Significance of Breaking the Kola nut

Onye wetara oji wetara ndu (Igbo)

He who brings Kola brings life…

Kola nut is a symbol of hospitality and friendship in Nigeria. While other food can be cooked the Kola nut needs no special preparation before presentation. It’s a bitter fruit of the Kola tree¶ grown all over tropical Africa.

In Igbo land, Kola nut is a cultural staple held in high esteem. It is sometimes referred to King of all foods. It is a sacrificial lobe reverred, no child or woman is allowed to tamper or joke with it. Every piece of it is considered sacred and can’t be wasted or destroyed unless it’s spoilt.

Usually, the oldest man among the host audience is asked to bless the Kola nuts. He will take one of the nuts in his right hand and makes a blessing, prayer or toast using a proverb, e.g.

Ihe dï mma onye n’achö, ö ga-afü ya.’

‘What ever good he is looking for, he will see it.’

Generally Kola nut is presented in festivities, in ceremonies and primarily used to welcome visitors. They are offered with prayers of thanksgiving and supplication to Chineke. After prayers are said then Kola nut can be broken and shared in bits to visitors. Sometimes it’s served with garden eggs, bitter cola, alligator pepper, peanut butter and palm wine.

As mentioned before, it is the breaking that is the significant part of the ceremony. The more parts the Kola breaks up to, the more prosperity it gives to its presenter and visitors. Though there is one exception: if the nut yields only to two parts, it signifies no good as it signals that the presenter has a sinister motive behind the Kola. Because of that, Kola nuts with only two parts are avoided for this ceremony and therefore the purple/reddish coloured nuts, cola acuminata are preferred over its greyish counterpart, the cola nitida, as the latter one only breaks up in two. Four parts coincide with the four market days of the Igbo week. Five or more broken parts mean prosperity for the family. In some parts of Igboland, when the Kola breaks into six, a separate celebration is required and sometimes even including the slaughter of a goat.


There are many other rules surrounding the Kola nut ceremony. Kola nut should only be presented with two hands at the same time, and also as the Kola tree is associated with man, only men can climb and pluck the Kola tree.

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¶ Don’t confuse the Bitter Cola with the Kola nut. They are quite different plants.
Chineke: God in Igbo language.
Nkwo, Eke, Afor and Orie: Igbo market days.

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