igbo philosophy is life-affirming because it centered on human being. Igbo people usually say Ndụ 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 ọji wetara ndụ (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. Ọji (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 precede 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 he 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 ọjị 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.

In addition, numerous researches conducted on ritual practices that have to do with consecration of time, space, animate and inanimate objects have also confirmed this affirmation of the life principle in Igbo cosmology. The ritual practice of itu aka (ritual offering of food to the spirits in general in Agukwu Nri, or itu aka ezi (ritual throwing of food outside for the spirits) as in Ututu, Arọchukwu, Ezza/Izzi are highly illuminating because they also show the purpose for such a practice. For instance, the research conducted by Anthony Ekwunife, of the department of religion, University of Nigeria shows that in Ovoko, Nsukka; the ritual of itu aka is aimed at giving the spirits their share. In Ngwa, the purpose is thanksgiving offering – an acknowledgement of favours from the spirits. In Arọchukwu and Ututu, the aim is that of sanctification of food (and it is called igo nri), so that it becomes a vehicle for communion with the spirits. Thus the whole ritual is designed to effect communion with the spirits through the agency of the celebrant and food. The ritual words of itu aka or igo nri shows the dependence of the human life on the transcendent life of the invisible spirit world. The practice as Ekwunife rightly noted is a way of inserting the participants to the source of their spiritual life – the transcendence. 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 reflect axiomatic values, five definite realization on which the life of every Igbo rests. They are: life, children, wealth, peace and love (Ekwunife, 1990).

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