Kolanut (Oji) is the most important fruit in Igbo land. The Igbo people believed that God created kolanut tree first, of all trees in the world and recommended it to man for food and entertainment. Since then, it has been enjoying a place of prime importance in Igbo land. It is not surprising that of all the seeds in Igbo land (some are better in appearance, sweeter in taste and contain more in nutrients) the choice falls on the kolanut as a seed for religious use and welcoming of visitors.
The word ‘’OJI’’ has been interpreted to become an acronym which means ‘’Oji jikoro Igbo’’ the tie that binds the Igbos together. To an Igbo man kolanut (oji) means life itself hence the adage ‘’onye wetara oji wetara ndu’’ –he who brings kolanut brings life’’. That is why it is difficult for an Igbo man living in his own house or resident where he can have access to kolanuts not to keep some kolanuts in his house.
There are socio-cultural and religious uses of kolanut in Igbo land notably.
(1 ) Kolanut is used during sacrifices
(2 ) It is the food of good men and the gods
(3) It introduces all matters and discussions of every gathering
(4) It precedes all other activities and gives the sign of acceptance or rejection.
(5 ) It absence at any occasion symbolizes abject poverty, rejection, danger or enmity.
The kolanut seed has an exciting bitter taste and can take one of two colours of red or grey white. The red colour is the normal colour of kolanut seed and symbolizes humility. The grey-white colour is exceptionally enticing to the eye. It is also sweeter than the red coloured kolanut and symbolizes nobility. It is usually equated with the eagle which the Igbos regard as the king of birds. This is why the grey-white kolanut is usually called oji-ugo (Eagle kolanut). Which is usually preferred to be presented to kings or princes or titled men hence giving credence to the saying ‘’oji ugon’ekoOnyeze’’—Eagle kolanut normally served or presented to a king, prince or the noble.
The seed itself may contain between one or seven or more lobes held together by a common adhesives or tendon . The number of lobes contained in a kolanut seed has a socio –cultural significance and most often strictly observed.
(1 ) A kolanut seed with only one lobe usually referred to as ‘’oji ogbu’’ or’’ oji akpuru’’. It is traditionally believed to symbolize danger or evil omen and end of procreation. If it is broken before a case trial, the case is normally adjourned to another date because there would not be amicable settlement if the trial is continued.
(2) kolanut seed with two lobes ‘oji aka abuo’’ if it is the Igbo seed. This is not good but if it is the ‘’gworo ‘’ type normal lobes
(3) kolanut seed with three lobes ‘’oji aka ato’’ signifies bravery, valour and strength. It is usually presented to men of valour and achievers and is referred to as ‘’ Aka dike’’
(4 )A seed with four lobes signifies a good omen. It shows success and friendliness.
(5 )One with five lobes shows progress and prosperity. It is seen as gain for the breaker
(6 )A kolanut seed with six lobes is seen as bad omen. Traditionally in the olden days ,the breaker of such such kolanut must consult diviners as it seemed to suggest a bad thing to fall the breaker.
(7) A kolanut with seed with seven lobes is very good and it is usually celebrated. in fact the breaker of such a kolanut seed is rewarded materially by the presenter. Kolanut seeds with more than seven lobes are not bad culturally.
Traditionally, the tree is not climbed to harvest the fruits rather, the fruits are allowed to ripe or mature and fall on their own., it is only on exceptional cases such as when the kolanut tree is not bearing fruit as expected of it that a son of grand daughter’’ okene’’ is asked to climb the tree and cut down just a branch of the tree. This is believed will make the kolanut tree start bearing more fruits. It is treated as abomination if a kolanut tree is cut or burnt in Igbo land.
PRESENTATION OF KOLANUTS IN A GATHERING
Igbo titled Chiefs presenting and breaking kolanuts(Oji )
When a visitor comes to a house of a friend or business associates. The host will bring out kolanuts , he passes it his elder brother or relation who will in turn present the kolanuts to the visitor, the visitor shows acceptance by touching the kolanuts source and then return it back to the eldest man in the meeting or someone appointed by the eldest man to bless the kolanuts before it can be broken or eaten. Before it is eaten some pieces will be thrown out as portion for the gods before the guest can eat it.
However in gathering comprising of people from different village group or communities; the kolanut travels from within as above and passes on to the villages or communities depending on their relatedness. After the ritual, custom demands that titled men such as the Eze, Ozo ,Nze, Ichie etc breaks the kolanuts. But in the abscence of the titled men, the oldest man in the gathering blesses and breaks the kolanut and asks that it be shared or distributed among all the people present at the gathering .
Kolanut is normally distributed according to age- old people receive it first before the young people . Women do not present kolanuts to male visitors whether or not their husbands are available. When a woman’s husband is not at home, she either sends for her next door male neighbour or her male child to do so. Where none is at hand, she places the plate containing the kolanut on a table and asks the male visitor to take the kolanut. In a gathering composed of only women, a man cannot present kolanut to them. He only shows the kolanut to the women but does not present it to them. He breaks the kolanut and shares it out among them.
The reason for this is that, irrespective of the age of a woman, a male is superior to her and also the status of women in Igbo land is such that does not entitle them to be presented with kolanuts. It is also because of this same reason that , even in a gathering composed of only women , if a woman presents kolanut to her colleagues, a woman irrespective of her age cannot break the kolanut. They usually look for a male irrespective of his age to come and break the kolanut for them. Kolanut is so important in Igbo land that it is used as a means of divination. Kolanuts seeds may be served with other items and each combination has some significances . For instances:
(I) kolanut seed served with meat (okwa) is a sign of high respect for the visitor
(ii) kolanut seed served with alligator pepper (ose oji) is for men of valour, victorious men and native doctors
(iii ) One served with native salad (Ugba) is a sign of rich entertainment
(Iv ) kolanut served with garden eggs (Afufa) is for men.
There are certain categories of visitors who are presented with take home kolanuts. They include : visitors from friendly villages or communities, daughters ‘sons and grand daughters sons(okene) , in-laws , well –wishers andprominent personalities.’