A custodian of Igbo tradition, Prof. Damian Opata, has described the kola nut as the most important ritual object in Igbo tradition.
Opata, who is a professor of African Fiction, said that the kola nut has spiritual, and socio-cultural significance in Igbo tradition, adding that it is also an instrument of prayer.
While explaining that the way a kola nut is lobed determines its spiritual import in Igboland, he also said that it is of different types which include ‘Oji Ugo’, ‘Oji Ocha’, and ‘Oji Nkiti.’
He further explained that what the ancestors eat in the Nsukka Cultural Zone is the “eye of the kola nut,” which is the embryo, adding that when the nut is broken, the eye is extracted and thrown to the unseen divinities before the rest of the lobes are consumed by human.
He said “Kola nut represents so many things in Igbo cosmology depending on the angle one is coming from. Its first use is hospitality, that is, we use it to welcome our guests. Apart from that, it is the most important ritual object in Igbo tradition. For those of us in Igbo Religion, we use it for our devotions when we invoke the name of God. In Nsukka, we have this cliche which says that the kola nut is the first item to present to a deity, whether one wants to sacrifice a cow or a ram.
“It is also used for marriages, social events, and communal meetings. In communal meetings for instance, especially in my place at Lejja in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State, various clan heads must present a kola nut during meetings to indicate adequate representation of their clans, otherwise, they will not participate in the proceedings.
“It is also a sign of unity, collectiveness and sharing. For instance, if kola nuts are not enough during meetings, fingernails are used to cut the lobes until the number is enough to go around.
This ritual represents oneness and peace.
“It is used in communicating with God and ancestors. I travel with kola nut anywhere I go. I drop a lobe on the way at any boundary between one state and another to ask the owners of the land for their protection and presence. That was how I got into trouble at the Los Angeles, USA. When I got to the airport, the officials seized my pod of kola nuts and accused me of transporting the disease to their country. It was after they quarantined it and found it disease-free that I was allowed to go, but then, I missed my flight schedule because of the incident. I travel with it all the time because it is an anchorage for me to connect with divinities and God.
“In Nsukka here, the ancestors eat the eye of the kola nut, which is the most important part of it, not the lobes, but the ritual is different in other Igbo cultures. Kola nut is an instrument of prayer.
“The number of lobes a kola nut has has different representations in Igboland. Three-lobed kola nut represents equality and justice. If the lobes are four, it represents the four market days in Igbo society, that’s, Afor, Nkwo, Eke and Orie. Five-lobed kola nut represents fertility and wealth, if it is seven-lobed, it is highly spiritual. This is the type herbalists look out for. It is costly and scarce.
“Kola nut is of different types. We have ‘Oji Ugo,’ which is somewhat greenish. It is used in praying or making requests to the river goddess. We also have the ‘Oji Ocha’ which is somewhat whitish, but different from the kind consumed mostly by the Northerners in Nigeria. We also have ‘Oji Nkiti,’. This type is most common in the markets. Kola nut is the most cardinal item in Igbo tradition.”