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Symbolic Nature and Essential Tradition of Kola Nuts Among the Igbos in Nigeria

Today I want to share an amazing tradition and culture of serving Kola nut among Igbos in Nigeria. Do enjoy the discourse at great length

The West African indigenous Kola nuts

The West African indigenous Kola nuts

Symbolic Nature and Essential Tradition of Kola Nuts Among the Igbos in Nigeria

Kola nut is a tree found in different parts of the world, but considered a sacred tree in Igboland, the Southeastern states of Nigeria. The Igbo people have passed on these traditional accolades given to kola nut from generation to the next, and strictly observed at the festivities. More importantly, is that the customary practice is substantially practiced by all people of the region regardless of their faith and believes. This article will provide questions, and answers to a number of the most critical reasons why kola nut is constantly celebrated in formal or informal gatherings, and the discussions are presented below.

What is Kola nut?

Kola nut is a star-shaped fruit of the kola tree that belongs to cocoa family and indigenous to West Africa. The harvested fruit contains around two and seven kola nuts depending on specie of the plant. Research has shown that it contains high levels of caffeine and antioxidants which confers certain health benefits and side effects on the kola nut.

Kola nut has a bitter taste and farmed in Nigeria and some parts of southeastern Nigeria for its traditional relevance, commercial value and cultural symbol. It grows up to 50-70 feet and takes the size of a chestnut. Similarly, the kola nut is obtained after the star-shaped fruit reaches maturity and is cracked open to reveal white shells that contain the seeds called kola nut. The kola nut is called "Oji" in Igboland and considered to be sacrosanct and sacred and special.

Which type of kola nut is served?

The native kola nut served for, ceremonies and occasions in Igboland is the pink–red colored kola nut. However, there is the yellow and brown type often referred to as "gworo" that may be served when the pink– red kola nut is unavailable.

Having said that, the “gworo” is rejected by traditional rulers and titled–men in attendance in social gatherings, and they will request for "Oji Igbo" which is the home grown kola nut that is pink–red. Sometimes, natives pocket a handful of the brown kola and chew it for its benefits and aesthetic appeal.

Why is kola nut served?

Kola nut is served as a symbol of unity, hospitality and respect for guests. Its presence also means that a good outlook is initiated and bad omen is averted. It is a common saying that kola nut is the most important thing in Igbo traditions, particularly when welcoming visitors and guests. It is also served to visitors because it is regarded as a sacred fruit that can be used to broker a peace, fraternize, and pronounce goodwill messages.

How is Kola nut served?

The kola nut is served using a wooden vessel, tray, and plate made up of glass, plastic, ceramics or stainless steel. There are no specifics attached to presentation of kola nut, however, kola nut can also go along with garden egg and bitter kola. In a number of communities, it is presented with money, although how much of the money to use is left to the hosts’ discretion.

The eldest person in the social gathering proceeds by picking up one kola nut and calling upon ancestors of the prayer using his local dialect. Also, the recitation of certain well-known cliché’ is vocalized, for example "Onye wetara Oji, wetara ndu." Is spoken randomly which is translated as "he who serves kola nut brings life." After the prayers, the kola nut is split into little fractions and given served. The non-orthodox natives will rather say a short Christian prayer to God and is also acceptable. Some communities will serve the blessed kola nut according to seniority and social superiority.

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Below is a video showing veteran actor Pete Edochie blessing and praying over the kola nut

Veteran actor Pete Edochie breaks Kola nut

How much of kola nut is served?

Traditionally speaking, the "Oji igbo" served for guests must be four cotyledons in number. The reason behind this number is that it represents the four traditional market days in Igboland. When Five-cotyledon kola is served, it represents fertility and wealth for both the host, and the guest. However, herbalist and spiritualist can use the seven-lobed kola nut which signifies divination and mysticism. The six cotyledon kola nut is referred to as "Oji ndi muo" and translated to be kola nut for the spirits, whereas the three cotyledons signify "Oji Ikenga", Which is translated to mean kola nut for the strong and mighty.

When is kola nut served?

Kola nut is served for social gatherings, ceremonies and in almost all functions in Southeastern Nigeria. It is compulsorily required and served for cultural festivals, marriage rights, and burial occasions. However, during celebrations for instance, birthdays, thanksgiving, graduation, and matriculation parties, serving kola nut is not binding and left to the hosts’ discretion.

Where is kola nut served?

Kola nut is served anywhere people work, live, gather or play together. Kola nut is served in houses, homes, hospitals, markets, Churches, offices, schools, and event centers etc. Kola nut must also be served in family meetings, kindred meetings, town union gatherings, village meetings, and in all kings cabinet meetings.

Some exceptions of kola nut traditions include:

  • Prayers and blessing for kola nut must be administered in Igbo language, because it is believed that the sacred plant only accepts prayers rendered in Igbo language.
  • Persons’ blessing the kola must be of Igbo origin regardless of where the function is held.
  • Kola nut is not taking without prayers and blessing in social gatherings.
  • Stealing kola nut is an abomination and offenders must be severely reprimanded.
  • Mistakes made during kola nut presentation and blessing must be fined or rebuked.
  • The host must explain the unavailability of kola nut in traditional occasions and promptly apologize.
  • Kola nut can only be farmed by men in numerous communities.
  • Administration of kola nut prayers and blessings is left for elderly and married men


The article presented a discourse on significant questions and answers concerning this unique tradition among the Igbos of southeastern Nigeria. The rules are generally the same, but may vary marginally when described in great detail. Subsequently, intercultural marriages and migration have taken this tradition to Europe, Americas, Asia, Australia, and different parts of African continents. Hence having this knowledge in attending ceremonies where kola nut is served might not be far–fetched for lots of people, and I suggest that this information will certainly be an added advantage.

A plate used for serving Kola nut

A plate used for serving Kola nut

Handing over kola nut

Handing over kola nut

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Amarachi Nkwoada

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