Yes. It goes beyond the red and yellow seed nuts hawked around in large trays by Hausa traders in small kiosks, village markets and around major cities.
Neither is it that large quantity of biennial agricultural crop grown, harvested and stored in large hand woven baskets by Yoruba farmers.
In Igbo land, kola nut is bigger than all of these. Here, it is food, and as such, attended with a deserving feast. Like yam, king of crops, it commands adoration and enjoys many acolytes . As a food, kola nut is eaten with relish.
Emotional and cultural attachment to kola nut in Igbo land makes it religiously infectious. Adherents of the culture of kola nut, which without exaggeration involves every Igbo of religious belief, gender and caste find in the kola nut lobes a cultural vehicle that coveys the people's world view.
Importance of kola nut in Igbo land
Kola nut is so important in the life of the Igbo to the extent that poetry of kola nut breaks the day for a typical Igbo home.
It is therefore not unusual to hear along side Christian families, who conduct their morning prayers, also the prayer voices of their traditional Igbo brothers, who welcome the birth of a new day with kola nut invocation:
Eze kere elu, kee ala, taa oji, Creator of Heaven and Earth, eat kola nut .
Amadioha taa oji,
Amadioha eat kola nut.
Ala Ezuhu taa Oji,
Ezuhu land eat kola nut.
Ndi nwe ezi taa oji,
Founders of this habitat, eat kola nut.
Agwu isi taa oji,
Agwu isi eat kola nut
In the same way, when kola nut is presentated to a visitor to one's home, it shows acceptance and welcome. A visitor presented with kola nut shows a sense of welcome in the same way that denial of kola nut denotes displeasure and disapproval.
Among the people, it is said in a proverb that: onye wetera oji, wetera ndu", which translates to " He , who brings kola, brings life." The implication of kola nut presentation therefore, implies establishment of love and trust. And that is why, it is believed that who ever partakes in the sharing and eating of kola nut with one has become one's friend and has entered into an oath of preservation of life with one. In this sense, kola nut becomes a communion food. A feast of love, trust and togetherness.
It is also for this reason that kola nut ritual has become the rallying vehicle in every Igbo man's socio- cultural and religio- political activities. Nothing is said at any event, no matter how serious the occasion may seem without the observation of kola nut ritual.
It is the first thing to be presented on the occasion of birth as much as on the event of death. It is presented on the occasion of divorce as much as on the event of political rally.
In the same way, it inaugurates political meeting, it is equally used to sanctify the ground for ordination of priests.
Kola nut is so revered that even among the people themselves, there is a wonder why all the brouhaha about it. This expression of wonder is captured in one of the proverbs which says: Ihe eji etinye oji na efere bu ka akwanyere ya ugwu.
O dighi ka ihe ana atubanye na onu ofu mgbe.", which translates to: " why kola nut is served in plate is to honour it. After all, it is so small that one can put in the mouth and chew at a go"
However, despite its smallness and some times, its very discomforting appeal because of large nicotine content, kola nut plays far higher roles for the people that it can not be ignored. In some places for instance, like in the village of this reporter, kola nut is used to trace seniority among constituting members of the family, village or community.
In a gathering like family or community meeting, when kola nut is presented by the host, it is passed round to the guests in culturally defined order of seniority and finally presented to the most senior person or family or village or community to bless and break.
In a situation whereby the person, who presents the kola is senior to the person who represents the most senior village or community in the midst, the kola will still be presented to the junior person to get his approval for the oldest person to bless and break the kola nut.
There are instances when kola nuts are not eaten or when one is not given the honour of breaking the kola nut. For instance, one is not allowed to break kola nut in one's maternal home. Second, women are not allowed to bless and break kola nut.
Other instances that may stop some people from eating a particular kola nut are when the lobes are seen to be "conducting " some kind of head count. The Igbo abhor counting of people since they believe it may bring affliction.
And because kola nuts are shared in lobes and each lobe signifies a number and among this people, number is symbolic, they become very wary about eating kola nuts with certain number of lobes.