Anatomy Of Kolanut (Cola acuminata)

by Prof. Uchenna Nwosu (Odenigbo Igboukwu)

Kolanut has a special place in Igbo culture. The ultimate symbol of male patriarchy, it is the traditional way of welcoming a visitor to one’s home. In fact, it is said that not offering a male visitor(s) kolanut indicates that he is not welcome – even if offered food and drinks! It is also the formal and peaceable way of commencing any male assembly, meeting or social gathering.

Everything about the kolanut has a procedure, starting with its presentation by the host.

PRESENTATION

If for company, the host hands a plate of two or more kolanuts to his nearest blood relative, who initiates their circulation-by-bloodline to all males present. No male must be ignored.

Widening to the next level, the kolanuts moves to village-mates present, followed sequentially by fellow townspeople, fellow local government folks, those from the same state, out-of-staters, and finally any foreigners. All present having been thus recognized, the kolanuts are returned to the host for ceremonial breaking.

CEREMONIAL BREAKING

He starts by giving one kolanut to the farthest guest by the just-established blood relationship, to serve as an aide memoir of his visit. It is called ” OJI LUO UNO …”

The act of breaking the kolanut into its constituent cotyledons offers the host/celebrant an opportunity to deliver well-crafted incantations through perfectly timed proverbs befitting the occasion. Being a perfect audience for a display of Igbo oratory, those who are not well-grounded in Igbo philosophy by proverbs may choose to say a short prayer instead. Depending on the choice made, the celebrant who shall remain seated, may or may not remove his cap: he keeps it on if using the philosophical incantations, but removes it if using the Christian prayer. While both formats are acceptable, consistency in format is highly encouraged.

Following the incantations (or brief prayer as the case may be), he splits the kolanut by forcing his thumbnail at the apical junction of the cotyledons; hence public handwashing is first expected of the celebrant.

GENDER ASSIGNMENT

Ndiigbo posit that the kolanut has male and female cotyledons by nature, the gender of each cotyledon being determined by its junctional ridge: it is a male cotyledon if the ridge extends all the way from the apex to the tail of the cotyledon, and a female cotyledon if the ridge divides, forming a triangle (or more than one triangle) before reaching the tail. These ridges are shown in the accompanying photographs.

The number and shape of cotyledons of Cola acuminata nut help to determine the characterization and gender assignment of the broken cola. The two-cotyledon cola nitada is smooth-faced and thus non-expressive or “dumb”..

With more than three cotyledons, the ridges are invariably indicative of mixed gender:  with 4 cotyledons, it is always 2 males and 2 females and said to represent the 4 days of Igbo week, namely Nkwo, Eke, Oye and Afo.

Five cotyledons symbolize prosperity. With 6 or more cotyledons, the kolanut is carefully re-packaged and put away by the host for a formal celebration – which may call for “isi ewu” in some towns!

A kolanut with only two cotyledons has no ridge. Therefore, it is treated as genderless, condemned as dumb (oji ogbu), and discarded for ceremonial purposes. (Incidentally, having no ridge is the normal lot of cola nitida, which we call “gwuoro”. This species of kolanut is mostly grown for commercial purposes in Western Nigeria but not used for ceremonial  purposes in Igboland.)

HIERARCHICAL ORDER OF KOLANUTS

The kolanut’s hierarchical worth is determined not by its size, but by the gender makeup of its cotyledons. Thus, a small-sized IKENGA kolanut is more valued than its larger-sized non-IKENGA mate.

Pink is the usual color of Igbo kolanut, unlike the “gwuoro”, which may be pink or white.  However, an Igbo multilobed kolanut may occasionally present in cream color. Such a rare occurrence is called “OJI UGO,” meaning eagle kolanut (the eagle being the king of birds), its rarity enhancing its value hierarchy. Therefore, a cream-colored IKENGA Kolanut has a special place in Igbo culture.

The ultimate symbol of male patriarchy; it is the traditional way of welcoming a visitor to one’s home. In fact, it is said that not offering a male visitor(s) kolanut indicates that he is not welcome – even if offered food and drinks! It is also the formal and peaceable way of commencing any male assembly, meeting or social gathering.

Everything about the kolanut has a procedure, starting with its presentation by the host.

PRESENTATION

If for company, the host hands a plate of two or more kolanuts to his nearest blood relative, who initiates their circulation-by-bloodline to all males present. No male must be ignored.

Widening to the next level, the kolanuts moves to village-mates present, followed sequentially by fellow townspeople, fellow local government folks, those from the same state, out-of-staters, and finally any foreigners. All present having been thus recognized, the kolanuts are returned to the host for ceremonial breaking.

CEREMONIAL BREAKING

He starts by giving one kolanut to the farthest guest by the just-established blood relationship, to serve as an aide memoir of his visit. It is called ” OJI LUO UNO …”

The act of breaking the kolanut into its constituent cotyledons offers the host/celebrant an opportunity to deliver well-crafted incantations through perfectly timed proverbs befitting the occasion. Being a perfect audience for a display of Igbo oratory, those who are not well-grounded in Igbo philosophy by proverbs may choose to say a short prayer instead. Depending on the choice made, the celebrant who shall remain seated, may or may not remove his cap: he keeps it on if using the philosophical incantations, but removes it if using the Christian prayer. While both formats are acceptable, consistency in format is highly encouraged.

Following the incantations (or brief prayer as the case may be), he splits the kolanut by forcing his thumbnail at the apical junction of the cotyledons; hence public handwashing is first expected of the celebrant.

GENDER ASSIGNMENT

Ndiigbo posit that the kolanut has male and female cotyledons by nature, the gender of each cotyledon being determined by its junctional ridge: it is a male cotyledon if the ridge extends all the way from the apex to the tail of the cotyledon, and a female cotyledon if the ridge divides, forming a triangle (or more than one triangle) before reaching the tail. These ridges are shown in the accompanying photographs.

A kolanut with only three cotyledons always must have a straight ridge in each of the cotyledons. It is termed IKENGA or the warrior kolanut. It represents the ultimate masculinity in Igbo culture.

With more than three cotyledons, the ridges are invariably indicative of mixed gender:  with 4 cotyledons, it is always 2 males and 2 females and said to represent the 4 days of Igbo week, namely Nkwo, Eke, Oye and Afo.

Five cotyledons symbolize prosperity. With 6 or more cotyledons, the kolanut is carefully re-packaged and put away by the host for a formal celebration – which may call for “isi ewu” in some towns!

A kolanut with only two cotyledons has no ridge. Therefore, it is treated as genderless, condemned as dumb (oji ogbu), and discarded for ceremonial purposes. (Incidentally, having no ridge is the normal lot of cola nitida, which we call “gwuoro”. This species of kolanut is mostly grown for commercial purposes in Northern Nigeria but not used for ceremonial  purposes in Igboland.)

HIERARCHICAL ORDER OF KOLANUTS

The kolanut’s hierarchical worth is determined not by its size, but by the gender makeup of its cotyledons. Thus, a small-sized IKENGA kolanut is more valued than its larger-sized non-IKENGA mate.

Cola accumulata, the variety of kolanut prevalent in Alaigbo, is usually pink in color. as shown on the left. Occasionally, cream-colored kolanuts appear within a pod. Because of its rarity, the oji-ugo is usually valued higher.

Pink is the usual color of Igbo kolanut, unlike the “gwuoro”, which may be pink or white.  However, an Igbo multilobed kolanut may occasionally present in cream color. Such a rare occurrence is called “OJI UGO,” meaning eagle kolanut (the eagle being the king of birds), its rarity enhancing its value hierarchy. Therefore, a cream-colored IKENGA kolanut, regardless of its size, is called EZE OJI.

MALE PRIVILEGE

Women are prohibited from harvesting kolanuts. In fact, they are even culturally barred from picking up the fallen pods; instead, they must engage a male to do so on their behalf – even if he happens to be only a child.

SUMMARY:

  1. The kolanut (cola aciminata) has a special place in Igbo culture.

  2. It usually exists as three or more cotyledons that unite at the core to form ridges.

  3. Each cotyledon is assigned a gender which is determined by its ridge configuration.

  4. A male cotyledon has a single ridge running from top to bottom, while a female cotyledon has a ridge that splits in two or more near the bottom. A cotyledon with double female ridging is possible when there are more than four cotyledons.

  5. The hierarchical value of a kolanut is based on its composite ridge configuration as determined when broken rather than its size, the all-male tri-cotyledonous IKENGA attracting the highest recognition.

  6. A kolanut with only two cotyledons naturally has no ridge. For that reason, it is regarded as genderless and therefore has no cultural value.

  7. Usually pink in color, the Igbo kolanut occasionally comes in cream color, which is accorded higher social value, presumably due to its rarity.

  8. The highest-valued kolanut is the cream-colored IKENGA known as EZE OJI.

Now you have reason to appreciate and endure the bitter taste of the kolanut: it is the Igbo antecedent of the Christian Holy Communion.

 

 

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